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British composer Benson Taylor has been steadily making a mark on Hollywood, his music being heard in a huge array of TV shows and film trailers—and even the Super Bowl. Here, he describes his amazing journey from schoolboy trumpet player, and how he harnesses the emotional power of music.
Who is Benson Taylor, the fresh new sound of Hollywood, people continue to ask?
I am Benson Taylor, a film and television composer based in the United Kingdom. I produce music which ranges from orchestral scores through to electronica, and I’ve been lucky enough to hear my work across some amazing TV shows in the USA, including Two and a Half Men, 30 Rock and 90210, and some UK BAFTA- and Emmy-winning shows, including Ross Kemp on Gangs and Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. I’ve also had the privilege of writing for many movie trailers including James Cameron’s Avatar, Louis Leterrier’s Clash of the Titans, John Lee Hancock’s Blind Side, Sylvester Stallone’s Expendables, Chris Weitz’s Twilight Saga: New Moon and Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
One of my most memorable jobs to date involved composing for Super Bowl XLIII. Obviously it’s a massive event seen all around the world, but the broadcast on NBC drew an average audience of 106.5m people—which is mind-blowing for someone from a country of 60m people. It’s hard to believe that more people than the population of your home country have heard your music in one sitting. My grandmother still doesn’t.
I was actually in the USA a month before my deadline, and decided to go and catch a game: Oakland Raiders vs. Denver Broncos. You wouldn’t believe the difference it made to my writing. I’ve been to football matches in England and been swept away by the emotion in the crowd, but this was something new, incredible. The passion that was emanating from those hard-core fans needed to be felt in the music I was writing. I couldn’t wait to get home and get my guitars out.
I’ll never forget the party we had to watch the Super Bowl. We had about 30 people round to the house and not one of them understood the rules of the game; it looks like rugby but it’s not the same at all! Nevertheless, I did provide the food, and it was a proud moment for me—so I made them all watch the whole show. So, how did I get to this point?
This is the part where I tell you that my school’s careers officer asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said ‘I want to be John Williams’. Right?
The truth is I actually wanted to be a doctor, but realised pretty quickly that the other kids in my class would probably be better suited to doing that sort of thing. From then on I played the trumpet and watched a lot of movies. I would be playing the soundtracks over and over, especially Jan de Bont’s Speed (my favourite action movie). I started writing ‘professionally’ at the age of 21, composing some pretty questionable jingles, but once I managed to bring home a pay cheque to buy some more gear, I figured I could be onto something.
After a couple of years I set my sights on LA. I went to studying composition at UCLA with Lennie Moore, and from there I was lucky enough to train professionally with Hummie Mann and Mark Mancina. This was such an incredible experience, to find myself chatting to, and working with composers who had changed my whole thought process on film music.
When I think back now to being that little boy playing the trumpet, I realise I didn’t know who I wanted to be when I grew up. Which is probably what I said to the careers officer. But music has always been with me.
I think of music as a kind of natural therapy; melodies and rhythms exert an overall healing and rejuvenating effect upon our minds and bodies. Music could possibly be the oldest form of artistic expression in our world. Primitive man was no doubt chanting and pounding out rhythms on various percussive instruments (as I like to do in the studio) for at least as long as he has been painting on walls (as I also like to do in the studio). Music also has an indelible mystery. How is it that certain arrangements of notes can evoke sadness, or joy, or longing, in us?
Film music does all of these things, and exists to enhance the emotional experience of the picture, not to draw away from it. I’ll let you decide on how I’ve done.
To find out more about Benson and his work, visit www.bensontaylor.com @bensoncomposer