At Bear Radio, we love podcasting, but we also just love audio that moves people, and there are few mediums that hold emotive medium in a pillared stronghold than film. Lucas Carey is a music composer and producer who understands that spirit, and its power, thoroughly and who leads with it throughout his work. We sat down with him to discuss his attraction to film scoring, the flexible nature of his creative process, and settle the time-old debate of music vs. podcasts.
Hi Lucas! Please introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Lucas Carey and I’m a music composer and producer. I score media projects, films, and commercials, and I also sometimes work on stage productions. I’m currently speaking to you live from California, in the Santa Cruz mountains.
You studied Music Theory and Composition at NYU and as you mentioned, a huge and acclaimed part of your career has been writing and producing music for short and feature films. What inspired you to focus on scoring as opposed to standalone compositions?
Though my career is generally in scoring, I actually fell in love with concert and classical music first. Nobody in my family was a musician, but my Mom had this compilation CD of classical pieces, one being Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, and I would listen to it over and over again. I just loved it.
That interest inspired me to learn the clarinet and later, music theory. I got super into the aesthetics of the orchestral score and I was just enamoured by huge symphonic pieces, and how their composers were able to write singular parts for these bands of sixty or seventy people and make each of them sound beautiful, both separately and together. I still am, honestly. It was this that led me to study music theory and composition in college. It was after college that I decided to take the scoring route.
You see, as a composer, you kind of have two paths you can follow; the traditional one where you write scores for films or concerts and what have you, or the academic one, and I just did not love academia. However, I did love film. It was never my plan to branch into the film world, but I’m glad I did.
Was there a particular film score that inspired you to branch into the industry?
I was actually reflecting on this the other day. I’m currently staying with a friend and we decided randomly to watch The River Wild from 1994 starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon. It’s kind of this forgotten throwaway Hollywood blockbuster. They’re going down a river. It’s dangerous. You get the picture.
Anyway, as a child, I used to love its soundtrack. It was scored by Jerry Goldsmith, a terrific composer who wrote these big orchestral scores, the likes of which just aren’t celebrated in film today. Individuals like him learned to write back in the 50s and were clearly influenced by composers like Wagner and Strauss, guys who were hellbent on delivering these huge dramatic pieces. As a kid, that sense of grandeur really appealed to me. I found it exciting.
These days, however, I’m equally impressed by sparse, minimal scores. For example, the score for Lady Bird, which was composed by Jon Brion, is a current favorite of mine because it so effectively communicates the sensitive moments in the film as well as its comedic flair. Communicating comedy through film scoring can be really challenging because you want to make it emotive, but you also need the music to capture these little playful, magic moments. It’s a real balancing act and he did it impeccably. I really admire that.
Walk us through your creative process for scoring a piece of media – What is your first step?
Well, naturally I watch the whole piece first.
Some directors include you in the creative process early on while others send you a finished product scored with a temporary track that stands in for your original music, but either way, I watch it all thoroughly and take it all in.
Then, I just start taking notes on everything; key emotions, narrative points, characters – whatever. I try to imagine what the film’s sound world should look and feel like.
This sound world you’re referring to, what is that exactly?
The sound world refers to all of the instruments that exist. All possibilities. Everything from strings to electronics to whatever.
And do you generally decide what scenes are to be accompanied by music in a film?
Sometimes, it varies. Some directors have a temporary track in place behind the scenes that they want to be scored whereas others look to you for your input on what scenes require scoring or not. Generally speaking, it’s a bit of a balancing act between molding your expertise and communicating their vision, but not dictating the viewer’s entire experience with your score.
You see, in film scoring, the aim is always to inform, not to dictate. Your score should not be the focus in any way. You don’t want to create something that stands out. In the composition world, that can often feel counterintuitive because coming up in the concert space, you’re taught that your music is the sole focus. You’re the person that decides what’s going on. You lead the listener where you want. However, in the film scoring space, that’s not a priority. In fact, that agency is taken away from you somewhat, and instead, it’s shared among the whole directorial team. This means you need to collaborate and that shared element is something that I enjoy a lot about this line of work.
In fact, actually prefer it when a director has a pretty clear idea of what they want. Instinctually, and this might sound odd given my profession, I actually prefer movies that don’t have much music. To me, music is so effective that it can almost be manipulative. I don’t like when a director or score tells me as a viewer what to think, or at least tells me what to think too loudly. The sparse use of music allows viewers to embrace their intuitive feelings.
That’s interesting. As an individual, do you feel that you’re particularly empathetic?
I think so. I mean, I’m sensitive to people’s needs and interests, like I can relate to how other individuals feel relatively easily.
I only ask because the way in which you speak about film scores fuels them with such power. Do you think that the fact you’re particularly empathetic could work to your favor as a film composer because you’re empowered with this ability to truly capture a perspective, but also the skillset to dictate those emotions through music?
I’ve never thought about that. I mean I suppose. I think as an artist, it’s important to have some degree of empathy. You should be dedicated to understanding the way people think, how they live, and what makes them tick. In particular, as a composer, that ability is important. You have to be able to put yourself entirely in the shoes of a character, situate yourself in their world, and understand their motivations. Accomplishing that without being notably empathetic in your own life would probably be impossible.
Apart from music, what else do you listen to? Are you a podcast fan?
es. I’m actually a big podcast fan. I actually prefer to listen to voices than to music if normally. Some of my favorites include Memory Palace, On The Media, A Good Read – I could go on and on.
I often find music to be super stressful. It can be so emotionally shaping and distracting. Voices meanwhile have the ability to fade into the background and become comforting.
Do you think that you have that relationship with music because you subconsciously associate it with work?
Maybe. When I enjoy music, I really enjoy it, but I also find it to be incredibly powerful and distracting. I am often preoccupied with its production or overanalyzing it to the extent that it just stops becoming relaxing and almost becomes a bit taxing.
And to finish, what is your favorite sound?
That’s a tricky one… I do like nature sounds or instruments that stem from nature sounds like round sounds, wind, or drums, but I think my favorite sound has to be laughter. That’s corny, I know, but I really do like the sound of people laughing. I should probably say someone’s specific laughter here, but to me, it honestly doesn’t matter, I just like the sound of people having a good time.
interview by Alice O’Brien, for Bear Radio