Today’s guest is Robert Carli, who is one of Canada’s busiest and most in-demand composers for Film & Television. His music has received numerous industry awards and nominations, including 20 Gemini and Canadian Screen Award nominations, 5 Gemini Awards and 3 Canadian Screen Awards. He is the recipient of several SOCAN Awards for domestic television.
Rob Carli on Composing Music for Film & TV & the Power of Music Therapy
Hello and welcome to episode 032 of Sing! Dance! Act! Thrive!
Today’s guest is Robert Carli, who is one of Canada’s busiest and most in-demand composers for Film & Television. His music has received numerous industry awards and nominations, including 20 Gemini and Canadian Screen Award nominations, 5 Gemini Awards and 3 Canadian Screen Awards. He is the recipient of several SOCAN Awards for domestic television.
He is currently working on his 13th season of Shaftesbury Films’ MURDOCH MYSTERIES (CBC), and his 3rd season of FRANKIE DRAKE (CBC). Recent work includes the critically-acclaimed documentary TOXIC BEAUTY, his 3rd season of WYNONNA EARP, and the NETFLIX mini-series TOKYO TRIALS, while recent dramatic film work includes THE EDUCATION OF WILLIAM BOWMAN and SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD.
I talk to Rob about the process of composing music for film and television and the advice he has for musicians wanting to get into it.
Rob is also the co-author of a new book called The Awesome Music Project Canada: Songs of Hope and Happiness which brings you behind-the-scenes glimpses into the musical lives of a diverse array of Canadians. Singer-songwriter Michael Bublé celebrates the way music cemented his bond with his grandfather, renowned astronaut Chris Hadfield turned to music for comfort through the loss of a close friend and Grammy-award winner Sarah McLachlan used it to escape the torment of high-school bullies.
These and other inspiring tales fill this beautifully illustrated tribute to the songs, musicians, and composers that comfort us, move us, and lift our spirits. Rounding out The Awesome Music Project Canada are descriptions of the neurological research confirming the ways in which music is good for us. It improves our mental, emotional and physical health, wards off loneliness and depression, and even delays dementia. To put it simply: music makes us feel good.
So, let’s talk about The Awesome Music Project first. So tell me about the book and the project and how you got involved and how it came about, all that good stuff.
Rob Carli 3:33
Sure. So The Awesome Music Project is a collection of stories that explore the connections between music and mental health, as told by Canadians across the country, from you know, every yeah, every province and territory and you know, different demographics like ages from eight to a hundred and different, some musicians, some not musicians, some very well known people, some not so well known people and all the proceeds of this collection of stories go toward research at the Canadian sorry, not the Center for Addiction and Mental Health, which is CAMH. Or also, we also help to, to fund music therapy programs across the country. So music, anything related to music and mental health. That is kind of our you know, we we are trying to help fund both research and programs related to that. So that is the, that is the sort of brief description of what it is that is The Awesome Music Project. Now it has become more than that. The whole thing started about 18 months ago as an idea from my friend, Terry Stewart. And he said, Let’s, let’s collect these stories. And so, at first we did not realize, you know, what it was, what form it was going to take on and how, how a grand a project or an endeavor this would become, but it has become something much more than a book now. It is really a campaign with you know, live events and concert series and speaking series and podcasting and all kinds of different arms flailing in every direction.
Diane Foy 5:06
Yeah, I went to the event at the Gladstone.
Rob Carli 5:09
Oh, yeah. Okay, right. How did you like it?
Diane Foy 5:11
It was fun. It was really cool to hear different stories in between the songs. It is great.
Rob Carli 5:17
You were at you were basically a guinea pig, because that was our first time trying this idea of really taking the book, which is, as you know, a collection of stories and songs and a bit of science and then trying to bring that to life in a concert format. So, you know, the [odyssey] was, you know, there is things we want to do better at those things. And we want to change the events and they have evolved already. We have done another event since that time. And we have got more planned for the new year. So yeah, it was nice to do that event because it was really an embodiment of what is in the book.
Diane Foy 5:54
Right. What are some of your favorite stories in the book?
Rob Carli 5:59
Well, they keep changing, because I don’t know that there are so many different ones. Sometimes you read a story about someone that you, you know, you think you know, and then you find something really interesting about that person. For example, Fred Penner story I find very captivating, Fred Penner being, of course, the child children’s entertainer, stories about, you know, growing up in Winnipeg and going to school he was actually at, I think the University of Winnipeg, or maybe it was the University of Manitoba, not that important, but he was studying economics. When his dad passed away and his sister had passed away within about six months of each other. And this really, as with anyone, it really hit him, and I think it sort of made him ask questions and change what he was doing. And he ultimately then started, you know, recording songs. And that was the sort of the beginning of him as a, as an entertainer and not as an economist. And I guess we can thank him for making that choice way back then. And now he has been doing this for whatever 50 years of a great career as an entertainer. Another really story that has kind of had forgotten was in the book and then read it again a few weeks ago was a story by a guy named Doug Norman and Doug Norman lives in Bellville, and he is a retired police officer who was studying from PTSD. And he has this great story about going to see Supertramp, and then leaving a note asking the manager to leave a note for Roger Hutchison about, it is just about how the band has made an impact on his life. And then not only did the manager come back out, actually, it was a ticket stub, he wanted to get signed. And the manager comes out and says, Listen, Rogers not going to sign the ticket stub. But instead he would like to see you backstage and then he brought Doug backstage and then spoke with him for you know, 20 minutes and was really moved by Doug story. About battling, you know, depression and PTSD and how Supertramp, and how the band’s music made an impact on his life that then he told the story from the stage during the concert, and Doug sat in the wings the whole time. It was just a really nice. Yeah, it was a kind of a, and the book is full of, I think, little unexpected treasures like that where, you know, it’s Doug Norman is not well known. There’s lots of people in the book who are not well known. We tried to make it, you know, yes, there are lots of celebrities in the book. As you know, people like Chris Hatfield and Rick Mercer and Sarah McLachlan. It is great to hear their stories. But also I think, very important to hear stories from non musicians and from non famous people, because really, everybody has a music story. And that is kind of the universal aspect of the book.
Diane Foy 8:48
Yeah, and it must be great inspiration for artists that are out there performing to hear these stories from non-musicians because everyone is touched by it in some way.
Rob Carli 9:00
I think you hit on something very interesting because while all musicians who are creating music, they know that they have an audience and they know that their music has some kind of impact when they hear a very specific story about how their music has played a role in their lives, I think it touches them in a different way. And, you know, like, for example, speaking with Ed Robertson, after the Gladstone show that you were at, and and his experience, you know, Ed as part of the Barenaked Ladies of course, in that band, is cited in the book by story by Shekhar Gothi, Lieutenant Commander in the armed forces, who used one of their songs as kind of motivation when he was literally buried alive in Haiti in the 2010 earthquake, and the song lovers in a dangerous time, the cover that turned the Barenaked Ladies recorded like 20 years ago, and, you know, Ed, he is obviously you know, he has been living with that song for 20 years and he has heard people talk about it, but I don’t think he has ever heard anyone talk about like how it actually literally saved their life in an earthquake. And, you know, it is kind of like you say, having the artists hear these stories sort of shines a different light on on their own experience. So I think I think there is connections like that, that we were not expecting. And it is kind of a nice sort of synergy of all kinds of different things.
Diane Foy 10:21
And how did you explain the project to people when you are trying to solicit their stories?
Rob Carli 10:28
Well, that is a good question because at first when I say, you know, we are doing a book of stories about the impact of music and the transformative nature of music. It can be a little bit vague. And I think what we ultimately did was when we had our first, you know, dozen or so stories, you are able to use those as kind of examples to other people and sort of slowly leverage the interest from others. So that was one technique we use also, you know, when we when we first started, we did not have anyone famous in the book and as we slowly got a few through our own little connections in our own little universities, we managed to get a couple of people have some influence. And from that, you know, other dominoes start to fall. So, you know, when you have a number of well known people in a book, it is a little easier to sell to another well known person that they be involved. So it gets a little easier now even now that we have the book. I think if we were to continue to collect stories, it is almost even easier now. You can just point to the book and say, here is what we have done. And we now like you to contribute whoever that next person might be.
Diane Foy 11:33
Yeah, will there be like a part two of the book or other projects in the works?
Rob Carli 11:39
Well there is top of it. I mean, I think there is no end to the stories. And I think we could, we are interested in doing more.
Diane Foy 11:47
It could be a documentary,
Rob Carli 11:50
Could be all kinds. This thing can take on many, many forms. I mean, it could be for example, we could do a sports edition where we just only get the stories from athletes from anything from like high school athletes from Up to Olympic athletes or professional athletes or NCAA players, or whatever. It would be that is one idea. There is an idea to do a youth book with stories of youth, and their songs. And I think, you know, there is all kinds of these. And also you can do it anywhere, you know, not just in Canada, you could do one in the US, or you can do one in the UK. So I think because music is so universal, and stories about music are universal, and how it helps people. I think that messages is also universal. So I think there is really not a limit to the possibilities.
Diane Foy 12:33
And in different sections of the book, there is some explanation of the science behind the benefits of music therapy?
Rob Carli 12:41
Diane Foy 12:43
Was there as a fact or story in the science of it that surprised you?
Rob Carli 12:49
Well, what is happening now with music therapy and the science of doing things, generally speaking, surprises me because it has come a long way from you know, music therapy merge. Decades ago. And then in 70s, it to me, as a professional musician, musician, pardon me growing up, I always felt that it had a bit of a PR problem or, you know, had stigmas attached to it was like music therapy is just basically circle time with tambourines and Kumbaya. And that is not what music therapy is, obviously. But it is also in terms of the science behind it. Great strides have been made in the last few decades, particularly the last 10 years. And that is kind of what we are talking about, when we were talking about what we were funding down at CAMH, is they now have the the ability to, at the sort of the brain chemistry level, measure the impacts of protocol based music therapy on a cohort of patients. So in the in the past of it’s pretty hard to gather evidence as to what kind of impact or changes exposure to music therapy would be making on your brain and whether or not was helping. I mean, there was, I guess, always quantitative or qualitative measures you could use, but there was never an that much empirical quantitative evidence. And so what has happened now is that there are actual research projects in particular one down at CAMH led by Dr. Jeff Meyer, where we are looking at very specific data. And that data, they can, you know, literally create radioactive isotopes, which then can be you know, ingested and then measured in your brain through PET scan imagery. And look at how exposure to music therapy and to music can actually change your brain chemistry. And that kind of stuff is what really leads to changing policy in this country. So that the only, so a pharmaceutical solution isn’t the only solution to those suffering from anxiety and depression. And that is kind of one of our our goals is to ultimately provide people and to provide healthcare providers and to provide really to change government policy so that there can be alternative ways of treating depression and anxiety.
Diane Foy 15:02
Yeah, it is interesting that you know, obviously we hear certain music and we either feel calm or energized or things like that. But I mean, it is really cool to see that there is actual science behind it. I actually was looking for music for cats at one point. And I just and I discovered this musician that he did all this scientific research of what particular sounds would calm a cat down. And so he has an album and it is called let me just say, what is it called? Music for cats.
Rob Carli 15:40
Why not music for cats. That make sense, why not.
Diane Foy 15:43
It his name is David Teie.
Rob Carli 15:49
Oh, cool. Well, you know, I mean, I mean, it is at its very core music is sonic energy, right. So the fact that it can have an impact on, you know, animals or humans at a very sort of very physical physiological level is doesn’t really come as any surprise and it is, you know, the certain types of sounds. And there is all kinds of, you know, research being done now with sound therapy, which is not music so much, it’s just like, certain types of waves and pound and tones and how they affect your, your mind. And it is fascinating stuff that, you know, the fact that our as, as humans, I mean, music has been around as a part of our, of who we are for, literally forever. And I think it is one of those constants, even even transcending language and storytelling. I mean, music has been around for so long, and it is an integral part of what makes us human.
Diane Foy 16:51
Yeah, and everyone has their own story. So
Rob Carli 16:55
Totally, yeah, that that is true.
Diane Foy 16:58
You can share it on social media too and get like a movement happening.
Rob Carli 17:03
Well, that is kind of the idea. I mean, something about the stories, which is, you know, worth noting is that when we initially started up this project and Terry Stewart, my friend had suggested that maybe there is a magic playlist or a set of songs that we can we can find by collecting what songs make people happy and I immediately thought this was sounded very suspicious because the fact that a song makes you happy, doesn’t mean it’s going to make me happy. In fact, quite the opposite your happy song or your song that makes you feel good, could make me cringe. So,
Diane Foy 17:37
Rob Carli 17:38
He has credited this idea very early, but what intrigued me was the fact that the stories behind the songs are actually what make it really human and very interesting to me because it really speaks to the power of music to really have an impact on your life. And I think that is ultimately what we are looking at here and not so much the songs themselves, but more like the stories behind those songs, and they reframe the way you look at a song. So suddenly, like you could tell me what your favorite or your happy song is, and I could just test that song. But once you tell me the reason why that can change everything. And I think that’s kind of the essence of the stories.
Diane Foy 18:17
Yeah, that is really cool. And the book is cool. I like it. All the photos in the book are like old album covers.
Rob Carli 18:25
Yeah, that gives gotta give credit to Peter cocking our designer from page two, who is our publisher of Vancouver. And, you know, it was immediately clear to us that we just go off and use all of the artwork from original records from you know, there was in the songs, so we needed to accomplish something visual and Peter Cocking, not only designed a few album covers, he designed album cover for every single story, and you are right, they look like kind of Blue Note nostalgic. So yeah, I mean, it was just the fact that the book is really the work of an army of people. You know, our publisher and our editors and writers and graphic designers and all these people working in tandem.
Diane Foy 19:11
It would make a great Christmas gift.
Rob Carli 19:13
I think you are right about that, Diane.
Diane Foy 19:15
Now that we are heading into the holiday season.
Rob Carli 19:18
Yeah, hint, hint. I think it would be a really it is very universal. And you can buy it literally anywhere across the country. It is available at Costco or Indigo or Chapters and Coles all the big chains, but it is also available your local bookstore, and they don’t have it just asked for it because it is on everyone’s radar, and they can get it in a couple of days. Or you can always buy it online at Amazon or through our website, theaustinmusicproject.com or through Indigo and Chapters online.
Diane Foy 19:49
What are some of the highlights of your career as a music composer?
Rob Carli 19:53
Well, that is a big question. I mean,
Diane Foy 19:55
I saw that you were nominated for an insane amount of awards.
Rob Carli 19:58
Yeah, I have been very lucky one.
Diane Foy 19:59
20 Gemini and Canadian Screen Award nomination.
Rob Carli 20:03
I have been lucky to I think that is more of a function of just being really busy and not being very good.
Diane Foy 20:10
He is not going away. I guess we got to nominate him.
Rob Carli 20:14
Yeah, it is a lot of odds. Like it just if you keep if you keep writing music, eventually you are going to get nominated. So I have done a lot of TV and film work in this country for over 20 years. And I mean, there is so many different I mean, to watch the industry change has been kind of fascinating. But you know, you have what are some of the highlights, I mean, I don’t really want to talk about awards. I don’t think of those as highlights, I think of individual projects I get to work on. And truthfully, whenever there is, I mean, I love making music, and I love making music with other people, whether it be as a recording artist, just a performer or as a composer. And when we get to make music for film that involves other people, it can be very gratifying. So you know, it is not always every day that you get to work with an orchestra or with even a chamber ensemble, but when those opportunities arise, I always think they are really sweet. And I enjoy them. And, you know, last night, I recorded a trumpet for a new TV show that I am working on. And I recorded cello earlier in the day. And I put some other, you know, guitars on a track and to have all those instruments. You know, we are all making music together. Really, it is really fun.
Diane Foy 21:25
Cool. And what first drew you to music when you are a kid?
Rob Carli 21:29
Well, that is interesting. I mean, I guess I have always listened to music, like, most people, and I started playing the piano a little bit. I really hated it, as you would do if you are, you know, 10 or eight years eight. Actually, I was six years old when I first started then I quit. And then we moved and then after we moved, restarted in a new city and hated it really much but soon after I started playing the piano, I found I discovered the clarinet and I liked it more maybe because I just I was better at it because I could already read the music. And I was feeling like I was getting results. And then I graduated pretty rapidly onto the saxophone, which is related but easier than clarinet. And then, once I found the saxophone, I found sort of a voice that I could just use, and then I kept playing, and that is what I did so. And then the composition part, I was interested in composition. I don’t know exactly if I could say a date or a time, but in high school, I was writing music for sure and recording it. And it led me just to ultimately pursue a degree in composition, which I did for university.
Diane Foy 22:40
And who are you musical influences?
Rob Carli 22:42
Oh, that is a huge list because I listened to so much so many different types of music. I mean, I listened to a lot of classical music. And, you know, I was always a big fan of Brahms. If that’s what you mean, like, you know, or Stravinsky or coffee of those are My you know, some of my favorite composers, Brahms for melody and Stravinsky for rhythm and harmonic invention and then for coffee of just for like melodic different in a way than Brahms but his use of just I don’t know what you want to call it angularity and melody construction, I have always found really fun, almost like he is like a modern day film composer to me or really painful composer I guess he just seemed to have a knack for writing quirky melodies that I really loved. So, but then on the pop world, I mean, there is all kinds of music that I that I love, and I’m influenced by, you know, everything from, you know, the Clash to Paul Simon. It goes all over the place or then there is, you know, I also play jazz music. So, there is all kinds of, you know, I have had lots of I used to be a big listener to actually the Marcellus brothers were huge influences. As a high school student, not only because they were playing jazz, as good, went and was doing some great music and like great classical music, and I was fascinated by, you know, his recordings and I, in fact, started to arrange music based on just trying to play some of the trumpet repertoire that I could not play because I was a sax player. So I would, I would play it, I would arrange it for bands so that I can play it because I loved you know, his recordings of like the heightened Trumpet Concerto. And then he did some music, some concert band music, Wind Ensemble arrangements with Eastman that I found really fascinating. This is a young kid. And then as I get older, you know, I discovered his brother and I, those are the I listened to a lot of those guys for jazz but then that led me to other places like you know, the jazz messengers and then the older school like I love stuff like, you know, field Thad Jones and Mel Lewis recordings, which I’m listening to right now, just because they came up on my playlist. You know, I can’t really say that there is one kind of music that I that I love more than the next or one composer that I love more than the next. So I guess I don’t really have a good desert island disc, unfortunately, but it keeps, it keeps changing. You know, I I love finding new artists. And you know, when you find somebody new you like who is this person, you just sort of discovered them and you listen to them.
Diane Foy 25:26
So when you were finishing university, did you have any idea that your career would be film composing, or did you have other plans?
Rob Carli 25:38
Well, no, it was kind of a kind of my plan, I suppose I really always was, was drawn to it. And I was always a lover of film, and film music and I, I wanted to do that. I didn’t know how to do that. But I figured it out. And then I worked as an apprentice with another film composer named John Wellsman for years after just a bit about the about the business and about the craft of scoring for picture and also the technical aspects of scoring for picture. So, I don’t want to say it was an accident. I mean, it was pretty intentional my, what I was trying to do, I didn’t know how I was going to do it, or whether it would all work out. But I just kept plugging away, trying to do stuff.
Diane Foy 26:23
I was wondering if you have to kind of study filmmaking in order to be good at scoring for film TV?
Rob Carli 26:31
Well, I don’t have to study filmmaking. But I think you have to be a fan of filmmaking. And you have to observe, and really try to understand the art of filmmaking and understand how directors think I think that’s a really crucial element to doing the job. And I think it is something that we often overlook. As young composers, we think, oh, we can just write music and the music’s going to be fancy and do this sort of stuff. But if you think about it from a filmmaking perspective, in a storytelling perspective, it sort of changes changed a little bit, I think, you know, like, if I always tell young composers they are asking me like, How do you do? How do you become a better film composer and I’m like, well, watch where they put the camera. A good place to start, like, observe. I remember sitting with a director, my 20s. And he was he was going on about how the camera was moving. And I’m like, this is obviously obsessing the guy or obsession of the director and I and I had to realize why. And for a director, it’s not about the music or even about the, the set design or, it could be about all of those things. But it is often about capturing the story in images. That is what filmmaking is. It is really photography with coming to life. And I think, you know, great cinematographer, a great director, things like photographer terms, how they are framing shots and how they are lighting shots and what kind of lens they are using. These are like the priorities and I think, you know, as a composer, if you can understand that, you don’t have to understand the technical aspect of it. But you have to understand the creative aspect and why these things are important. And so I started watching movies in a different way. When I was, you know, in my late teens or in my, in my 20s, just trying to discover or not even discover I don’t make it sound like it was a job, but it was just trying to observe or, or notice these kinds of aspects of filmmaking, whereas before, I would just be listening to the score. Suddenly, I’m looking at, oh, look at how the cameras moving. As we zoom out, we go up. And that id an interesting kind of convention in filmmaking. It’s like, you know, why are we going left to right here, what’s going on? It’s like we’re seeing you know, that we are seeing the story from the eye of the director. As that as the camera moves slowly across, it’s revealing the set, revealing the actors and all of these things are being revealed to us carefully by the director in a very deliberate way. And so you know, there may not be any music in that scene, but it’s important to watch that scene and understand it.
Diane Foy 29:07
You explain the process for scoring for a project, like from the moment that you are contacted to contribute all the way through completion. Like who’s involved? How does that? How does that process happen?
Rob Carli 29:22
Yeah, it is you are part of the team, you are part of the filmmaking team, that includes the editors. And, you know, we work in post production, really. So it’s not as big a team as a filmmaking team. It’s not like those key grips and letting people and makeup and hair and all those people in our lives, but the editor is really the starting point. So the one of the edits done or close to being done, they will often try to recruit the composer. And once we have what’s called a lot cut, when they were getting very close to what the picture will look like, we can start to have a meaningful discussion about music because music has to happen after the cuts are locked because we can’t typically you can’t change the images too much because the music will change as well. So you don’t want to be writing a whole score and then have it all changed based on the cut. So normally, we are the last thing that happens. After the edit is done, you will sit down with the creative people involved. And so that might be a director on a film, or documentary. And it might be a team of people like a showrunner or creator on a TV show. That will all sit in a room and we will discuss in very vague terms, what you know, we think is going to happen with the music. And sometimes they will have discussions early on by email and then by phone calls. And then ultimately, we get to a place where we are creatively sitting in a room. And we’re going to actually listen to some music and try to really hard to talk about music. So listening to music and hearing examples sometimes is the best route. And then you do that. And then after you’re done that you often right and it is just really about writing melodies and trying to understand what works with you know the picture and trying to be sympathetic to what is happening on screen and try to find a sonic palette for that story. And then once you have got that sort of happening, you start to do demos and you start to write little pieces of music that you can then share with the creative team. And once they have arrived at, yes, these are the places where the music will, I should say, there is a thing called the spotting session where we sit down, we discuss not only the aesthetics of the music, but specifically where the music will happen in the picture. And once that has happened, then everybody can go away, and the composer writes, and then you know, that is when the composer sends music in his demos. And once those are signed off, then depending on the type of the score, you may then record those instruments, you know, because in a demo, you are not going to record an orchestra, you are going to record a fake orchestra, or a fake trumpet or whatever you have. And then once everyone is sort of on the same team, then you go off and you can, you can record it. And then you can mix it and then you send it to the to the mixing house where they mix all the elements. So for example, everything we do and post has to be you know, it is mostly do a sound. So things like Foley, which is like sound effects that are created by humans like keys and door handles, footsteps. And then there is sound effects like planes and trains and bombs. They are added in, obviously, and the dialogue is often replaced, then there is the music. And all of those four elements are then combined on a big stage over a course of many days. And then at the end, hopefully, everyone, everyone likes it. And we also have, and it’s, and it goes on to TV or on to the to the cinema. Now that could happen. I like to say that happens over the course of about three months, but sometimes it feels like it happens in about eight days.
Diane Foy 32:40
Rob Carli 32:41
Well, I mean, I think technology is a great thing, but it does be get compressed time schedules, it seems because you know, things can happen much faster. So can you imagine like, in the old days, people say, well type me up a proposal, then you would have to go off and write it, you know, by hand and then you would have to type it and that would take you hours, possibly. And now you are editing and writing on the fly because you are going into a word processor and you are just doing it. In fact, now you are doing it in the cloud. So it’s like literally shareable within. Well, in real time, actually, they can you know, people can watch you type it if you if you really want it. So, it’s like the world is funny how, how much faster everything has become. It doesn’t make mean we have more time. What it means we do is we have more output, it seems. So, you know, I think we’re as busy as we have ever have been. And I’m not talking about film composers. I’m talking just about as a civilization seems, you know, our deadlines are shorter, things are more compressed. To make, you know, you make more podcasts than you would 10 years ago, or, I guess to podcasts weren’t as, I guess they were around but the idea of doing recorded voices, you know, literally speaking into your phone and you know, you’re recording me, it’s like all done in over over the airwaves, whereas in the old days, it was done, you know, in the studio and it took more time and there was operators and engineer, assistance and people get making coffee and it was a whole industry surrounding just recording someone’s voice.
Diane Foy 34:12
And where does the music supervisor come in, in that process? And what is their role?
Rob Carli 34:18
So a music supervisor, yeah, they kind of have one thing they can do is they can be a conduit between the composer and the production, they are often hired way earlier on, because they can help to furnish the producers and the creators with some ideas about what they think the music should sound like. So that’s one very important role is that they can sort of be, you know, well, this is the kind of music I think will work for your show. And here’s some examples and not find a composer so they might be involved in recruitment of composers and things like that. The other thing they do is, is help with the placement of songs and using non compose music in the show because if you watch TV shows or movies, very often there are elements of music that are not written for the, for the screen, but their, you know, their songs that are pulled from, from these huge catalogues of recorded music. So they facilitate that, because that also helps to brand the show. So depending on what kind of show you are doing, if you’re working on a period drama, the music supervisor would not only help sort of define what, what the style of music would be for that period drama, but also help to source out music from that era, whether it be a big band track or a classical music track or whatever the whatever the show demands, the music supervisor kind of scares that process. And yeah, that’s and then there’s also the licensing, which is a bit more of a technical aspect of it, where they actually have to secure rights and help facilitate that.
Diane Foy 35:47
Right. So what was your first break? Like what was your first big film or TV that you score?
Rob Carli 35:55
Well, the very first one I did was a movie called Silver Wolf. I’m using that as my starting point, I had done some student films. So that was the first time I got really paid to write music for a TV show and actually was a was a movie of the week I believe. And it was a movie that took place in the Rockies and it was about a I won’t get into the details, but it was a it was a movie that, you know, I didn’t know what I was doing. How did I get it? I got it through my I had an agent and I got it through my agent. And the way I got the agent was through having done a lot of student works and just having created enough stuff on a real that sort of warranted that. I knew what I was doing. And I had worked as an assistant for a long time. So I kind of knew what I was doing technically. And then I got this film and I think it was fairly low budget. And so I was like, yeah, I’ll do that. And I didn’t like I said, I didn’t know what I was doing. And I thought I had a really good idea what I was doing. And I was listening to the director who turned out was in Montreal, but ultimately the production the production company was in Los Angeles and Turns out, they were the people I should have been listening to. And when I did finally, get notes from them, it was I was a bit of a rude awakening because I had worked for two weeks on this film, just getting sort of, you know, tacit approval from the director, but not realizing that it didn’t really matter what his opinion was, because ultimately, it was going to be the production company that was going to have the final say, so then I had to redo a bunch of stuff. And that’s, I think the lesson I learned was like, Who’s the boss?
Diane Foy 37:26
Rob Carli 37:27
That is the person you need to appeal to. And so that’s what I I started to do that next is, you know, really understand, you know, the creative process and who’s in the room and who’s actually making the calls. So it wasn’t a great way to begin my first film because I think I spent most of my budget on just the engineer and recording some real instruments and trying to make it sound good. But you know, that TV, that company went on to make a number of different movies and I managed to work with them for a number of years, and then that sort have led to other work, which is sort of it’s a bit like any industry. I mean, you know, if you are a carpenter, you are going to get your next gig from based on your last gig. You know, you’re slowly building clientele based on your performance. So that’ is kind of that’s the story. Yeah.
Diane Foy 38:17
What advice do you have for up and coming musicians who want to score for film and TV? Like, how would they get their start? What is the best place to learn?
Rob Carli 38:26
Well, I think the old apprentice model is pretty darn good. It is how I learned and I have since then gone through, I have had a number of apprentices work here at my studio and such as one working here right now. He just finished an apprentice program through the screen composers Guild, and now he is working on the clock like he is being paid now to work. And I think that is a great way to learn the ropes. Now, to do that, you obviously need some foundation. So it depends on the kind of music you want to write and what kind of what interests you so you don’t necessarily have to go to composition school and work with orchestral, because you may not have an interest in writing orchestral scores, you might be a synth person and you really be interested in like, finding out, you know how to explore sounds and sound design kinds of things. And so whatever your interest is, make sure you are capable, and have the skills in that world. And then also try to align yourselves with people who are making that kind of music. So you can possibly act as a, you know, an assistant or an apprentice to a person like that, because that’s the best way to learn because you know, the rules change so quickly. So you want to get a good foundation. And you want to, in tandem with all that you want to be reading music, you want to make sure that you have evidence that you can, if you want to be a composer, you have to compose so you just need to write lots of music. And I think that’s those of us. That’s the same playbook for so many different industries really, like if you want to be a journalist or a writer, you need to write for the novelist, same thing if you want to be a baseball player you need to practice so I think it’s just a matter of like trying to find the balance between doing the the hard work to get the skills but then also to expose yourself to people in the business or the industries that you are interested in, who are doing the work. And you can just learn from that. So, those are great ways of, of trying to get at least of the world.
Diane Foy 38:54
Yeah, in anything relationships are important. So you have to be able to network with the right people and different industry.
Rob Carli 40:28
That’s probably the question said that first, Diane, that’s so important is, you know, your your ability, you know, works well with others is, you know, if that wasn’t on your report card, as a gold star when you’re in grade two, that’s maybe where you should start start working well with others because ultimately, especially these days in so many industries are collaborative. Yeah, there is the one or two screenwriter geniuses who just sit in their rooms and write off great novels for great movie scripts. But most people aren’t like that. And most people need to work in a team of people and then, you know, have a specific set of skills that you can bring to that team. And that is how you, I think, advance is that you really are, you know, you do work well with others, because you want to be you want to be someone who can collaborate, especially if you’re talking about film, and, and composing for film, if you’re not a collaborator, that’s not really the job that you should be looking at.
Diane Foy 41:22
As an artist, we all have to be entrepreneurs. What are some of the lessons and advice that you have on how to manage a creative career?
Rob Carli 41:31
Well, that is a really tough question, because I don’t know the answer.
Diane Foy 41:34
That could go in many different directions.
Rob Carli 41:36
Yeah, because it’s we are not all entrepreneurs. I wish we were and it’s not natural. So I don’t want to impose a set of rules or ideas on somebody that aren’t sort of fitting. So I want to just say that, you know, you got to be natural, be yourself and be authentic. And what feels right for you might be the right thing to do, and I In other words, you know, if you’re not a natural marketing person, then don’t try. I mean, get help. This is what I’m trying to say. So, you know, like strengths and know yourself. And, you know, don’t be afraid to ask for help and to collaborate with people. I mean, yeah, there’s a bit of risk involved. And I guess being an entrepreneur involves risk because something like a website, if you are natural, if you have a good eye and a good designer, then you can do, you can do that. But if you’re not, then it’s difficult to impose that on somebody. And so you just would go out and find the right fit for you. And so, if you’re not feeling like you’re a natural entrepreneur, you don’t know how to sell yourself, I think, talk to your friends who are like that and just ask for their advice and don’t feel like you need to change yourself and become like this marketing person. Instead, what you need you can do is you can say, Well, I’m a great trumpet player, but I’m not really good at get my name out there. But you can you know, solicit advice from people who you do know are good. Maybe not even people in music or people like let’s say you have a brother in law who happens to be works for marketing firms like listen, ask, ask questions and find out what’s going on. And you know, think of your think of the world is your classroom and that way, and I think that you can learn a lot because it’s not about like, there’s this kind of do it yourself attitude, which is great, but it’s impossible to do everything yourself. And I think you have to remember that be easy on yourself. And don’t, don’t, you know, don’t be shy to get help and, and also be a student learn. So for example, like with this book project that we were discussing earlier, I was not really ever big into social media. I mean, I had a Facebook page and I had a few things on Instagram, but I never really understood the power of it until it came time to market a book. And then I was like, Okay, I’ll have to activate all my accounts and get engaged. But let’s hire somebody who can teach us how to actually post things every day, and how to get good content online and grow your following. These are things I couldn’t do myself. And I’m not kidding, to say that I could I mean, I’m not kidding, I’m kidding myself, I sort of say, to pretend that I could, I think it’s important to understand your strengths and use those. And you know, I always imagine a world where we use a bit more of a barter system where, you know, if you do have a friend, or a colleague or a brother in law or something, who has those skills, don’t be afraid to like, tap into that, and then possibly you can provide some kind of assistance to that person. So it’s just about again, it’s going back to what we said before about collaboration and communicating with people and trying to, I mean, if you sit in your in your room by yourself, for hours and hours, it’s very hard for you to connect with people and to build meaningful relationships which might help you.
Diane Foy 44:46
I think, for a lot of musicians, the DIY is because they can’t afford to hire people to help them and all these different things. So sometimes you have to learn how to do it yourself or like you are saying, I always say if you’re up and coming musician, make friends with a photographer that’s up and coming and make friends with a web designer that’s up and coming, and you can all help each other and grow together.
Rob Carli 45:12
That’s true. And that’s very good. Don’t be afraid. You know, this, this adversity. I teach young kids and sometimes, you know, they want to be musicians and they want to just do music. And there’s an adversity to getting a career outside of your field because they feel like they’re diluting their creativity. And I go back to something that Robertson Davies, the late Canadian novelist, once said, about grants and about, you know, not working and he said he was a full time editor of a newspaper, I think the Peterborough examiner or something, and someone wants mentioned asked him a question about you know, with a full time job, how do you find time to write and his answer was something like well With a, without a full time job, I wouldn’t have anything to write about. And it’s almost like you find your your inspiration and your creativity is it comes from the most likely places. Because you know, you may be working in a job that’s not related to your art at the border. And, and there can still be things that would you can draw upon as an artist, which is really important. So that’s, I think, where we get our stuff from and I was thinking to myself, because I work in my studio all day long. And yesterday I went and some sometimes that can get very tiresome because you’re looking at the same stuff all the time. You’re, you’re chained to your desk, and it’s not very inspiring. And yesterday, I had to go play a gig and I was out. Playing music was nothing to do with film scoring. It was a concert thing of tumor whistles. And then I came home and I was making some dinner or was doing some chores in the house or whatever. And I was thinking about going back to the studio, and Suddenly, it was like it felt very fresh because I hadn’t been there all day. And I suddenly was really motivated to go write something. Whereas if I had been there all day, and I wasn’t out of the house, it’s not the same thing I was thinking about, you know, the hobbyist who has a ham radio or the building a car in the garage or something. woodworker, or somebody who’s knitting a quilt or something that can do off hours, and how much care and passion they have for those things, because they can’t do it all the time. And so I think when you’re not doing your art all the time, it actually intensive and intensifies it. So don’t be afraid to especially if you’re young, because the worst thing about being a young person, especially in Toronto, is financial instability. And so you want to make sure you get some kind of footing in some kind of industry, whether it be in public relations, or whatever you been counting or whatever you whatever you whatever skills you have, the discussion account doesn’t mean you can’t write great jazz music like Charles Ives, a great American composer sold insurance. And I’d like to say that that’s the path but it don’t be afraid to do the attitude that well I can’t work as a my art is I think outdated one or it’ miss it’s a misguided on, I think it’s something we have to be Be careful about because as artists, it’s from working with people and experiencing other people and other lives that we actually, you know, get our fuel. So, you know, I think that I, you know, I just talked to a trumpet player and he was talking about working at the at the local rink, and he said it was the best job you ever had, because he got to work with different people every day. And he got to make music at night. And it was an eight hour day, it was a city to the job, you know, it was like there was no stress involved in the job. And it got him to think about music and to think about creativity stuff, and then When you get home, it’s like you’re ready to go.
Diane Foy 49:03
Cool. You put you phrased all that. So much more gentle than I do. I’m a bit more tough love.
Rob Carli 49:13
Yeah, well, maybe maybe I just try to be sensitive because I know that I don’t want to impose my, my set of rules on anyone else. But I’m just giving you my two cents. You know, I’m not. If you were my if you’re my really best friend, I would probably be a little maybe a little hard on.
Diane Foy 49:30
Like I work with those musicians or artists. I’d be like, I don’t want to work on social media. I don’t want to do marketing. I just want to work on my art. And I’m always like, good luck with that. No one will hear your guilt brilliant music.
Rob Carli 49:46
Yeah, I go back to that Robertson Davis thing a few times. And I remember reading it. I was in high school. It was in the Globe and Mail. He wrote a letter to the editor and he was actually it was an indictment against the grant system because he was feeling like grants were actually ruining artists, and I did not necessarily agree with that i think grants are important and gives people a little bit of stability when they need it. But he was speaking about how one can hide behind these things. instead of actually, you know, his, his model was just have a job now, you know, maybe sort of different times and but at the same time, I think there’s something to be said for that, you know, you you. He did, he worked as an administrator as an editor of a newspaper, working with deadlines. And, you know, I won’t say emails, because it wasn’t probably emails in those days, but just, you know, working with publishers and having to deal with donors, or advertising and all the other kinds of things that we deal with. And, you know, those are those are nothing to do with him writing a novel.
Diane Foy 50:46
Rob Carli 50:47
I think it’s what inspired him to write a novel.
Diane Foy 50:50
Yeah, that’s really cool. Cool. Well, that’s all I have for you. Any final words of wisdom?
Rob Carli 50:59
I don’t know. You’ve got a lot of them out of me so far. It’s all I got, I don’t know I just enjoy the enjoy the ride is like I always like to say it’s like it’s sometimes we get, we get buried in it, you know, it’s find the balance between zooming in too much. And the minutia of the day and not looking at the big picture, but the people often do the wrong thing to they look, oh, they zoom out too much. And they get overwhelmed by the fact that oh my gosh, I have a deadline or I have, I have to finish my university or I gotta go to college, or , I gotta get these things. Like just zoom in on the day. And focus in on the moment and not try to like it’s find that balance. It’s important to zoom out sometimes, but it’s important to just stay zoomed in sometimes too and, and not get preoccupied with what’s happening next February.
Diane Foy 51:46
Yeah, it’s good to have a vision and then break that down into smaller, achievable goals that you only have to look at. Okay, what do I have to do this week? This day, today? What do I gotta do? It’s so much easier and not so overwhelming. When you think of the big picture, you’re like, I’m never going to get there. You know, so you could break it down.
Rob Carli 52:07
Zooming out, you can really ruin it for yourself. Totally.
Diane Foy 52:09
Rob Carli 52:11
Diane Foy 52:12
Cool. So where can people find you online? What’s your website?
Rob Carli 52:16
I’m Rob. I’m RobCarly.com or RobertKelly.com. And on Twitter. You can you can follow me at Robert Carly. And that’s me. But also, as we spoke about before, the awesome music project is the awesomemusicproject. com where you can find info information about the book, but also you can find all our social media tax there.
Diane Foy 52:39
Well, thank you so much for your time.
Rob Carli 52:42
Thanks for having me, Diane.