Mitch Gardner

Note: This profile refers to Leeds College of Music (LCoM), the former name of Leeds Conservatoire

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Course Studied: Film Music

"The community is so close-knit that it feels like home and that is what I wanted it to feel like."

 

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What has been the most important thing you've learned at LCoM?

This is a tricky one! So much information has been given to me from lecturers, visiting lecturers, friends and peers over the past 3 years that I couldn't pin it down to one thing, but there is always one thing that has stayed with me since the first semester of my first year. Hollywood Orchestrator Nicholas Dodd told us that "Synths don't need breaths, musicians do, especially brass". This sounds like a fairly obvious comment, but as someone who has primarily written into a computer, it does sometimes escape you! When you are writing a clarinet part for example and hold a note down on a computer, the note loops. So now if I wrote something for longer than a player would be able to take, I would write on the orchestral score for the section to do staggered breathing, or give the note to two players and give them gaps to breathe so that it sounds like one continuous note. An easy way to decipher this is to pretend you are playing it to see how long of a breath you can take!

What are you planning on doing next after you leave LCoM?

I think had there not been a pandemic, I would have said "first this, then that, maybe with a bit of this" for the back end of this year, but the honest answer now, is not that much. I have moved back in with my parents to save some money and I will hopefully have a job as a Warehouse Operative going into August. In terms of what i'm planning on doing music-wise, I have a couple of films to write the music for and a couple of production music albums to finish, but since the lockdown occurred I have stockpiled music ready to be licensed through publishers, and once filming across the world has resumed, that's when I feel I can release it for use on TV/advertising etc.

Is there anything you've encountered over the last few years that has really made you push yourself as a musician or anything new that you had not tried before?

Many things and that's what I loved about my three years at LCoM. One that springs to mind is Rob Mitchell/Ben Gaunt in the Year 2 module "Arranging & Orchestration". Both assignments for that module were a great time for me to experiment with gut instinct. As the assignments were being arranged in Sibelius it's fair to say that the sounds weren't particularly realistic! This did push me to think and use my experience of what would work, what might work and what might be an interesting combination. Pieces that stood out to me whilst on this module were Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" and Gordon Goodwin's "High Maintenance".

What is the best piece of advice you've been given at LCoM?

It was in a contextual studies lecture, Brian Morrell said that as humans we possess an inevitable partiality. If we hear a singular note on its own, we unwittingly assume that it is the root of the chord, but in context it could be the dominant 7th, or even the 9th of the actual chord. Doing this is a way that we can impose character on a chord. I felt like this character is one thing that helps me engage with the story in a film to really get the emotional feeling out there.

What has been the best project / opportunity you've had during your degree?

I've been fortunate to have had several amazing opportunities during my time at LCoM! My first "big" one came in the summer of my first year, I wrote the musical score to a horror/thriller miniseries which is now on Amazon Prime Video called "Devil's Gold". This was a good taste of the film industry as it had tight deadlines (whilst also working full time over the summer!). In that same summer I did some music for a documentary for the charity Shelter too, which discussed homelessness within the Manchester area.

At the end of second year, I managed to get 13 tracks released via three publishers, and a further seven in third year through another publisher which are all made for use on TV. My music got its first use on TV at the start of third year, where it was used in Denmark, followed by Switzerland the month after. At Christmas it then got used on BBC's "River City" in Scotland, More4's "How to Build" Series and most recently PBS in America! I’ve also found out from a recent PRS statement that my tracks have been used on The Martin Lewis Money Show around a similar time.

In my final year, I got on board with a team who were going to pitch their short film script titled "What a Circus" to the BBC for funding. I went down to London as part of the pitching process, which was a great experience in itself, but five months later I was in Covent Garden listening to my score being mixed in a post-production facility! If you've never been in one of those, it's utterly mesmerising to watch how it all unfolds (and a little bit surreal to hear your music in there). It went quiet with that project for a couple of months after it was done, for us then to find out that its premiere was going to be on BBC Four hosted by Dr. Janina Ramirez!

Not long after I finished "What a Circus", I met a documentary filmmaker, but this was no usual meet-up, I had been to a Christmas party the night before and we were staying in the same AirBnB, so I guess you never know who you will cross and when! We exchanged some emails and he asked if I wanted to write a few tracks for a documentary on Dame Hilary Mantel, author of the Booker award-winning novel "Wolf Hall". This documentary then aired on prime time BBC2 the same week as "What a Circus"! I never thought for a second that I would be able to hear my own work on live TV before I had finished at LCoM, but here we are!

One of my final projects at LCoM was assisting another composer, LCoM Alumni Alex Redfern . He was deep into writing the music for a War documentary "No Roses on a Sailor's Grave", to which he asked me if I would be able to help with some orchestrations on it. Alex would send me some sketches as to how he envisaged the cues to sound and it was my job to then make them sound as full as possible. It was a really eye-opening experience and Alex wrote some absolutely stellar music for it. It was also interesting to work alongside a composer, which I had not done until then!

What has been the biggest challenge and how has this helped you develop?

Mentally there have been times where I would struggle with confidence in tracks or cues and would bin them without anyone hearing them. It almost felt like I had to get it right first time, every time. The more students and filmmakers that I would write for, the more I realised that nobody is perfect and that it takes a few times to get something right. It was my lack of experience that was letting me down, not my music! I'm generally more honest with myself now. I don't send it now until I feel satisfied that what I have written works and it is what was requested, which I have found takes time.

What is your favourite LCoM memory?

I think it has to be the annual masterclass for Nicholas Dodd. Before LCoM I watched Nicholas conduct the Philharmonia Orchestra at the De Montfort Hall in Leicester, playing the music of the great John Barry. After the concert, I introduced myself and said that I would be studying Film Music at LCoM, to which he replied "I look forward to seeing you there". When I introduced myself at his first masterclass, I was surprised to discover that he remembered me! Every year, it was wonderful to hear him discuss his recent projects, such as Rampage (starring Dwayne Johnson), Mowgli (directed by Andy Serkis) and Pixar's Onward (starring Chris Pratt). He would also give us tips and tricks for orchestration and tell some of his favourite stories from the film music industry.

Another memory that I will always remember (this didn't happen at LCoM, it happened during my studies) was meeting Hollywood composers Michael Giacchino (Up, Spider Man, The Incredibles) and David Arnold (Independence Day, Sherlock, Casino Royale). They hosted a concert at the Royal Albert Hall and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performed some of their most notorious music. I waited at stage door for what felt like a lifetime, but it was so worth it! Whilst waiting for the composers, I also met Star Wars writer/Jurassic World Director Colin Trevorrow, and Gollum himself Andy Serkis!

What advice would you give to others thinking of applying to your course at LCoM?

Without sounding too much like Emperor Palpatine... "do it"! I started at LCoM aged 21 and by the time I had started, all of my school friends had already graduated. I thought I had regretted not coming when I was 18, but then I realised that if I had gone to uni straight away, it was likely that I would not be where I am now. I prepared myself, studying and analysing before freshers week (and also reading Programme Leader Brian Morrell's books "How Film and Music Communicate") and I was super buzzed for the entire experience, being surrounded by like-minded musicians and composers in such a vibrant city. The community is so close-knit that it feels like home and that is what I wanted it to feel like. The music live scene is also fantastic, with so many LCoM bands supporting big acts too! I saw Too Many Zooz twice whilst at LCoM, once at Brudenell Social Club and the following year at Belgrave Music Hall. Both times, they were supported by LCoM acts, Shaku and Project Hilts!

How would you describe your experience at LCoM in three words?

A wonderful trilogy!


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