It's very easy, at least for me, to get lost in the machine when writing and recording a score for a Hollywood movie. Before I ever worked on studio films, I was writing for NY indie films. I had a little project studio at my house in New Haven and did my writing and most of my recording and mixing there. The writing/demo process leaked into the final recording process. I hired all the players myself. I did my own music editing. When I started working out in LA, things changed. Suddenly, somebody did my budgets and wrote out my scores, and there were 65 players in the orchestra at a big fancy stage, all hired by someone else. It was a blast. I felt like I was getting paid to learn how to do something I really should have gone to school for. But over time, because of some weakness of character on my part or the films I was doing, I felt like there wasn't as much of me in the music – "to be free, one must give up a little part of one's self" – and I missed the days just making music in my garage.
So for the movie Admission, and the upcoming release Lovelace, I tried to put everything I've learned on the studio's dime into making film music that feels more personally expressive. I've been slowly building up my studio, both in LA and my other hometown of Lexington, KY, so I can do a lot of the recording myself. I wrote the Admission score in LA working with director Paul Weitz and did almost all the recording in my studio in KY. One of the benefits this affords me is that, if they are well enough recorded, much of the performance captured during the demo phase ends up in the final product. No more perfecting a take during the writing and then getting a lockout at a pricey studio to try and recapture the demo magic in two days of furious recording.
Many of the themes were written while sitting around with a guitar, or at the piano in my pajamas with a cup of coffee. The music was recorded mostly by me and Justin Craig [a fellow ASCAP member – ed.], who performs a lot of the score, in my studio with a bunch of talented friends and some nice microphones and instruments. We mixed there, too, often with my dog at our feet and the Scotch only a few steps away. When I needed strings, we drove down to Nashville, recorded at the historic RCA Studio A with a great group of players and my friend and longtime recordist Greg Hayes helming the board, having flown in from LA the night before.
The results: I have to say I am pretty pleased. The music still sounds like film score. It's polished and well-recorded and like all film music only tells part of the story. But it also sounds expressive and like me. This is a movie that wanted a score with a personality. There's a blend of Reichy minimalism, pure pop fun, acoustic rock and a vocal group that sings on half the score. The process for me felt more like writing the score to The Station Agent than anything I've done in a while, but on a scale appropriate to a Tina Fey/Paul Rudd romantic dramedy. The score works as film music but it's also music I want my friends to hear.
Stephen Trask is an ASCAP film composer, musical theater writer, songwriter and musician. He won an Obie Award in 1998 for his songs to the off-Broadway musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. He has since written score for dozens of films, including The Station Agent and Dreamgirls, and has developed a regular partnership with director Paul Weitz. Visit Stephen on the web at www.stephentrask.com.
Admission came out in theaters on March 22nd, 2013. Find out more at focusfeatures.com/admission.