Here’s the full interview with composer Mike Patti, founder of Cinesamples, conducted and transcribed by Tim Hare B.M. ’11:
What was your musical education like?
I grew up on Long Island, NY and I started taking piano lessons when I was 11. I saw Jurassic Park in 1993 and when I saw that film something triggered in my brain “You need to do this.” I waited for the credits to roll and saw the name John Williams, who I went and researched. From that point on I started composing and I had a great piano teacher growing up and he encouraged me to compose which was very helpful. I went to Hofstra University in New York originally to major in Computer Science and then I switched to music after I heard that USC had a film scoring program. I went to an NYU intensive Summer program to study Film Scoring with the Legendary Buddy Baker. He and I used to chat on AOL Instant Messenger haha. He was always available to chat and would answer questions and he said, “Mike you should come check out USC, I’ll put in a good word for ya.” I graduated with a degree from Hofstra and flew out to LA and did the 1 year program at USC. At USC, we got to record on scoring stages so that was a huge benefit, I think the one of the best ways to learn composition is to hear your music played by live players.
How did you pivot into starting Cinesamples?
CineSamples started in 2007. I was doing a lot of mock up work for other composers and I was getting pretty good at it. I worked with some older guys who would send me sketches or full orchestrations via fax, I had to buy a fax machine haha. I noticed there were some big gaps in the market between good sounding sample libraries that were also affordable. So, my buddy from Long Island, Mike Barry, who went to USC right after I did, we got together and decided to make a Harp library. We wanted to get all the glissandi and different articulations. We each invested $350 which was an enormous amount of money for us at the time. We did the session at this kind of crappy studio in New York, but with a great harpist. We did the session in a day, I chopped the recordings up myself, and we posted on some composer forums and people bought it. We were blown away, I think we made $2,000 in the first week. It was a $60 instrument library. So, we took all the money we made from that and created a different library. That one did really well so we took the money from that and made another library and each one got exponentially larger in budget and scope. We decided we wanted to record with the best players here in LA at Sony and do it right and we have completed the whole orchestra, we are done. Actually August 28th 2017 was the 10-year anniversary of the CineHarp library. We re-recorded it at Sony so we could release it the right way, but yeah, we’ve been going for 10 years now.
Do you feel a big sense of accomplishment having been around for 10 years and having recorded the whole orchestra at Sony?
Yeah after the harp we started with the brass library. We just wanted to see if we could make a cool brass library. We didn’t have the foresight that we would do the whole orchestra. There are enough barriers in the way to do sampling sessions in LA, that’s a WHOLE other topic of conversation haha, but we got the blessing from Sony and we spoke to the players and we share the revenue with the players. That was very appealing to the people involved. That is how we sold it and how we were able to make it happen. There are always going to be some political obstacles involved, players have mixed feelings about sample libraries, but they are a necessary evil for today’s composers.
Did sampling and building your own library help you become a better composer?
I would say probably. Look Sampling sessions are awful, making sample libraries is not fun, but there is something to be said for hearing every single note played in every articulation on every instrument. Any conceivable articulation we have recorded on every instrument so you learn a lot about orchestration that way. It is a super detailed exploration into the orchestration language.
I have to imagine hearing the different boundaries and walls of different instruments being played can showcase a lot about what an instrument can really do in the hands of good players
Yeah absolutely. I think a lot of people the only exposure they have too orchestration is through their sample libraries. So, it’s a great way to learn just playing around with different sounds and instruments to see how they blend together.
You mentioned that creating a sample library isn’t very fun, can you elaborate on that?
Well it is very technical. There’s nothing creative musically about it. The brunt of the work is on the players. For the brass players, a lot of the work is very taxing, playing triple forte in every articulation in the entire range of the instrument can be hard. Once you have it all recorded you have months and months of editing. You have to find the best performances, the best notes, delete the bad ones and chop everything so it is exactly right leaving enough head room etc. So, we have a process we developed to help us do that. Once you finish chopping you have a folder with a few hundred thousand audio files you need to map to the midi keyboard. We have Kontakt scripters we hire out that do a lot of the user interface, different mic position mappings and things like that. The scripters help with the legato transitions. We record all the sustains of each note and the leaps so a C to an Ab, C to an A, C to Bb and we have to record the leaps down as well. So, you press C and then it waits for the next note “This is a C to a B I will trigger this legato sample and cross fade into the next note.” The goal is to make it seem easy and so it doesn’t sound clunky but like a real instrument.
What is your work flow when you get to write music?
It depends on the project, but I always need a template. It can be a movie or a TV show or a Video game, but I will always start with my template. Everything needs to be ready to go so you can focus on writing and not screwing around with technology. I have two PC’s that have all my sample libraries and I don’t have to worry about it. In my Mac, I might have sounds specific to the project I am working on. For League of Legends they wanted some 8bit type sounds so I had those cued up on my Mac. That is step 1 I guess, get your work space ready to go. Then you just need to be really organized; what you need to write and what your deadlines are. My experience is with videogames mostly so I like to create a spreadsheet and write out all the cues, I’ll make up names for all the cues. I’ll have the approximate lengths the cues need to be, a basic description of the style the cue needs to be and once that is locked in with the creatives at the Video Game company it’s just about sitting down and cranking out music. You need that organization it is so important. I promise it’ll save you so much time and headaches.
That’s smart it’s a very macro way of looking at the music so you can focus on the micro details when you are writing. Was there a pitfall early in your career that helped you get more organized?
Exactly! It’s like a big global picture. What’s the end goal? What are we doing? When I first started out I was writing for a jingle company in New York. It was a big cattle call to composers and they’d call you and say, “we got this project, can you submit for it?” They would pay you a couple hundred bucks to score something and if you got the gig they would pay you the full creative fee. I was lucky enough to land the gig it was for a Mattel Batmobile commercial. It was just 30 seconds of music so you think “OK 30 seconds of music that’s no big deal.” Well we went through about 30 rounds of revisions on this thing. I made the mistake of not keep track of all the versions I had done and I was not organized at all. I would just record over parts and make tons of changes. Finally, they approved the MP3s I sent them and then they asked for Stems. The way my work flow was I couldn’t send them Stems because my sessions were such a mess. I had to tell them I couldn’t really get them what they needed. It was OK and it Aired, but I was so stressed out. I know organization seems like it I is a small thing, but it is important. That gig payed me $5,000. That was rent for a year! So, rent for a year was dependent on me getting it right and I almost lost it because I wasn’t organized.
What is the best advice you ever received?
Oh, wow good question. Put your family first. Put your personal life first, if you are married or have kids put those things first. Don’t let this become too overwhelming that it damages the things that really matter. If you are going to be doing this your whole life but it shouldn’t be the only thing. I have friends who are composers and they are obsessive about it. Even a guy like John Williams he is a COMPOSER all the way his life is about writing music and he does it every single day of his life. I just don’t see myself that way I think of myself as a Husband and a father who writes music. I really learned that through observation of working with Kevin Manthei. He had a work life balance I really wanted to emulate. I worked at Media Ventures, before it was Remote Control, and I saw all the composers who didn’t sleep and were just miserable. Then I worked with Kevin and he was successful and happy and wasn’t burnt out. He had a life outside of this so I wanted that too.
What advice would you give to a recent or upcoming graduate?
Be patient! It’s not going to happen overnight. 1,2, 5 years will fly by and if you haven’t accomplished something in your first few years after graduating already that doesn’t mean you are a failure. I remember Buddy Baker said it takes 10 years before you’ve done something of note that will allow you to get more work. That was something that really stuck with me. When I graduated, I knew it was going to take time before I was really doing anything. It took about 10 years, before I could make enough money so my wife could quit her job because that was her dream. Now I feel like I’ve accomplished something.