For film and television composer, Joey Newman, writing music for the big and small screens runs in his family. But for Newman, the desire to work as a composer evolved organically, starting with learning both the drums and piano at a very young age, attending Berklee College of Music in Boston, and falling in love with storytelling.
Newman sat down with Film Monthly writer Kylah Magee to discuss his work on the ABC comedy The Middle, his work on the reality series Little People, Big World which garnered him a 2008 Emmy nomination, and his recent collaborations with director Travis Fine. Fine’s film, Any Day Now, is currently making the festival circuit and premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last month.
Q. When did you know you wanted to be in this line of work? Did the Newman film music lineage direct you in any way?
A. Most of my life I was involved with music. I never got pushed into music, and really followed my own path. I began playing drums first – rhythm was innate for me – and started studying piano at age 11. Eventually I wanted to do music 24/7 and began scoring my first film before college. I began understanding the significance of storytelling in music as theme and melody hit my ear. When I realized John Williams was not just the close friend of my grandfathers, but also the iconic film composer, I became such a big fan of theme. That man can write something so complex, yet you remember it.
Q. Tell me about your work on the TLC series Little People, Big World. How is it different composing for reality TV?
A. I started working on the show in 2004 and really treated it like a documentary. There was a human quality I wanted to portray and asked myself: What are these people like? How do they deal with challenges? I was writing music very specific to someone’s life which committed me to a different set of responsibilities.
Q. The composer/director collaboration is a very important, and often overlooked, relationship in film. Can you tell me about your collaboration with the directors you’ve worked with, particularly Travis Fine?
A. When you start in on a project for any director it’s sort of like coming in and taking care of their baby. As a composer, I need to understand the director’s vision and we need to see eye-to-eye. For many films, I won’t start on the project until closer to the final picture. I can think about ideas or see some imagery, but it really comes down to the director’s vision for the final project.
I’ve always been drawn to dramas so working with Travis Fine, a very close friend of mine, makes it easy to get on the same page. That being said, it also involves me using restraint, which I can sometimes find so much more difficult. With dramas, I want to leave some space in the music to allow an idea to settle in.
Q. Can you provide any advice for someone looking to work as a composer for film or television?
A. First, you’ve got to want to stick with this for the long haul. This is not a short-term deal and you must be passionate about it. Second, a film composer should develop their own voice and unique style. Their music has to stand for itself. Third, know how to market yourself. There’s no wrong or right way to market yourself in this business, but getting the music to people who want or need it is key to getting your name out there.
(Fore more of Joey Newman you can check out Newman’s score for Travis Fine’s film, The Space Between, on iTunes and watch The Middle Wednesday nights on ABC.)