Rick Clark is no stranger to film score. As a music professional with over 15 years of experience in orchestral producing, mixing and mastering, he’s worked on hundreds of albums with some of the best modern film composers. We recently sat down with Rick to talk about his role at our client Silva Screen Records, what it’s like to work with Hans Zimmer, and how the market for film/TV music is evolving.
Hi Rick, how did you first find yourself working at Silva Screen at the age of 18?
I think like most people in the music industry, I was at the right place at the right time and spoke to the right people…
From my early teens, I’d become a huge film music fan, I’m not really sure how’d I’d first gotten into it, but I remember my first cassette tape album being Transformers: The Movie! My film music collection, mostly orchestral film music, grew from there, I was fanatical about it.
I ended up leaving school at 16 after realising that I didn’t want to take the usual University route, so I found myself at SAE (The School of Audio Engineering) for a year. After a year, I got my diploma and headed off to Moscow (through a connection at The Moscow Symphony Orchestra that my Dad knew) to do some work experience at Mosfilm Studios for about three months. I sat in on numerous orchestral recording sessions over that time, it was a huge time of learning for me.
Towards the end of my time there William Stromberg & John Morgan came to record an old Max Steiner score for a sub label of Naxos, they took the time to chat to me and ask what I wanted to do… One of their suggestions was to call Mike Ross-Trevor who was head engineer at (the now closed) Whitfield Street Studios in London. Back home in the UK, when I spoke to Mike, after hearing about my film music fandom, he in turn suggested I speak to Silva Screen Records. I called, and Reynold D’Silva (the label owner and boss) picked up the phone, I’ll add that this happens very rarely! An intern had just left, so I got the job and the rest is history.
Can you describe your current role at Silva Screen?
For the past 12 years, give or take, one of my main roles at Silva Screen has been heading up the re-recordings catalogue. I think over that time I’ve probably recorded about 3,000 film and TV themes! So that takes a lot of my time as there’s a lot of parts of the machine that need to come together to make it work.
As with most indie labels, the key to success within a company like that is to be able to get involved in all aspects and learn how things work in the music industry. That has always been my philosophy while working at Silva Screen. So, as well as the recording, I oversee our digital department, help pitch for sync briefs we get in, compile albums, produce live orchestra concerts, master all our albums… whatever needs doing really!
After 16 years in the UK office, I re-located to our office in Midtown Manhattan. I’m still doing all of the above, but also trying to grow our US business, both on the retail and sync side.
Re-recording film music is core to Silva Screen’s business. Can you explain the motivation and processes behind this?
Yes, it really is core to our business, along with sales of OST albums…
The re-recorded catalogue kind of grew organically from early on in the label’s life; Reynold and James Fitzpatrick (who left the label back in 2004) were importing and selling soundtracks, they had the idea to re-record the score to Lawrence of Arabia to add to their catalogue of albums (I think circa 1989). From there, we started recording compilation albums of re-recorded film and TV themes, but the original drive was always to sell LP & CD albums. We found when the digital age of music arrived, our re-recorded catalogue had a whole new audience, so we kept recording!
After many years of recording we’d become very well known for film music, and we started to get approached to use our recordings in UK broadcast (under the PPL blanket) and also for syncs in adverts and films etc. We have become to the go-to label for a film or TV themes. The process of recording totally depends on what style of music it is, but over the years we’ve developed a great system so we know pretty much exactly how long we need to record a piece.
The first thing to is to get the (sheet) music ready. I have a team of orchestrators that I’ve gotten to know over the years, they literally sit and listen to the original recording and figure out exactly what each section of the orchestra is playing and transcribe it. Early on when we first started recording film scores, we would find the original sheet music and record from that, but we found that often times the music was either hand written and hard to read, or so many changes were made on the original recording session that we’d spend a large part of the recording session trying to figure out what those changes were. When you have 85 people being paid by the session (3 or 4 hours), things get expensive, so you need move fast.
For most straight-ahead orchestral music we go over to the Czech Republic to record with The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. It’s a great orchestra and they are non-union, meaning we can use these tracks for sync without having to pay any “re-use” fees. This frees us up a huge amount, especially if someone comes to us with a smaller music budget.
A lot of the 60s and 70s TV themes were more jazzy, so for anything that swings, I’ll always record that in London. I book the players individually as I know who produces a particular sound, this is especially important for the brass section.
If there are vocals, I’ll try and track down someone that has a similar tone to the original song. We also work with a guy based out of Detroit called Al Swan, who is a great at sourcing from a local pool of talent there.
Once the recording is done, wherever from in the world, I gather up all the parts and start the editing and mixing things in my Studio in Hudson, in upstate New York. Sometimes I’ll even dust off the old guitar and overdub some parts here!
What was it like working with Hans Zimmer on the Blue Planet II and Planet Earth II soundtracks?
Having been a huge fan of Hans’ work for so long, it was a real pleasure to work on those albums. But honestly, with those ones, most of the work had already been done. I just had to master them and made sure the music played well as an album… With most original soundtracks that we release, we are working purely as a traditional label; we package the music into an album and sell it, it’s a traditional licensing deal. It’s lovely music, and now they are touring it with a live orchestra and selling out pretty huge venues!
Over the past couple of years score and soundtrack albums have seen a huge resurgence in popularity, from the charts to vinyl sales and live orchestra performances. What do you think is behind this?
I think it a lot of it is an attachment to something that you grew up with. Some of these movies are such a huge part of our childhood, and the music in these movies permeates us and becomes a part of us. So, yeah, nostalgia is a huge part of it, especially when it comes to vinyl sales.
The other part of it, as I see it, is film music is incredibly emotional. I *cannot* watch E.T. without crying. But try and watch that end scene (when E.T. is on his way home) without the music (you can actually find this on YouTube), the emotional impact is way, way, way less! When you hear music like that, whether it’s on your stereo, or live, it stirs up something in us. It’s really powerful.
You recently launched (and co-composed) the library music album Silva Screen Originals. Can you tell us about that project and whether you plan on expanding on this?
Yes! I’m super excited about this, and it’s something that we’ve been considering doing for a number of years now. I feel like I’ve been learning and observing what music works, what is popular for syncs for so long now, we’ve been doing the production side and got this down, so why not try some original pieces?
Often a sync client will say they want a certain piece of film music for use in their advert, trailer or whatever it is. We (or the client) need to go to the publisher to clear the use, and sometimes they will come back with a budget that is way out of our client’s range. I’ve been taking note of what pieces are problematic to clear, and had them in mind when commissioning these works. So the “feel” might be similar to one of those tracks. The idea was essentially to capture a vibe of a requested piece of film music and make it our own.
I’ve co-written three albums now with Evan Jolly. We’ve worked together on our re-recorded catalogue for many years now – Evan is my go to conductor and arranger. We bounce ideas back and forth and then once it’s orchestrated we record it using the same tried and tested methods of our film music re-records.
So, we have three albums of orchestral “library” music. But slightly unusually we’ve treated these as artist albums – they are commercially released. Spotify have been very supportive and we’ve had a few tracks added to some of their biggest mood genre-based playlists. We’ve had a number of great syncs already including an Amazon echo spot so we see huge potential here.
We just finished producing a whole album of “trailer” music, too, working with producer and composer Attila Áts who has a huge amount of experience in this field of musical sound design. We’re hoping to get that out in the coming weeks.
Silva Screen has been a successful indie label for over 30 years now. What’s the secret to staying ahead in this industry and maintaining a great team across several continents?
Without being overly sentimental about it, I think it has a lot to do with how Reynold (the label owner) runs the label. Many of us have been at the label for at least a decade, some over two decades! We are a family in many respects. We work well together because of this, and we all put in the work that needs to be done to make the label a success. When you’re working with creatives, you need to trust that they are doing what needs to be done and Reynold has always done that and allowed the space for people to grow and learn.
Can you talk us through some of Silva Screen’s 2018 sync highlights?
In the last few weeks we got a spot for a Canadian Wal-Mart advert for our recording of “It’s a Wonderful Life”. This one is particularly gratifying because, on vocals, is none other than our director of Finance & Operations, Keith Ferreira! Keith is a wonderful singer (I have to say that to get my pay check!), and I’ve often asked him to record vocals on our tracks. We call him “The Singing Accountant”!
Late last year, we had a really lovely spot with one of our bands The Apache Relay on our sub-label, So Recordings, for HSBC – I’m a huge fan of the band, and the spot is beautify shot and the music has space to be heard.
The Amazon Echo ad was a huge win for me personally, as it showed the potential for the Silva Screen Originals and drove this project forward.
What are the most interesting changes and developments you’re seeing in the business these days?
I’ve got to say Spotify. I know it’s not perfect in terms of how much labels and artists are being paid, but I think we need to see the bigger picture. It’s about accessibility, as an artist and as a fan. The more the Spotify team keep developing ways for us to reach our fans and engage with them the better.
If you’re making music that has longevity, or you have a big back catalogue, Spotify is a huge long-term win for labels.
We’re pretty big on all things data and tech! How does Synchtank facilitate what you guys do in the office?
We were an early adopter of Synchtank, I want to say around 2010?! As part of my multitasking role at Silva Screen, I’ve taken the responsibility of looking after our digital assets and catalogue. From a delivery point of view, things have always been super straight forward with delivering assets. Once we have our content in the system, our worldwide sync team collaborate on playlists and contact groups. We use Synchtank to mail out these playlists to our clients.
For us, though, our passive results from just having our catalogue online has been huge. Because our music is available under the PPL blanket agreement, many music editors are registered on the site searching for recordings of film and TV themes. So much so, that our masters site is part of the music editors FAQ guide with Channel 4. This all means our PPL revenue has been climbing steadily every year since using Synchtank.
The Silva Screen catalogue is pretty diverse, from film score classics to indie bands with the SO Recordings Imprints. Can you talk us through some recent highlights?
We have many fingers in many pies!
We recently launched Renoir Pictures, a film and documentary production company with the documentary It Was Fifty Years Ago Today! – a documentary about the Beatle’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album. We premiered our documentary General Magic at the Tribeca film festival in NYC this year to huge critical acclaim – we’re close to getting distribution on that one now. It’s been fun to get involved with the music side of these productions, too. I ended up mixing, editing and helping to produce the score to General Magic. The composer Benji Merrison did a fantastic job on that one.
Our indie / rock sub-label SO Recordings launched in 2010 with the debut release, “Long Live The Duke & The King”. Since then the roster has continued to expand (Dinosaur Pile-Up, Fenech-Soler, Demob Happy, Deaf Havana, Turbowolf). Adam Greenup, who was originally brought on as Head of Legal for Silva Screen has driven this label forward, and now we find ourselves with a Radio 1 tune of the week with Deaf Havana’s new single from their album that drops on the 3rd August. We have some big signings around the corner, which is very exciting, so stay tuned on that front!
We have a classical label, Silva Classics, which broke one of the biggest selling classical sopranos of all time, Lesley Garrett. Also on that label is ex Royal harpist Claire Jones.
We also have a contemporary jazz label, Hip Bop, with a diverse, funk, fusion roster including Bob James, Chaka Khan and Tom Browne, as well as famed jazz/world label CMP, featuring artists of the stature of Jack Bruce and Trilok Gurtu.
You’ve worked in the film/TV music world for almost two decades now. Are you noticing any trends? What changes would you like to see?
I feel like we got a little stuck in the “Epic” genre for a while. I love Hans Zimmer, but an unfortunate side effect is that everyone out there wants that style of music. You see a cookery program these days and the underscore is some really dramatic, epic music! I often catch myself laughing to myself when I notice this style of music editing on TV.
I do feel though that we’re coming out of that a little, and we’re hearing some more sensitive film music again. The popularisim (is that a word?!) of Neo classical composers like Max Richter, Jóhann Jóhannsson (RIP) and Ólafur Arnalds seems to be making its mark on film scores. I’m personally a fan of this genre, so I hope it keeps going in that direction.