Tell us a bit about yourself. Where do you come from and what do you do?
My name is Marie-Anne Fischer, I am a film and television composer. I was born in Belgium and grew up in a musical home. I moved to South Africa as a teenager which is also where I started my composing career writing music for television. I spent countless hours writing high-energy music to accompany sports programmes, pro-basketball and the World Cup rugby being my first paid assignments. These taught me an incredible amount and instilled a strong sense of self-discipline. I also lived and worked in the USA for 18 months where I absorbed many new musical styles, from the Street jazz in New Orleans to Californian Surf Rock and Native American music. I had moved around a lot in the past but have been happily settled in England for quite some time now.
How long have you been a full time composer for, and when did you make the move to being full time?
I have been a full-time composer for a little over a year now. My composing time was becoming scarce, writing music into the late hours at night and then having to wake up at 6:45 to get to work. It simply was not working out and I reached an inflection point where exhaustion dictated that I simply had to choose between the two. The overriding fact that influenced my choice was that I was only really happy when I was writing music. Often I had heard people say that they wished that they could do the job they really loved. With the support from my husband, friends and colleagues, I took the plunge and followed my heart. Now I do a job, full time, that I really love and I am in my element!
What does your studio currently consist of hardware/software wise?
I work on a Mac Pro with OS X and 16GB memory. My main keyboard is the Akai MPK88. Alesis studio reference monitor 1, Alesis RA-100 amplifier. I work in Logic Pro with a host of sound libraries and soft-synths. I also have a Sennheiser microphone and use Duet, two-channel Firewire audio interface by Apogee.
You’ve done a couple of demo’s for Sonokinetic – how did that come about?
I have great memories of the moment I joined the Sonokinetic team! I had completed a track called ‘Maasai Mara’, using the Maasai library from Sonokinetic, which I posted on my Facebook wall. Rob Van den Berg, the CEO of Sonokinetic, liked it and asked if he could add it to his playlist of demos for showcasing the library, to which I agreed. Minutes later, Rob asked me if I would like to be part of the Sonokinetic demo composer and beta testing team, as their first female composer. I was thrilled and accepted immediately. I have since enjoyed writing demos for Sonokinetic. I never know what is going to be their next release until I receive an alpha or beta library, having to create a demo and do beta testing within a very short time scale. It is very challenging every time but always fun and very rewarding. This is made more so when ritualistically, once all the demos have been publicly released, I make myself a nice cup of coffee with some chocolate on the side and listen to all the composers work on the Sonokinetic playlist.
What are your thoughts on the perception of the industry being mainly dominated by male composers?
I’m so used to people pointing out the disproportionate representation of women in this industry, which is a demographic observation and not sexist at all, so it makes no difference to me. I’ve had nothing but great support from my male colleagues and have never felt that I was being treated any differently because of my gender. I would not expect nor like to be either. Naturally, female composers with young children have a harder time, balancing motherhood with composing, but I think that this is no different from any other job or profession. Generally, it has been fantastic to engage with my contemporaries to trade information, technical tips, give and get moral support and recognise common problems regardless of experience or gender.
Sonokinetic and SCOREcast Online have both dedicated support for female composers which has especially been great for young and new female composers just starting out in the industry.
Talk us through “Sleuth Hound”. What was your writing process, how did you mix it etc.?
I have created three different versions of ‘Sleuth Hound’ for different reasons and this was the longest version and also a combination of the other 2 versions. I like writing a track that is structured in such a way that you can rebuild it or add something different to it. I started this track in piano only and wanted a slow start with sound design building up anticipation, eventually bringing in brass, strings and woodwind whilst also keeping the sound design elements. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the trumpet suited the mood at the end and how it fitted in with the other instruments. I used QL Spaces and applied reverb to all instrument groups and added some EQ to the drums. I also added some soft enhanced compression, light stereo spread and limiter plug-ins. I was fortunate to have a friend and composer colleague help me to refine the mix.
What is your process for mastering a track?
I use mainly Logic plug-ins, I usually add EQ to enhance some of the individual frequencies and try and remove some of the ‘muddiness’. I’ve had some interesting results from adding a stereo spread plug-in. Depending on the type of track I would add multi band compression and limiter. I have recently purchased the Slate Digital FG-X (32-bit) mastering plug-in which comes with great presets, I have been using it in all my recent projects and really like the way it gives a smooth and glossy end result. I keep on practicing and experimenting and refining my hearing to hopefully get a good ‘ear’. Mastering is such an art and I am only starting to get a feel for it now.
What do you do in between projects when you don’t currently have something to work on?
I catch up with friends, do some research, listen to newly released music, explore new library releases, look for new projects or write my personal music. I feel slightly edgy and out of place when I don’t work on music.
How do you use social media as a musician to get work/promote yourself?
I use Soundcloud to post my music and share private tracks with clients. Once I have loaded a track on Soundcloud I share it with my Facebook friends and Twitter followers which is a great sounding board for getting a feedback on how the track is being received. I only have a profile page on Facebook and use it like a dairy. I have met an incredible number of composers and musicians in the past two years and have enjoyed being able to share thoughts about gear and music on Facebook and Twitter. When it comes to communicating with clients I prefer keeping it private.
What does your daily routine consist of?
I wake up with a nice cup of coffee and check my emails while watching some news. Then I power up my system, shower, eat breakfast and start working until about lunch time where I would take a short break, walk in the garden or go out, whatever I feel like or need to do at the time. I try and fit in some yoga during the day. After the lunch break, I carry on working until about 6pm, when I start cooking. I used to do regular exercise and sculpting which I hope to get back into someday.
What are your favorite musician/composer websites?
My upright piano which detunes itself on a regular basis. I enjoy improvising and playing around with chords and melodies and having the freedom to let go. I usually find my first ideas on piano and when something sounds like it has potential, I move over to Logic and start a new project.
What’s your definition of success?
Being able to do what I love and feeling that this leads to a sense of achievement. Growth, development, improvement and getting better – Kaizen. From a business point of view, getting paid for my music and having a happy client. From a personal point of view, seeing that my music has been understood and appreciated for what it is, my creativity shared.
What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time to when you were originally starting off?
I would tell myself to trust myself, go for it and worry less about trying to follow what others are doing. I also would suggest to myself to do an apprenticeship with another composer to get a good foundation in the music business. I would probably also do a course in music production.
Your studio is on fire and you only have time to grab one thing – what do you take?
My Mac and I would put my violin on top of it! My entire creative life is digitised and on my hard disk, as are my friend’s and family history in the form of messages and photos, my connections to the world! Of course, I have an off-site backup, but this is not the same and restoring it to the form I have on my Mac would be a mission in resurrecting my life.
Can you recommend any useful books on composition/mastering/business etc. that you’ve read and enjoyed?