music morsels indie music September 2006 

by Mark E. Waterbury

Darren Wilsey

ARTIST NAME: Darren Wilsey
MUSICAL GENRE: Multi-genre songwriter/composer

MM: What is your basic music background?

DW: I was raised in upstate New York where there was not much happening in the town I was in, but there was a college and many music Prof's from New York City would retire there. So even with a sense of being in the middle of nowhere, I had access to very good music teachers when I was growing up. Ever since I remember, I wanted to play music. My music training was all on my own initiative. I started out playing guitar and had a penchant for rock, although I balanced that out with several years of piano lessons. All of my music teachers were pretty adamant that I learn to read music and basically insisted on a traditional music training path. By the time I was ten years old, I was practicing anywhere between four to ten hours a day.

MM: Obviously you were very much a student of music. Did this serve you well throughout your career considering the variety of music you have worked with and the different ways you have applied it towards your career?

DW: I do think it helped. If you study music theory which is the nuts and bolts of music, what makes for good composition or songwriting really comes down to the details. Little, subtle differences that makes a work sound more polished. So in that sense it has been very helpful. It is not something I actually think about while writing, but if you have had exposure to these ideas, then it helps you create music that is mindful of form. Since I have been scoring films for a number of years, that is a hybrid of styles ranging from rock to electronica to symphonic music. My background helped with that as well.

MM: But in the beginning, did you just want to get out and rock and roll?

DW: Yeah. There was always that conflict. Even when I went to music school I was one of the few people there that really had this appreciation for popular music that was on the radio. A lot of my colleagues thought pop music was either a lower form of music or they did not have the exposure to it. That was something else that helped me in the long run, because most of what I do now is a blend of the pop and classical worlds.

MM: What inspired you to move into the production side of music?

DW: In the early 90’s I met this professional engineer Patrick Klein who worked with the Powerstation in New York. He had these aspirations of being a musician, but was living at this studio, and, over the course of time, he developed this great ability to mix because of his apprenticeship. He was a vocalist, and we formed a band together called Fuzzbox. We got an apartment together and wrote all the time, and looking back, it was a gift because he was a great engineer and he taught me the ropes. 

MM: How did you get into scoring film?

DW: Patrick helped with that, too. As I said, we had this apartment that also functioned as a studio. He had a friend who had just completed a short indie film called “The Corsette.” Patrick told them that I was a classical musician and that segued into this little scoring project. It was a simple but nice scoring and the producer was happy with it, and it was a pleasant experience to work on a movie. That gradually segued into other projects. You can look at someone's credit list and see what they have done and think they have done a lot, but it takes time to get there. You have to get experience under your belt and you really only learn it by doing it.

MM: How did you get involved with recording, producing and writing for other musicians?

DW: Basically about five years ago, something that became clear was there was this real demand for pop music, particularly pop music with female vocals. I was introduced to singers over the years, and I would ask them to do the vocals on songs I was recording. In some cases, they were great singers who were not really writers. More recently, I had, over the course of time, started getting more requests for music for TV shows and films. In spite of having a fairly big catalogue of my own music, it would be nice to have some other artists to market. I didn’t really look for them, but in some ways it kind of just happened. I made it a personal service for them, where they could come to my studio and ask questions, or record some music with me and have interaction with me.

MM: You have music placed in TV and film. How did you go about cracking that market and sustaining those placements?

DW: It was one of those things where you build enough credits that it starts to impress people. Back in 1999, I recorded so much music, and a publisher back in New York took interest in it and got a song placed on “Third Watch” so it started from there. One of the questions getting into TV and film is “What have you done?” It always helps to have at least a starting point. Around the same time, I met a filmmaker and writer named Thurston Smith. He was working on an indie film called “Silicon Valley Stories” and, through luck, we met, got along, and he heard one of my CDs and liked it, so he asked me to help him with the score. In the beginning, it was really just through introductions and dumb luck.

MM: But obviously you have to work hard to make that luck happen.

DW: Of course. The bottom line for anybody interested in working with film and TV is it comes down to songs. You need to have recorded material that will elicit people's attention. The vocals really have to be great because that is something people really focus on. That is one of the reasons I am very fussy about vocals and production. The reality is you are in competition with what you hear on the radio. If you are sending music to a TV show, so are the major and indie labels, and you are all vying for the same spot. There is a fundamental change that took place about five years ago where there is more indie music happening in TV. What happened then was companies came around that pitched songs where they controlled both the sync rights and the masters. If they could go to a music supervisor and tell them they had this music, that they could clear both licenses in one stop, that makes it easier for the music supervisor. This especially works for indie films where they don’t have a very big budget to begin with. That made it more common for indie music to get into film and TV more frequently.

MM: What was the point where you quit performing in bands?

DW: The last time I played in a band was about four years ago, because over the years, I have made the transition to studio musician. I record more than I used to and have more outlets for my songs. I would perform again if there was a real reason to, but in my world now, the most important aspect is the songs.

MM: With your latest film project “The Wedding Video”, you were also asked to be executive producer. Is this a shift into what you want to do career wise, get even more involved in film?

DW: I think it is part of this technology revolution that has caused a massive consolidation in many areas. I think scoring film now is more difficult because being a composer involves so many aspects that used to be done by specialists. The large percentage of movies are low to medium budget, and that is one of the reasons for this. From a business point of view, one thing I can do now because of my credits is with everything I score I am able to retain my publishing. I also amass a back catalogue that I can technically pitch for other productions. It is not that dissimilar from indie bands who own and release their own music rather then get involved with a label.

MW: At what point do you want to see your career in five years?

DW: What I would ideally like to do is work on fewer projects that I can put more focus on. Right now, I do a lot of work because to survive you have to hustle. It would be nice to get a higher level of film projects, of course. The nice thing about working on “The Wedding Video” as executive producer is seeing how the film process goes from end to end. It had a way of deflating certain misconceptions from a composer's or songwriter's standpoint, such as patience when you submit your CD to someone. It also made me understand the function of music and understanding the factors of why a song is selected or not selected. Over the years through serendipity or dumb luck, one thing I have gleaned is a good idea of what to do and what not to do in certain situations, such as having good CDs with songs that are well recorded. I need to keep applying the basics and keep adding to my resume, and that should bring better projects eventually.

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