Meet Mark Willott, Emmy award-winning composer and longtime user of Superior Drummer 2 and EZkeys.
1. When did you first discover your passion for music?
– It was in my blood! My family will tell you my first word was ‘la-la’ which I used to say pointing to my dad’s record player. I think I was saying “put the music on”. As early as I can remember, I started playing music on anything I could find and writing and playing on anything, every available second I could find. When everyone was playing football at break time in school, I was int he music block with a four-track recording something or other.
2. How come you ended up producing for film, TV and commercials? Was it a conscious decision or something you “fell into”?
– When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a rock star! I was always into film and film music, though. I think it worked out for the best. For me when a song has been recorded, I’m finished with it, then it’s on to the next thing, constantly creating. I can’t imagine touring for a year playing the same songs over and over! I started with video games. I went to a local developer “Swordfish Studios” and told them I could handle all of their audio requirements, music and sound design. I didn’t have anything to back that statement up, but they let me test out, working a few months for free, before joining the payroll. It was then I did the sound and music to the PS2 game “Cold Winter”. The soundtrack got released, it got picked up by Drew Watkins at Turner Sports who contacted me about doing original music for their sports promos. I won an Emmy for the first piece I ever did. That led to everything that followed.
3. How do you usually start a project for, say, a major commercial? Do you get any direction from the advertising agency or client or do you get full creative freedom? Tell us how the general process works!
– It depends. They are all different. I love working to picture. I have an instant reaction when I see a scene, I usually hear what needs to be there straight away. Sometimes the producers know exactly what they want and my job is just to facilitate that. It’s a nice balance.
4. Where do Toonrack’s products come in to your creative process and how do they help?
– I wouldn’t say they were part of my creative process, as that mostly happens in my brain! But what the Toontrack stuff is great for, is realizing that creativity and bringing it to life with real human emotion.
5. You are an avid EZkeys and EZkeys MIDI user. Tell us a little about how you work with this software line in your day-today work!
– I’ve never been a great musician. I have a good understanding and can find my way around most instruments, but I always spent my time writing rather than playing scales and learning songs. I don’t use EZkeys to write for me. I know it could be a great source of inspiration and useful as a song starter, but that’s not how I use it. I will write and play a piano or keys part, but I don’t have the skills to bring that to life the way a pro piano player would. So I use EZkeys to find the feel and basic rhythm of what I want, input the chord structure, drag it to the DAW and then edit as required. Often, I’ll remove the top line and replace it with my own melody. But it’s the natural rhythm and groove from EZkeys that will bring it to life.
6. You are also a longtime Superior Drummer 2 user. What’s your favorite part of this program?
– First thing I do with an SDX is put the mic positions out to separate busses in the DAW. Then I have total control of the sound. It’s the sound of it that’s my favorite part. I’ve been in a lot of studios, but they don’t have the quality of drums, mics, acoustics or outboard gear that you guys do when you record the SDXs. So even in high end studios, I can get a better sound out of Superior Drummer 2!
7. You’ve won prestigious awards, written for major advertising clients and already pretty much what any writer in your field dreams about. What’s next for you and what is your ultimate goal looking forward?
– I would love to get involved in some of the great TV drama being produced. TV is the new motion picture, the quality of the writing and direction just keeps getting better and there is really great stuff being produced all over the world. I would love to help tell a story.
8. Tough one… Top-five songs or pieces of music ever written – regardless of genre?
“Us & Them” – Pink Floyd
“Rhinoceros” – Smashing Pumpkins
“Grace” – Jeff Buckley
“Symphony No. 3, Op. 36 I. Lento” – Gorecki (The one with Dawn Upshaw)
“Cloud Busting” – Kate Bush
I could go on for ever! I think it’s probably important to say, that I think my success comes from a love of all music. I’ve played in jazz bands and death metal bands (I love the sound of the drums on “Chaos A.D.” by Sepultura. Can you record that kit?) and orchestras. I enjoy a good drum ’n’ bass all-nighter and an evening at the symphony hall as well as my local jazz club. You have to embrace and understand it all. The more genre’s you can work in, the more tools you have!