When I say the word “composer”, there’s a good chance that one of three things pops into your mind: Any one of John Williams‘ iconic movie scores, the cinematic horns of Hans Zimmer, or even your favorite cartoon theme song from your childhood. Music helps to inform the emotional journeys our heroes take in television and movies, be it an independent project or big-budget franchise picture. Fast-paced, dynamic scores complement action sequences; powerful musical swells take an epic discovery to new heights; and sombre tones enhance an already emotional moment. Now any creative project is a team effort, but an integral member of those teams is, of course, the composer.
But what exactly does a composer do? What’s the scope of their job? And how does someone who’s musically inclined even manage to break into this highly competitive industry? It’s with those questions in mind that I spoke to active composers Jake Monaco and Sebastian Evans, both of whom were recently mentioned among the top composers in the animation industry, and who kindly gave me a crash course in Composing for TV and movies.
Monaco is currently scoring Amazon’s preschoolers show The Stinky & Dirty Show, Netflix’s Dinotrux, and Warner Bros. Animation’s Be Cool, Scooby Doo!, and recently composed the score for Keeping Up with the Joneses, while Evans is composing music for Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and has worked on Transformers: Animated, and Ben 10: Omniverse, among others. Their careers, of course, have similarities and differences, just as their own preferences differ despite having a passion for music in common. For example, as far as instruments go, Monaco prefers the guitar and finding new ways to get unique sounds out of it, while Evans loves the piano, which he sees as a versatile and relatively easy instrument that gives you just what you need. Their unique career paths and personal stories exist within the wider shared experience of being composers, which is a nice reminder that there’s not one proven path to success. We’ll get to that in a bit, but first, an introduction.
Normally when I get a chance to chat with animation professionals, I like to start out by inviting them to revisit their childhood and recall their favorite Saturday morning cartoons and theme songs. Monaco and Evans shared some of their favorites:
Jake Monaco: Definitely DuckTales, [Disney’s Adventures of the] GummiBears, A Pup Named Scooby-Doo … I think that will forever be ingrained in my memory. [The Real] Ghostbusters animated series, I was a big fan of also. It’s a great moment of nostalgia and thinking back to that feeling as a kid, being so excited for Saturday morning and waking up with a bowl of cereal and sitting in front of the TV for two hours.
Sebastian Evans: Actually, I’m working on Ninja Turtles, so that one definitely pops in. Also, G.I. Joe was a huge one, Transformers was a huge one. All of those theme songs pop into my head as I say them. Bionic 6 was a big one of mine. Captain Planet I watched a lot.
And as for what Evans is currently watching:
Evans: My kids are watching Elena of Avalor, and I don’t know who the composer is on it, but it’s awesome! The music on there is really good. Kevin Kiner of [Star Wars] Rebels, he did a really good job, as well. I guess I’m watching Cowboy Bebop with Yôko Kanno, but that’s not new. I always come back to it every year or two. The whole thing is the complete package for me.