Joseph Bonn is one of the best music editors on the planet. He’s worked on such Hollywood blockbusters as Godzilla, X-Men Apocalypse, and Prometheus. He is currently the music editor on a little flick called Star Wars: The Last Jedi.*
Hitting the wall: One of the most difficult decisions I have made in my post-Berklee life was transitioning from the touring industry to working with production music libraries. I took a pay cut of a quarter my previous salary to learn the ropes of the business. I did it because my dream was to work as a composer in TV and film and I needed to learn the dynamics of those worlds. If we hit a wall in our career, it might take some difficult sacrifices to make a change, but if it is for your dream, go for it. Regarding his own road, Joe said:
“I ended up becoming a sound FX editor myself working with another sound FX editor named Paul Ottosson. We were cutting sound FX for the third Spider-Man movie and I realized I was completely in the wrong place. That was a big wall because I knew I needed to get out, but I had invested the greater half of my 20s into sound FX editing and I had sort of made it. I had already established a career and I was really doing it, but I took a big risk in just stopping… I was basically starting from Ground Zero again with the exception that I had a musical background from my studies at Oberlin and I knew the film technology from being a sound editor. So the wall was making the transition happen.”
Set your sights, Rogue Leader: A common theme I have found in life and in music is that you need a clear vision and a clear goal. When I was at Berklee my teachers would ask me, “What are you trying to do with this piece of music?” If you don’t know exactly, it will just sound like mush because you are trying too many different ideas hoping they all will mesh together, and no one will be able to help you figure out how to make it better. Joe had the following advice to offer:
“The best piece of advice I’ve gotten in my career is when I was an intern at Weddington and it was an assistant editor I think, told me ‘If you show people what you want and you work hard enough, you will get it. If you don’t commit to something than there is nowhere to go.’ You can’t take strides towards a goal if you don’t know what it is. A lot of people come to the creative business and they think, ‘Well I could do this or I could do that.’ The sooner you latch onto something and you show people you are determined everyone recognizes that. Just set a goal and let people know that is your goal.”
Trust your Instincts: During and after my time at Berklee I had to trust my gut when it came to making life or musical decisions. I had to practice figuring out what worked for me and what didn’t by trying things over and over and failing over and over. At some point I had to believe that when I thought something was good I could be confident in it. Here’s what Joe had to say on cultivating those instincts:
“I would say the most important skill to becoming a music editor is being able to recognize when music is functional and when it isn’t against picture. That is abstract, but being able to put a piece of music against picture and to know when it is right and when it is wrong—that just comes from practice. Constantly throwing things against picture and being able to navigate the tonal landscape of a recording and working out your gut instincts. That is the most important thing and everything sort of falls into place after that.”
*Side Note: In this interview I had Joe hold off on discussing his scoring process work flow as he generously agreed to a follow-up interview to discuss this topic, and specifically his work flow on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but only after the film has been released.