Sarah deCourcy is a triple threat: she is a composer, producer, and musician whose work has ranged from producing hits for top DJs, to scoring TV promos and working as Kylie Minogue’s live musical director. We recently sat down with Sarah to discuss her varied career, and the importance of taking control and diversifying your craft as an artist.
Hi Sarah, thanks so much for chatting with us today. How did you first get into music?
I started playing the piano when I was around three years old, and eventually went on to study at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester. It was an incredible experience that really opened a lot of doors – I was playing the violin in orchestras, performing piano concertos and generally learning so much. I discovered music production when I was 15, which was a real eye-opener – it was like, “I can go into the studio and use computers!?”. I then studied at the London Royal Academy of Music, and it all rolled on from there. Music has always been my life.
Your first foray into sync came with a series of advertising placements. How did that happen?
After my studies I continued to compose music and the pop side of things was going really well. One day I bumped into a music supervisor who was doing music for brands, and he needed something score-esque for a Mother’s Day themed Dove campaign in the US. They gave me a 24-hour turnaround, so I was up all night, and luckily they loved what I did. Then it developed from there.
You then went on to tour with Kylie Minogue as her musical director. How did that incredible opportunity come about?
I had started getting my music to publishers and one of them said, “Kylie Minogue needs someone to play piano and do some arrangements for her live performances. Would you be interested?” Soon after that led to them asking me to Musically Direct her Live World Tour. I think it helped that I had done some film work before, because live tour production is very visual-based. I worked alongside Steve Anderson, her long-term music producer, and William Baker, her creative director, and we toured around the world. I think we did about 170 dates – it was crazy.
That led me to tour with Christophe Willem, a huge artist in France and Belgium, and I also worked on two of his albums which went double platinum and gold. Since then I’ve Musically Directed tours and live performances for artists like Example and Little Mix and it’s been a lot of fun. It’s all about grabbing those opportunities and seeing where your skills can fit.
And you’ve worked on some really exciting releases
There was the work with Christophe Willem, which was fantastic, and I’ve also done a lot of work in the DJ world, for example with artists like Armin Van Bureen, Dmitri Vegas & Like Mike and Freemasons. I also worked with the winner of The Voice in Portugal, so it’s been quite diverse.
Do you think that your behind-the-scenes role of being a writer/producer and collaborator gives you more creative freedom?
It really does. I’m currently working with some artists under the name NEO. As a producer/writer when you’re working on an album you really have to lock into the style of what the artist is doing at the time. Now I’m kind of doing it in reverse – I’ve been working with artists like Tingsek and Moya creating tracks that don’t have to go on an album – it’s just driven by whatever direction we’re going in creatively. I feel really lucky because I can diversify what I’m doing in terms of creativity and style and mood.
What made you start to really focus on writing score?
I’ve always wanted to do it, but it’s a very hard market to break into. You really have to pay your dues. I started getting a few trailer slots and then began working my way up to bigger projects. I worked on a promo for Sky and a trailer for Dynamo’s new TV show, and eventually music supervisors and production houses started hearing and recognising my work. I’ve had a chance to pitch for a few movies recently, and I’m also trying to break into the games market.
Can you tell us a bit about your work with Warner/Chappell?
I’d recorded some tracks for sync-focused covers catalogue , and Pascale Khalaf, VP Synch & Licensing at Warner/Chappell Music UK, heard those songs and got in touch. We found a way to work together in the film/TV department rebooting and recreating some of their catalogue. The goal is to build up a collection of music that’s available and ready for film/TV, and I’m really excited about it. They’ve got some fantastic ideas for how to move their older catalogue forward, and it’s an amazing opportunity to work with some great songs – everything from Guns N’ Roses to Cher! Obviously I like to write original music, but sometimes it’s nice to take a great song and deliver it in a different way and see what it can become. You get to give a song this whole new birth and meaning.
You’re such a great example of a 21stcentury artist diversifying their craft and income streams to succeed. How has that experience been for you?
Diversifying is really hard. People put you in a box – they don’t understand how I can write a top line for Armin Van Buuren but then also do a score for Sky TV. It just doesn’t compute because people are used to one sound from an artist, whereas I’ve always felt that music is a language and you find the right way to talk to someone through it depending on what the project is. I’ve always thought that I should understand all music, from African to Latin, to jazz, to pop/rock – everything. That way you can bring all of those influences to the table. I think in the past year or two people have become more used to musicians diversifying their craft, so it’s a bit easier now. It’s what you have to do to stay afloat in this industry.
“Diversifying is really hard. People put you in a box – they don’t understand how I can write a top line for Armin Van Buuren but then also do a score for Sky TV.”
It’s a great but challenging time for up and coming artists in the industry. What advice would you give to those starting out?
Keep making music, but also understand the business because it’s not like it used to be. You really need to know how to get your music out there and meet the right people. Don’t worry so much about that generic path of writing an album then gigging. Find someone like me and get featured on a track for a film or an advert. There’s so many different outlets and channels now in the digital world, which obviously has its pros and cons. But the pro is there’s so much more content that needs music. So just be aware of everything around you and take in as many opportunities as you can. Be persistent and keep knocking down doors.
Have you noticed any particular trends in the sync world?
There’s a lot more online stuff nowadays, which is great because it keeps us all in a job. In terms of budgets rates have done down, but there are so many platforms and channels so it sort of balances itself out. These new platforms have allowed new writers, directors and gaming creators to come through, and that’s opened up a lot of doors for the music world. Creatively I’m seeing a lot more hybrid stuff. The sync world has become more experimental, and I think we’ve got music supervisors to thank for that.
“The sync world has become more experimental, and I think we’ve got music supervisors to thank for that.”
The #metoo movement has really brought issues facing women in the workplace to the forefront. What would be your advice to women in the industry?
I think women in the industry just need to be aware. If you feel uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to say no. Have the confidence to say, “This doesn’t feel right.” It’s really important to surround yourself with the right people and to make sure that you feel respected. The income issue also needs to be addressed. I recently discovered that I got offered half of what a man was offered for the same pitch. That has to change. That’s why women really have to understand the business side of things.
I’ve got this funny relationship with the whole female movement. It’s obviously so important, and there are times when I can’t believe how I’ve been treated, but I also like the idea that at some point I can go back to being called a composer/producer, rather than a female composer/producer. Why do we have to outline that we’re women? You should never see yourself as the lesser party or the other version of something. Just run alongside the men and eventually they won’t even notice.
“I like the idea that at some point I can go back to being called a composer/producer, rather than a female composer/producer. Why do we have to outline that we’re women?”
In a recent interview you mentioned that your goal was to compose for a Netflix series. Is that your dream job at the moment?
It would be so good to get a series because I love working to a story and a goal. Movies are great, but TV shows give you longevity and development of character, which is really exciting. I’m currently working with CBS on some themes for a few of their shows – they’ve got a few pilots on the table right now, and I’m also working on a theme for one of their news channels. They’ve had people like John Williams and Hans Zimmer composing their news themes in the past, so that’s pretty incredible.
I’m just trying to break into as many networks as possible. I went to the BMI Awards recently and there was so much recognition for the composers and producers who write scores for TV shows. People are really recognising the importance of the music in these shows, and that’s really opening up doors for composers. I’m hoping I can crash through that gate. It’s a big old iron gate, but I’m banging away!
You’re also focusing on composing for video games – what’s the motivation behind that?
It’s something that I just really want to do. Music is so important in games, and it can be really diverse – whatever keeps people in that world and the mood of a scene. There’s so much work that goes into making a game, and it’s a really interesting challenge to explore the sound of the characters and the overall theme. You don’t hear as many big themes in movies anymore, but games are still really big on them which I love. I’m a big gamer myself and I think that game composers get really overlooked – they are creating really amazing soundtracks and I’m really looking forward to getting more into that world. I’ll also be one of only a few women because it’s very rare to see a female game composer. I remember meeting with an agent who said, “That’s going to be tough, that’s a man’s world.” I thought, “Wow! We’re still saying that are we?”
Can you tell about any upcoming releases/projects?
I’ve got my own Sarah deCourcy EP coming out with original music, and I’ll also be putting a NEO EP out with all the artists I’ve been working on. I’ve recently had a couple of song cuts with DJ duo Super8, and those have done really well. “Seconds Away” is number one in four different countries, and it’s doing really well on radio. I’m also featured on Husman’s new visual album Rise Of The Mad King (Chapter 1 – Arrival). He’s a really interesting DJ and the music is accompanied by a virtual reality film, so it’s almost like gaming. He’s really breaking new ground and I really enjoyed collaborating with him – the track I’m featured on is called “Human”. I’ve recently worked on some ad campaigns for Sunsilk and L’Oreal, and I’m doing another cover for Coversion, so there’s lots going on! I’m also moving to LA in a few weeks to be closer to the film/TV world. I’m looking forward to shaking up my environment and meeting new people – it’s going to be good!