What do you get when you blend pyrotechnic guitar virtuosity, exceptional composing ability and a passion for all things musical? You get the uber-talented Michael Baugh, film composer, Ernie Ball Music Man guitar endorsee and session musician extraordinaire. Copper interviews him here.
Russ Welton: How did you first get into playing guitar?
Michael Baugh: It all started when my dad gave me a videotape called Guitar Legends Live from the Expo in Sevilla 1992, which was a live show featuring Brian May, Steve Vai, Joe Walsh and Joe Satriani, to name a few. I quite liked it but there was one moment that changed my life – Joe Satriani played “Always With Me, Always With You.” It blew my mind. I had to get a guitar and learn to play this song!
RW: Who were the artists who inspired you the most and encouraged your progress?
MB: The two artists who inspired me the most and still do to this day are Andy Timmons (Danger Danger, Pawn Kings, Andy Timmons Band) and Nick Johnston. I am very honored to call them friends, and we’ve even played together! Andy has the most unbelievable finger tone and phrasing, and Nick has an incredible touch. I could talk about these two all night long.
RW: What is it about their styles that led to your playing development?
MB: Listening to Andy Timmons helped me to be tone-conscious, to think about [musical] resolution, and [to be aware of] where to leave space [in your phrasing]; this was important for my development because I have a tendency to overplay. Nick Johnston’s music encouraged me to focus on composition and improvisation. Although composition and improvisation are opposites in some ways, they also assist one another in that when you run dry of compositional ideas, improvising can help you make new and exciting discoveries that can get the creative juices flowing again.
RW: How did you get into composing for film?
MB: The work of Hans Zimmer, [and] the Inception soundtrack in particular inspired me to want to write music for film. His music is overwhelmingly powerful and emotional and I wanted to make music like that. I entered the professional composing world by pitching to directors and producers via social media. I would take an earlier piece of [one of] their works, strip the audio, and re-score it the way I would have done it. Then I’d email it to them. This approach landed me my first job in this field, a documentary about Jimmy Savile called Out of the Shadows, coming out this October.
RW: Tell us about your experiences in transitioning into film composing and scoring work.
MB: Coming from the instrumental guitar world, the film score world seems alien [by comparison]; it’s very different. As a solo artist you write what you want, play how you want and release it when you want. In the film scoring world you have to get into the mind of the client, write what the client wants, stay on brief and in line with the on-screen picture, and it must be finished before the deadline the client sets. It’s not for everyone. You must be fast, organized, willing to adapt and change direction at any moment, and you must be able to take criticism well, which is something many artists struggle with.
RW: How does your approach to recording an album differ to that of recording for film?
MB: In some ways they are very similar but ultimately, totally different. They are similar in that each one is a large body of work that takes countless hours to get right. But the approach is very different. When preparing to record an album, I will have spent a year or more writing music, [finding] musicians, getting the artwork developed, and creating demos. In preparation for a film, I will spend a lot of time studying the brief, and any notes I’ve taken after speaking to the director. I’ll also research similar films to establish how others have approached the genre.
Afterwards, I’ll spend a day building the “sound world,” creating synthesizer patches, and building a template of all the various sampled instruments I plan to use, based on the brief the director gives me. Then I get right into the writing and recording. The next step is hiring soloists or musicians to do remote recordings, [which] need to be done fast and at a very, very high level. One must have a call sheet of high-end musicians to call on, that one can depend on to deliver quality results in almost no time.
RW: What have been some of your greatest career challenges?
MB: The biggest challenge to overcome has always been and will always be myself, the little voice inside my head telling me, “You can’t do this,” [along with] a tendency to compare myself to others. These things affect pretty much every artist and composer at some point, but we do well to acknowledge these flaws and have a little conversation with ourselves and say, “I can do this; I’ve done it before!” It’s important to not compare ourselves with others, because we’re all at different points in our musical lives. Some [of us] are more developed than others, some are better at certain things than we are, and our strengths could be more apparent in other areas. I constantly have to remind myself of these things. It does keep you humble though!
RW: What do you like to see in a commissioned brief that is most helpful to your workflow and productivity?
MB: I love to see lots of descriptions that detail what the client wants, and I mostly prefer to receive the brief from the director either in person, [via] Zoom, or on the telephone. Seeing their body language and hearing their tone of voice when they excitedly describe their project, the story and what they want the music to do helps me understand what elements are most important to them. This [then] helps the workflow, in that I can more accurately build a template in my digital audio workstation that contains much of the musical elements necessary to create the sound world they described to me. [It] boosts my productivity, as I can then confidently dig into the writing.
RW: What have been your most exciting projects to work on and why so?
MB: That’s easy! I can’t say much about it as it’s still in the final stages of production, but I can say that I’m collaborating with Marvel and Disney composer Guy Michelmore (interviewed in Copper Issues 140 and 141) on a short film. I am a big fan of his work and it is wonderful to be collaborating with him and Bradley Jordan, who is an incredible composer and music editor.
Part Two of this interview will appear in a future issue.
Images courtesy of Jayre Reynoso-Alcantara, www.jayresphotography.com.