Michael Abels is a world-renowned composer whose multicultural musical pieces such as Global Warming have made him a force to be reckoned with in the musical realm. Because of his haunting pieces, first-time director Jordan Peele asked him to score one of the finest horror films ever made, the recent box office hit Get Out. I had the chance to interview Michael and what follows are some excerpts from that conversation.
Fear is OK: When I was a student at Berklee I would feel anxious listening to film scores and bands I admired. I used to get so overwhelmed listening to music and questioning if I could ever really make it as a musician. I asked Michael what scares him. He replied:
“Everything! You’re trying to be creative under deadline and under budget for the approval of people you really respect. If that doesn’t terrify you I don’t know who you are (laughs). You do have an obligation as a team member not to stress out your colleagues with that fear, but it is totally normal to feel scared.”
Don’t be afraid of the word no: Being rejected can be a crippling fear, but remember that at the end of the day a composer’s job is to create something that fits with the vision of the director for the film. This same mentality can apply to any assignment or project. Michael told me:
“For all young composers out there I would say you are going to hear the word no. Even after you get the job you are going to hear the word no. So the way to get over it is to leave your ego aside. It’s easy to take it personally and think ‘well, what’s wrong with my stuff?’ That’s not where to come from, where to come from is ‘what can I write that makes the director happy?’ So if you keep that mindset you won’t lock yourself into something you’ve written that the director says no to.”
Sometimes hate can inspire love: Starting out as musicians it can be difficult to find our own sound, what separates us from the other amazing musicians out there trying to forge a career. Michael has an interesting idea on how to help you discover who you truly are:
“If you’re not sure what to say musically then I recommend start out by identifying music that you hate. It sounds funny, but if you can identify and define what about it that drives you crazy, is the opposite of that is what inspires you. It’s the type of music you want to write. It seems easier to figure out what we hate than the music that we think is inspiring and awesome! Loving something doesn’t tell us how to do that. I’ve really seen this work. So find your voice, do it well, and find projects where you can do it well with people you enjoy working with. You could work on the biggest project in the world, but if you hate the project and the people you’ll hate the project so find ones you love!”