As we explore all the different facets that make up what we see on the screen, it is always fun to hear how one finds a way to compose for the celluloid realm. Composing for film and television is an elite world where a select few are fortunate to be invited. To his eternal delight composer Cody Westheimer was lucky enough to crack open the door and now finds himself happily composing for a variety of television shows and films. In fact, as a huge recent achievement, Cody’s musical score was just selected as the theme music for the NBC Sports Major League Soccer. Creating and writing music has opened the door wide open for so many opportunities for Cody and he candidly shared how he found his way into his wondrous world.
As you were recently invited to score the theme music for NBC Sports Major League Soccer, maybe you can share what’s the story behind getting such a cool opportunity?
CODY: Like most things in life it was serendipitous. I scored my first sports related film back in 2005 in “The Runner.” Two years later I was working on my second running film, “UltraMarathon Man” and was intrigued. I was having a tough year (my dad passed away in 2007) and decided to give running a shot. It stuck. I ran 3 marathons in 2008 and moved onto triathlon in 2009. Obsessed with all things running and cycling I ended up scoring an original cycling series on Universal Sports called “Take a Seat.” That of course led to the theme music for the Tour de France, which eventually led to MLS. It helps to have experience in both music and sports, and while I don’t currently play soccer, I understand the game from a fan’s perspective.
And how did you get into scoring and composing music for film?
CODY: That was a long time ago! I was a HUGE John Williams fan growing up. (And still am – “War Horse” was robbed at the Oscars!) I got deep into music in Junior High and High School. I was always doing my own thing pursuing jazz on the trombone, playing tuba in youth symphony and writing little tunes on piano. When we played the fanfare from “Jurassic Park” my sophomore year at the youth symphony’s pop concert, I knew I was hooked. I went onto USC where I studied music composition – the classical training is crucial. But I also found myself scoring all sorts of student films – that really helped to refine my dramatic sense.
How did you eventually discover the joy of composing for the visual medium such as film and television?
CODY: Scoring for film/tv was always my goal – since I was 14 or so. I’ve maintained a bit of concert music background too, though. I really enjoy art music. In 2010 my dream came true when I was commissioned by the Santa Barbara Symphony – my hometown band!
Are you the sort of composer that needs a visual clip or scene to compose, or can you compose just based on an audio or written description?
CODY: I wouldn’t say “need,” but it helps. I’m a very visual person – I enjoy nature photography and have always been appreciate of a good lens. But descriptions can also work as they often don’t have the constraints on timings. As a film/tv guy I’m very focused on “locking” to picture, etc. – sometimes letting the form of the track “be what it wants to be” can be helpful. For MLS I didn’t have media from NBC right off the bat, so I just downloaded some YouTube clips to at least have some sort of visual stimulation. Sometimes it can really help “break in” a track.
How is composing for sports different than composing or scoring for film/television?
CODY: It’s not so different, except for a specific subtle difference in the style of music. Action music and sports music actually have a lot in common, but there are certain chord progressions and voicings that just scream “sports” to me.
What have been some of your favorite things to work on as far as composing and scoring? What made those experiences so special for you?
CODY: The Tour de France. That was such a fun gig. The producer, David Michaels is a real hoot and we definitely laughed our way through most of the process. Plus I’m a huge cycling guy – I follow pro-cycling rabidly. It was just a dream gig. I also have really loved working on wildlife/environmental films such as “True Wolf” and “The Mono Lake Story.”
Who have been some of your inspirations in music, both to listen to and who influenced you?
CODY: Across the board. The last several years I’ve been listening to more pop/rock than soundtracks. I truly love Sigur Ros, Mogwai, Jose Gonzales, Zero 7, Aqualung to name a few. I also love the old British rock – The Who, David Bowie and of course the Beatles. The Who, in particular is my dad’s influence. As far as orchestral music I love me some Bach, Brahms, Stravinsky, Bartok and my all time favorite – the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu.
Outside of music, are there sounds that you gravitate towards or are particularly drawn to?
CODY: If you mean real life sounds – I love birds. Especially the raptors.
Do you prefer to compose alone, or do you enjoy composing and scoring with others when working on a project? What are the perks and advantages if you do?
CODY: Composing is mostly a solitary job – with the exception of my loyal dog Henry – he’s at my feet 85% of the time (when he’s not breaking into the kitchen trash!) I of course have meetings both on the phone and in person throughout the week, but the bulk of the time I’m in my studio working away. The main perk is having such a flexible schedule. For the most part my deadlines are days or weeks out, so it’s not a problem getting out mid morning for a few hours on the bike or run. That said, it’s generally a 7-day a week job!
As you dream towards the future, is there someone you would love to work with or would want to score music for?
CODY: That’s a tough one! In the immediate future I’m of course looking at the Olympics, but I’d love to score a major sports film one of these days. That and an IMAX nature film — with live orchestra!
You also recently composed for the films “Conception,” “Among Friends,” and “Detention of the Dead.” How did you get involved with scoring for those features and what were some of the joys working on those projects?
CODY: I’ve been doing indie films since my career began in 2001 and it never really gets old – they’re all so different! Take the three you mentioned – “Conception” is a romantic comedy that had a really fun eclectic instrumentation, “Detention of the Dead” a Zombie comedy where we used mostly orchestral instruments, and finally “Among Friends,” a thriller where we employed a hybrid synth palette. They’re all so different and fun. I really enjoy “genre hopping”
Then what are some of your upcoming projects that you will be working on that we should keep an eye out for?
CODY: I’m just starting on two more features – both intriguing. The first is an old USC film friend’s film shot in Cameroon – entitled “Ninah’s Dowry.” I’m looking forward to playing with African sounds and instrumentation on this one. The other film is a Kubrick-esque thriller called “Look in the Mirror,” we’re going for a contemporary classical sound on that one. Those and a few more sports related projects that are brewing.
Have you found that scoring and composing is the dream job you always wished for?
CODY: Absolutely – I still can’t believe my ears when I hear something I wrote come over the cable on my TV.
Finally, what recommendations can you give to aspiring film and television composers?
CODY: Keep at it. Perfect your craft and sell it. Run away from bitter people because it’s infectious! Try to be as business savvy as possible while still holding your music as close to your heart as possible. Have at least 1 or 2 hobbies completely outside of music – if you’re not grounded you’ll burn out quickly. And perhaps most importantly, love yourself and your music.
Clearly, passion is the number one key to success for Cody. He is driven to compose and that infectious love of his art has drawn him into a world that allows him to create some fantastic sounds back-dropping a variety of visual entertainment, from sports to television series to film.
To hear samples of Cody’s music, you may visit his website at: http://www.codywestheimer.com/
You may be surprised to recognize some of his work!
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