In Part One (Issue 145) we talked to multifaceted guitar playing genius Michael Baugh about what inspired him to play guitar, and how he got into film composing. Here, Mike tells us about working to a brief, doing brand endorsements, how to inspire your own musical creative process, and more.
Russ Welton: Would you say it is easier to create musical art for art’s sake, or do the structures imposed by working an outside project make things easier?
Michael Baugh: That is a great question! [Having] limitations produces better work, because you have to be innovative and inventive in order to stand out and to make the worst critic in the world happy – yourself. Without boundaries, limitations or structures, it is very hard to produce truly great work. A friend of mine once said, “You never stand inside one of those pods on the London Eye and think to yourself, gee, I wish these barriers weren’t here!” I would never think to myself, If only I didn’t have to follow the brief, because the brief, much like the barrier surrounding the pods on the London Eye, keep you in the right place. It’s a protection; it supports you in bringing the director’s vision to life, and it forces you to be creative and innovative within a predefined boundary. It’s also a protection in that it means you won’t get fired and you can afford to pay the bills!
RW: You are an Ernie Ball Music Man endorsee among others. Tell us about how this came about and, your input into guitar model design. What do you like to hear from your instruments?
MB: I can’t remember how this came about. I think I sent them a few of my YouTube videos many years back. They recently built me my perfect guitar, where I got to choose the specifications; the wood, the color, and the electronics. I’m a big fan of guitars that both feel and sound good, and I noticed they almost always have a roasted maple neck, stainless steel frets, [a] front rout [for the pickups with the pickups mounted directly into the wood], and alder bodies. I also like the pickups to be medium-low output, as I like that old school twang and how [lower-output pickups] maintain clarity when being driven on higher gain settings. I have to be careful here – I could talk about guitars all night long!
RW: You decided to make your new album The Man with No Name available on an exceptionally high-quality vinyl release (as well as on CD). Tell us about your feelings in making this choice.
MB: Thank you so much! I put a lot of thought into the design of the vinyl, as I usually sell more LPs than CDs, isn’t that crazy? It shouldn’t surprise me either really, as I listen to music on vinyl too; it’s a much nicer listening experience. The main reason why I wanted to do a vinyl was because I wanted my record to be mixed and mastered much like Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, which is one of my all-time favorite records and very much the sound of my childhood. I was very fortunate to have found Grammy award winner Lewis Hopkin at Stardelta Audio Mastering to cut and master the vinyl to get the sound I desired. If you want to hear that record the way it was meant to be heard you have to have the vinyl, and there’s only 200 of them!
RW: Who would you like to compose for if the opportunity arose?
MB: I would love to compose music for all of my favorite books if they became films; Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest and Death’s End, Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, and Brandon Sanderson’s Skyward. Also, I would love to compose music for a Christopher Nolan film, as his films are brilliantly written, and I would love to collaborate with Hans Zimmer, and Tom Holkenborg. Those guys are incredible artists and have changed the film scoring world.
RW: Tell us about your home hi-fi gear and how you like to enjoy listening to music the most.
MB: This is my favorite way to consume music: make an espresso, pick up a book and put on a vinyl. I find the combination of coffee, reading and good music to be the most creatively inspiring and relaxing thing one can do. If it’s a new vinyl, I’ll be reading the liner notes and looking at the pictures rather than reading a book, as I love seeing who plays on each record and it never ceases to amaze me how often I see people credited in the notes that I know personally and have worked with. I have a Teac TN-175 turntable player going into a Cambridge Audio AXR85 receiver.
RW: What advice would you give to young and aspiring musicians and composers?
MB: Never be lazy. Train yourself now to think positively, because once you’re in the real world dealing with real stress and high-pressure situations, you will break if you aren’t the glass is half-full type. Try to almost never consume social media; be a creator instead. Lead, do not follow!
Practice as often as you can but play even more. Be willing to fail constantly, so that you can begin to succeed. Make friends with people who are hardworking and reduce association with those who are lazy, as you will end up like those who you associate with, so choose wisely.
Learn how to be the solution to other people’s problems. Collaborate and assist people who are doing what you want to do; this is a masterclass, an opportunity to see how things are done at the top and a wonderful way of networking organically.
Also, learn to save money. Rather than going out on a Saturday night wasting money on alcohol and eating fast food, work on your art, [and] use that money to buy a stunning guitar [and] a decent computer to record with, or get music lessons with a local teacher. Invest in yourself so that your future will be better.