More than 500 years after Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, another ambitious traveler named Lucas Vidal is making waves in both Spain and America. Of course, this native Spaniard is no misguided navigator – he’s a well-educated composer who’s building an impressive CV in the film/TV community. Vidal made history when he became the youngest Berklee College of Music student ever to compose and record the score to a feature film with a full orchestra. Hundreds of recording sessions and dozens of movie scores, commercial music jobs, video game soundtracks and ballet scores later, Vidal is getting his biggest-ever assignments. He recently wrapped recording music for the forthcoming feature films The Cold Light of Day and The Raven. Here’s what Vidal had to tell us about his road to scoring success.
You've written for feature films and video games, ballet performances and commercials. Is there one aspect of your career that you feel is your primary creative outlet? Or do you embrace it all equally?
I really like it all. I really love working back and forth with directors and producers and hearing their thoughts about what I've written. I've got to say that it was a blast working on the last couple of feature films where we recorded with a full orchestra in London. My favorite part of the process is standing in front of an orchestra who play at that level. These guys are so talented and would make anything sound good! So feature films have been good for that, but ballet has a very special place in my life too. I have a cousin at the Boston Ballet, at Amsterdam's Het National Ballet, and one at the Royal Ballet in London, so I got to be in that environment early on.
Music education has factored heavily into your background. How essential would you say it is for a young composer to train in an academic environment before attempting to break into film scoring as a profession?
Berklee College of Music is the only reason I am now working on some pretty cool projects. I met my business partner, Steve Dzialowski, while attending Berklee and we very quickly started working on a bunch of projects together. Berklee would back us up every time we had a crazy idea and so did our parents. My friends were going to awesome parties while I would stay on campus studying classical music and scores. Then I went to Juilliard and studied with Richard Danielpour who's an amazing composer. I still spend a lot of time studying and I think that being able to continue learning is the most amazing thing in the world.
Your music for The Cold Light of Day is a pretty unconventional score, integrating traditional orchestral and rock 'n’ roll idioms. What inspired you to fuse those two? And were there any logistical difficulties that it presented?
Mabrouk El Mechri (the director) and I experimented a lot with many music styles and ideas. We believed that adding electronic and rock elements to the orchestra would make the score younger and more suiting to the picture. We had pre-recorded many of the guitars and electronics but overdubbed some drums and bass after the orchestra was already recorded. It was a pretty complicated score logistically but I am lucky enough to be surrounded by an amazing team of professionals who've done it so many times. I love to collaborate with as many people as possible, and I worked with some of the best guys on that one.
Your score to Mientras Duermes earned you an IFMCA nomination as Breakout Composer of the Year. Do you feel that you reached a new composing milestone with this score? Did it feel any different than the other projects you've worked on?
Mientras Duermes was an amazing project to work on. Jaume Balagueró, who directed the film, had some amazing ideas and he really knows what he wants. I composed half of the film in our studio in Santa Monica and the other half in Madrid. The last couple of days before scoring at Abbey Road were spent with Jaume going through every single cue and making changes. He would sit next to me and we would work together, which nowadays doesn't happen very often. I learned so much on that film. You tend to be more experimental on European movies which is why I'm still so stoked to work on those.
You and your partner at MUMO Productions are both native Europeans. Have you noticed distinct differences in how American studios and directors interact with their composers vs. the European studios and directors?
At the end of the day it is essentially the same thing. As a composer I try to translate the director's ideas into music. The main difference is that in the U.S. you have more people to please. It’s not only the director but also the producers and the studio. Everyone has something to say, which I like, because the more feedback you get the better, as long as they are well coordinated. In Spain, the team is usually much smaller. They don't use a music editor for instance, but I try to use most of my regular team on those projects anyway.
I've read that you're a fan of writing out your music by hand. How has that affected the way you work? And do you think that there's something lost when composers don't do that?
I think that every composer has their own way of working. Many composers have written some of my favorite music on a sequencer. For me, writing longhand is faster and I see things clearer. I love orchestration and that's the way I think, so it just makes more sense for me to write that way. I am able to do that because we have an excellent mockup team and orchestrators. I usually write on paper and give it to our mockup team, then they will transfer it into my sequencer (I use Digital Performer) so I can make some changes and add electronics if needed. Once it's approved by the director it is automatically sent to our supervising orchestrator, Rick Giovinazzo, who distributes it to his team and then passes it on to our music preparation team. Everything happens online through a project management system which allows me to work from anywhere. It's pretty cool.
It's so refreshing to find a composer like you that documents his process in videos and blog posts and such. Do you think it's as important for a composer to market or promote him/herself as hard as any other music creator?
I was really lucky to meet Steve who, starting from our time at Berklee, would take care of the business side of things. It is not conventional for a composer to have a business partner like that, but it really helps me focus on the music. I love marketing and publicity too, and most of all I love to see that so many people are interested in following composers and their music. So we keep everyone posted on what we do, and love to share videos of our recording sessions. We have so much fun with the musicians and get really excited to share those moments.
Find out more about Lucas Vidal at mumoproductions.com.