Tristan Noon Twitter @NoonWithATune
Photo by Susan Legg
What is the role of an arranger?
I always think of arrangement as a bit of a loose term as it’s almost like orchestrating, except you’re taking a pre-existing work and using that material to dictate how to arrange it further. For example, you could take a pop song, and instead of having the guitars playing chugging chords, you could split that out and have the strings from Violin I to the Double Basses playing the chord.
Also, instead of having a synth part playing a counter melody, you could then decide that you now want a vocalist to sing that line. Sometimes it’s a case of using what material is already within the song, and sometimes you’re free to add the music parts you wish, to make the arrangement different (I would say better, but often it’s very difficult to make an original classic song better!)
How do you split your time between: performing, arranging, writing?
My time split between those three can be very varied from one week to the next so it’s tough to give a definitive answer. When I was at sixth form, I used to play in a few bands but never anything serious. Although we were fortunate enough to play at the Isle of Wight Festival in 2013 and the following year (strangely, with another band). I very much enjoyed the days of gigging, but it was never something I was fully focussed on, which often means that you’re not dedicating your life to it and I think that’s what’s required to be successful.
I have always felt, especially in the music industry that you can’t half do something. You have to go at it like a bulldozer and really put your heart and soul into it. With gigging, it requires an enormous amount of spending money to rehearse, get to venues and get merchandise out there, which will probably make very little revenue unless you hit it semi-big. I was never interested in doing any of that, nor playing to two people in a darkened pub on a rainy Tuesday. Eventually,
I fell into the writing and arranging, which is how I now spend most of my time. I also do Music Preparation and Copyist work, which means getting all of the parts tidied in Sibelius (a notation software that most of us use to get music ready before tight deadlines) and then printed, sorted into pads (Trumpets, Horns, Tuba etc). Scores are then bound before being sent to the studio to be recorded. Often, copyists sit in on the session just in case anything needs to be reprinted or if a music cue comes in late and needs to be reprinted at the session.
Where did you study music?
I studied very briefly at the University of Surrey in 2013 as an undergraduate, but only stayed for about three months after realising that it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing. It was mostly essay based and I just wanted to be learning on the job. Fortunately, I’d been meeting quite a few industry people when I was at sixth form, so I had begun to make a small amount of money which meant dropping out wasn’t as risky as it could’ve been. Around that time, I was at a Downton Abbey recording session and met composer Simon Whiteside.
A few months later, Simon was looking for an assistant and I was fortunate that he asked me. After that, I’ve been very lucky to do the things I that I have done, and have met many more people in the process. The whole business is about meeting people and forming relationships, which sounds like one horrendous cliche, but it is true. Since then, I got another job to assist Stephen Baysted, as well as the work for Simon, which keeps my job varied!
I also work on my projects with my own clients. I’m a firm believer in that you can write as many essays as you want, read about it as much as you want, but you can only ever learn and gain experience by being thrown in at the deep end. It’s really the only way I’ve ever known, and I’ve enjoyed every second, despite being in some very high pressured scenarios in studios and at my home studio.
Photo by Maree Lock.
At what age did you get an interest in music?
I was a bit of a later bloomer in the way that I found music. I’d always loved the sound of the piano in particular from when I was in junior school, but never had the courage to get lessons. When I started secondary school I finally began to learn the piano and at one point had the intention of being a session player or a performer. However, once I realised my sight reading skills weren’t ‘up to scratch’, I realised that was a no-go. I began to push myself into writing songs and using music recording software at home.
I was into the Beatles massively around this time (year 8) and I was obsessed by their incredible melodies and harmonies. My parents aren’t musical at all, but my dad has a great CD and vinyl collection, so I got into music that way really. He used to play me lots of songs by The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Billy Joel, Simon and Garfunkel, so I was very much into that and not the music that all the cool people were listening to, so I was always a bit different to the rest of the kids in that respect.
I new a bit about modern music, but at the time I wasn’t interested. I just wanted to play The Beatles’ music all day, every day, trying to work out their chord progressions. It was only really around year 10 when I went to one of the BBC proms that I realised I wanted to be a film/television composer. Despite not being a Doctor Who fan, I liked the score by Murray Gold, so my dad and I went along to the Proms to see it. I can’t tell you the feeling that came over me that day. It sounds so cheesy, but I had this enormous desire to write to picture.
The BBC had a live orchestra which was playing along to a screen which was hanging down in front of the audience, playing the footage. I loved the feeling that the music gave you when it was juxtaposed with the footage. How one note or even a chord can hit you emotionally; make you laugh, feel sad or angry. I just loved the feeling that it gives you, and I still do. When writing to picture, I get a huge exhilarating feeling when I know that I’ve finally nailed the mood of the scene, having slaved over it for hours. Although sometimes it comes straight away; the picture is the inspiration.
Do you use traditional scores for your work or a computer?
90% of the time, I’m working digitally on my computer, so there’s no need for scores unless you’re lucky enough to get your music recorded by live players. If I’m at a session, there will always be a score to ensure that everyone can see what’s on the page. Usually one A3 copy of the score is needed for the conductor, and one for the composer. Then 2/3 A4 scores are needed for the engineer, assistant engineer and potentially anyone else sat in the studio. The copyist will read the scores from their laptop so that another one doesn’t need to be printed out. It’s a waste of money and paper otherwise.
Directors/all clients like to hear what we refer to as ‘midi mockups’ which is basically a digital demo of what the score will sound like (with samples) before it is recorded by a live orchestra. It’s too much of a risk for a production company to trust everything that you are creating is what they want before they get to the recording session. To stop this potential major drama occurring, the composer will mock up each cue using their sample libraries (digital sounds). Once that is agreed, it is then sent to the orchestrator to create the scores and parts for the players, then onto the copyist for tidying, and to be printed and bound. If there are no live players, the mockups are kept and used. This is most common on something that a BBC1 or ITV1 drama where budgets are tight, so fake instruments are used instead of hiring a real orchestra!
Which software would you recommend to someone just starting over?
You’ll need a powerful computer with at least 16GB’s of RAM, but I’d recommend 32 to be safer. You’ll also need a sound interface and lots of hard drives to store sample libraries on. In terms of orchestral sample libraries, your best bet is to head over to Spitfire Audio and Orchestral Tools. They are the best for orchestral samples, and most of the people I know use most of the libraries they produce! Things like a keyboard are useful, but you can get away with inputting notes into a sequencer manually. I use Cubase 8.5 as a Digital Audio Workstation, so I write all of music music in that program. It’s very intuitive to me and simple to use.
Photo by Simon Whiteside
You’ve worked at Abbey Road studios. How did it compare with working in other studios?
It’s a pretty amazing place, but just becomes any normal building after having been there so many times. Though I still get a buzz when I walk through the gates, up the stairs and through the doors into the hallowed walls! The sound of Studio One in particular is a favourite. The room has been treated so well acoustically, it’s hard to make something sound bad in there. The first time that you go it’s important to tell yourself that it’s just a job, you can’t be star struck or in awe of the place too openly.
Everybody is simply doing their job and nobody kicks up a huge fuss about it when you’re in there. The history of the place is impressive, and sometimes you pinch yourself when going up and down the staircases where you see all the framed photographs of the incredible musicians that have recorded there. I think the fact that The Beatles had so much history there is one reason it remains very special to me.
Any advice for parents?
Be supportive. Your kid probably isn’t going to be earning much for the first few years, but once they gain trust and experience, they’ll find their feet. Often parents don’t want their children to do creative subjects because there’s a stigma that there’s not much money in it. That can be true, but I know a lot of people that make a good living from music. At the end of the day, I’d rather do a job that I loved doing, rather than spend my whole life doing something I hated, just to earn lots of money…
The art of composition – it’s not over until the final mix
Below is an example of the art of composition and how music is arranged to create maximum impact. In the 1960s The Beatles worked on eight tracks, now a composer can create a piece using 20 or 100 tracks.
In a piece for the BBC, Tristan explains how the music was broken down into small individual parts.
“The high strings are providing the melody (1st violins and the violas in octaves for added depth) and the 2nd violins, and violas drive the music forward with the repetitive ostinato-like figure. The celli and bass play accented crotchets to further drive the piece.
‘Over the Mountains’ – full piece
Synths part only
Strings part only
Percussion part only
Example of score
Tristan Noon – CV
Media Music Composer | Orchestrator | Copyist
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