From ITV channel ident music to scoring stage plays which move around a city during their performance: Heather Fenoughty on the composer brief, her inspiration and tips for composers of the future.
Mr Bojagi, starring Brian Blessed, scored by Heather Fenoughty
When did you start composing and why?
When my sister and I were quite young – I think I was 8 or 9 years old - we would make up songs together and put on little shows and plays for our parents and other family members with these new tunes. I can hardly remember any of them but at one point we had quite a large repertoire, must have been around 10 or 20 songs!
Then, when we were in our teens, when I’d learned to read music, I’d write violin and piano duets for us both, and later longer piano pieces. And it all took off from there.
Who are your biggest influences?
All the film music greats, Jerry Goldsmith, James Newton Howard, Thomas Newman, Hans Zimmer, John Williams, and classical composers Mahler, Holst, Vaughan-Williams.
Where do you usually start with a new commission?
The client’s brief. If it’s not clear, then I’ll keep having conversations with them until it is. Then, depending on the scope and timescale of the project, I’ll do a few very rough sketches to really zero in on the client’s likes and dislikes.
How did you get your reputation as a composer?
I work with brilliant, lovely, talented people who have challenging and interesting projects for me to help them with, and I try to be as easy to work with and useful to these people as possible, so they’ll hopefully bring me more work (as I enjoy working with them!) and also give me a little word-of-mouth marketing in the meantime to other potential clients.
What do you personally consider to be the decisive moments in your career to date?
I worked for a couple of years with a local corporate/community film production company as an office and production assistant, and helped them with sound recording and post-production audio too. One of their projects was bought by the BBC, and that was my first TV credit. They later had another, higher profile BBC documentary as a result of this first film, and I also composed the title music for that. I stayed in touch with the editors of both those programmes (I would count them both as good friends), and have worked on subsequent broadcast feature films with both of them.
I was in Film Club and Theatre Company at Sheffield University, and after I’d finished my Masters at Bournemouth University and returned back to Sheffield (my home town), I got back in touch with friends from both societies, and a very large amount of my work now comes from contacts I made through them.
There are many, many small and larger decisive moments I can think of that came after this, but I think these are the pivotal ones that led to all the others.
Have you any nifty tips for budding composers?
- Make friends with editors, producers, directors rather than ‘networking’.
- Buy the best equipment you can afford but don’t bankrupt yourself for the latest gadgets or software.
- Get a website and put up your portfolio, and only the best music you’ve written – none of this ‘work-in-progress’ stuff.
- Get as many credits and as much practice as you can on student and low-budget films, when you can experiment and make valuable mistakes (i.e. learning experiences) before being more well-known and it’s more difficult to be experimental and take risks.
- Write the music you would want to listen to and try to be as easy to work with as possible.
Finally, do you have recommendations of recent TV shows or films that you’ve really enjoyed?
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Walking Dead, Broadchurch, Arrow, The Returned (the French TV Series), Agent Carter, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (the recent movie remake)…
Heather Fenoughty is currently scoring a forthcoming large-scale Battle of the Somme remembrance event. You can see her reel by clicking here.