COPYIST MARK GRAHAM TALKS MUSIC PREP, IMPORTANCE OF LIVE MUSICIANS
With a career spanning decades, music copyist Mark Graham is undoubtedly a worthy head of music preparation, proven by his long list of blockbusters and smash TV series such as the recent The Greatest Showman, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and The Simpsons to name a few.
Despite the lengthy list of renown projects, Graham is anything but boastful. He owes his success to his consistent hard work stemming from high school as a professional trombonist, bringing him opportunities at BBC Radio playing sessions with guest artists. There, he became adept at scoring and writing varied string and orchestra ensembles.
Honing his skills from his broadcasting gig, Graham transitioned into copying music, prep work, and arranging, leading him to commissioning various projects for composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, who gave Graham increasing work to start his own business, grow his staff, and continue his journey overseas.
For the last 20 years, Graham has dug his roots into the LA music scene. Working countlessly with key players like composer John Williams and actor-producer-singer Seth MacFarlane, amongst others, has given Graham greater insight as a music copyist.
“It’s different for every project. Everyone has a different way of doing things. Your job is to figure out what it is in that chain and what our place is,” said Graham.
Projects can span from a few days to as long as two years, as musical The Greatest Showman proved to be. Films may need intense effort 3 to 4 days a week for 4 to 6 months.
“No two days are the same. It’s interesting dealing with the wide range of people and accommodating them,” said Graham, “I’ll always go into a project knowing something unexpected happens and just be prepared to deal with it, so you won’t be surprised.”
Graham’s projects occasionally lend him the opportunity to intertwine his love of copying and playing music, most recently for the animated musical Sing. Despite the extensive sound library, the present samples did not have the particular sound Graham was looking for in accompaniment with MacFarlane’s character, prompting him to write and record all the trombone arrangements after only a week-long practice.
“There’s a desire to use live musicians playing their instruments on film scoring, and I think it gives some films an emotional context that is difficult to replicate in any other way,” said Graham, “I'm not saying its irreplaceable but definitely present.”
The introduction of Pro Tools has changed the process in which Graham and his counterparts have been accustomed to. Copyists no longer need to have whole orchestras simultaneously playing and recording, as the new sound manipulating software can piece together individual instruments or segmented groups into a single composition, changing the process and speed in how music is scored. Despite the flexibility, having the know-how and experience with both practices is still imperative in the industry.
“If technicians are going to be working with an orchestra, they must be familiar with orchestra—practical musicianship experience is a must,” said Graham, “Playing an instrument with other people—not necessarily well—but finding how it works, how it sounds, and how people behave is crucial.”
Starting on the Fox backlot decades ago to now, Graham praises the Fox Post-Production facilities for the consistency, preparation and attentiveness from the team.
Graham recounts about his Fox experiences, “It sounds mundane, but the equipment, printers, parking, space, and everything else are efficiently organized—the booth is a great size for huge productions.”
When not prepping his next studio sound project, Graham enjoys exercising, staying physically active, and keeping a healthy lifestyle as a way to de-stress. He, alongside his team, partake in mud runs and half marathons in his spare time.
Notable Works by Mark Graham:
American Dad!, Family Guy, The Maze Runner, X-Men: Apocalypse, Logan, La La Land, Harry Potter, etc.