Library Stars: Dan Graham (Gothic Storm)

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Library music’s importance in the entertainment industry has grown exponentially in the past few years. With an ever-increasing number of films and TV programs featuring music taken from a library catalog and new players/business models coming up every day there couldn’t be a better time to meet some of the key people behind it all. I will ask them to share some of their secrets and give fresh/actionable tips to anyone interested in pursuing a career in production music (prospective writers and managers alike).

It is with extreme pride and pleasure that I announce the first guest of this series:

Dan Graham

Dan Graham was the songwriter in a UK indie band Ooberman (“Times Single Of The Year” 1999). From 2004 he composed premium library music and from 2010 invested rising royalties in his trailer music labels Gothic Storm, 7 other catalogues and Gothic Instruments which makes DRONAR for Kontakt. Gothic Storm music is regularly used in Hollywood movie trailers.

After writing a 10-part in-depth series of articles about library music for Sound On Sound Magazine he wrote the 2018 e-book “A Composer’s Guide To Library Music”: www.librarymusicbook.com

Film Scoring Tips is the proud home of Dan’s Work Tales anthology, with a new insightful entry coming up every month.

Gothic Storm

Hi Dan, welcome to Library Stars. Can you tell us a bit about your musical background?

I was in a band Ooberman for a few years signed to a major label. We had some good press and some songs just in and outside the top 40 but didn’t make enough money to keep it viable!

After that I composed TV and library music for a few years, earned some good royalty money and set up my own library companies.

Can you tell us a little bit about Gothic Storm?

We started in 2010. It was initially just a side project with 4 albums per year while I was mainly composing. In 2014 I started treating it more seriously. I realised we were getting a lot of sound design used so I set up the Toolworks label, started going to visit the trailer houses much more to find out what people wanted, set up a third trailer label Gothic Hybrid in 2017.

The philosophy of the original Gothic Storm label was always have live strings so it’s always premium and emotional.

For Toolworks it was to make it as useful as possible for editors, really give them what they want before they knew what they want. Again this came from conversations with editors and music supervisors. The more you listen, the better your ideas!

Why is Gothic Storm unique?

Having only live strings is unique! Toolworks I think is the only specialist trailer sound design label and if not it’s certainly the biggest with the widest range of trailer sounds.

Managing vs writing

What is the most difficult aspect of managing a Library Music company?

Finding time to do everything. As well as the 3 Gothic trailer labels we have 5 other non-trailer labels, and I’m also working on artistic projects of my own. We also do custom music for trailers.

I have a small team – 1 full time employee, my wife sharing sales and strategy, plus some other part-time employees and freelancers. That makes it a lot easier than when I used to do everything!

What is the most difficult aspect of writing music for libraries?

When I was a composer it was understanding briefs and correction requests, but for some managers not others. In other words, if they were good at explaining themselves OR happy to let me do my own thing it was fine. If they wanted to control everything AND gave instructions that made no sense, it was very frustrating.

Library aisles

Production music, trailer music, and bespoke music; what is the ideal composer profile for each?

I think it’s the same for all of them to be honest. All of them need composers who are great arrangers, emotionally expressive, great producers, great mixing engineers, listen and understand very well their genre and also can work very fast if needed without sacrificing quality.

Being classically trained could help in some areas but a non-trained composer with a very good sense of arrangement and deep knowledge of music just from listening and doing it all the time would be better than a classically trained composer who lacks skills such as mixing, melodic sense and intuitive emotional expressiveness.

Precious ingredients

Can you list the main features/skills needed for the overall success of a production music track? Please rate each from 1 to 5.

Music originality: 3

Editability: 3

Adherence to industry trends: 3

VST programming craftsmanship: 4

Real instruments: 4

Track title: 4

Album title: 4

Metadata: 4

Cover art: 4

Library reach/sub-publishers: 4

Good hooks (rhythmical, grooves, melodies): 4

Emotional Expression: 5

Understanding of and familiarity with the genre and end-use: 5

Arrangement: 5

Mixing ability: 5

Samples that sound real: 5

As you can see – originality isn’t high at 3. It would be great to have that as well as everything else, but someone who can do amazing sounding, expressive, emotional, melodic, attractive music which doesn’t sound original will be more successful than someone original without all of those!

Submitting music

When you listen to submitted music by composers you haven’t yet worked with what are the things that catch your attention the most?

Samples that sound real. Emotional expressive. Brilliant mixing, production and arrangement. A feeling of a great mind behind it who has a masterful control over what they are doing. Something both great and original will catch my attention despite only giving it a 3 above 🙂

You surely have a long list of submitted music to listen to, what should one do to get ahead of the competition and get her/his music assessed before others?

I listen in order of date submitted so there’s no way to jump ahead.

Are you more likely to listen to a few selected tracks in a playlist or would you prefer to browse through a large catalog?

Submitting an album of 12 tracks ready to be signed could get the deal, although my demo listening is now 3 months behind, so often by the time I listen the music is gone or the playlist has been deleted.

Are you more likely to listen to music presented on a specific medium?

I find soundcloud or other formats that provide a streaming list of tracks where you can skip through to be the best. Dropbox is a bit of a pain because the player isn’t great.

How can Film Scoring Tips readers get in touch with you to submit their music?

composers[at]gothic-storm[dot]com

– it usually has a 3 month waiting time before I listen but I listen to everything myself, and add new composers whenever I hear something truly great.

Thanks so much for your insight!

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Giovanni Rotondo

Editor in Chief of Film Scoring Tips. Giovanni Rotondo is an experienced film and television composer based in London. He has scored many award winning feature films (Elijah and the Rock Creature, Orphans & Kingdoms), TV movies (Il Giudice Meschino, Il Confine), documentaries (Ilaria Alpi - L'Ultimo Viaggio) and video games (Thunderbird: The Legend Begins). More info here: giovannirotondo.com

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