Published: 6/13/2017SESAC's Erin Collins with Gabriel Mann and wife, Allison Bloom at the 2017 Film and Television Composer Awards
SESAC Q&A with composer Gabriel Mann
Did you experience a defining moment that made you decide to pursue a career in music?
Not exactly. But I had two things happen that definitely led to that decision I guess. One was a performance I did two weeks before I graduated from high school. I played Billy Joel’s “Vienna” at the talent show, and suddenly everyone knew who I was and knew that I was the music guy. The other was majoring in music at the University of Pennsylvania – I was pre-med and pretty set on being a doctor, but I had an amazing class about the history of the symphony during my freshman year, and another when I was a junior with George Crumb that convinced me to see what could happen for me in music.
What has been your favorite project to date and why?
Rectify. I was given so much freedom, and the show is so beautiful, and I am proud of the work I did that contributed to it.
You’ve worked on Modern Family since the show started in 2009. What’s it like working on a series that’s been on the air for 9+ years?
Well, I guess it’s just comforting knowing it will be back year after year, seeing all those characters episode after episode, and working with the same great cast and crew. There are challenges, mainly making sure we keep things fresh but also stay true to what people love about the show. But it’s a wonderful gift to still be doing it after so many years.
How long does it generally take you to write a score for an episode, or how much time are you generally given?
Different shows are on different schedules and take different amounts of time based on the material. Some dramas I can score in a couple days, while animated shows can take a couple weeks, and generally the schedules match the amount of work. Then a show like Modern Family there’s not a ton of material to write, I just need to make sure I’m available because I can often get called at the last minute. On School of Rock we are on a weekly shooting schedule, and I need to give them songs to shoot to in advance, record the cast in advance, then score the episode a month or two later, so that’s an unusual one.
You have worked in all forms of media- T.V., film, games- What are the differences and similarities in your composition process for each media?
Ultimately I’m just trying to make the right thing for the right moment, while occasionally trying to include something personal and unique and interesting. But in terms of the process, television usually involves a lot of work for the pilot and first few episodes making sure we’re developing a specific sound for the show, and how that works in different aspects of the show. In a film there is more time for each particular piece of music, making sure every single note is exactly what it should be. And in games it’s often more of a general concept – we need this whole level to sound this way, but it’s gotta stay interesting and the music has to be able to be deconstructed and reconstructed seamlessly.
Do you find any correlation between performing with your band The Rescues and your composition for media?
Yes - a great piece of music is a great piece of music, in or out of a particular piece of media. With The Rescues we want to stay true to our brand, our “sound,” while being free creatively, and I suppose the same thing happens on a show or a movie, staying true to that project while being free creatively, and hopefully somewhere in there making people feel something and, if I’m lucky, making a catchy tune in the process.
What is your preferred DAW and what is your process like?
I work in Pro Tools, and my process varies depending on the project. If I am on a longer schedule I will come up with themes and ideas at home on my piano or in the car recording on my phone, then listening back and seeing if anything was worth anything. With shows that I’m familiar with and am pretty deep into, I can just load up the video and get cranking right away, and that’s probably 75% of the things I work on daily. Then there are projects like School of Rock that require a team, producers, arrangers, teachers, and I need to make sure I am on top of the whole thing logistically, that I write the right song for the right episode and that everybody is on board with plenty of time before day one of shooting.
What do you like most about being a SESAC writer, and how do they support you in your career?
SESAC just makes my life simpler, I know they are looking out for my bottom line and that means I can just go to work every day like a normal person, make the best music I can make and keep the home fires burning. I have a huge sense of relief to be a member of SESAC; I breathe easier knowing they’ve got my back.