Canadian born Carly Paradis, who is now based in the UK, is a film and TV composer, musician and pianist, whose credits include sole composer of RTS winning and BAFTA nominated series Line of Duty for BBC, Sky Atlantic’s Sick Note (Rupert Grint, Nick Frost, Don Johnson) and ITV’s Tennison (prequel to Prime Suspect).
She wrote the original score for Jed Mercurio’s feature length BBC adaption of Lady Chatterly’s Lover, and her music has been used in trailers for True Detective, Homeland and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. She also tours live with Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan, The Wrestler) and she played piano on Mansell’s soundtrack to the Bafta winning Moon (directed by Duncan Jones). On top of all that, she also finds time to release her own music including the album, Hearts To Symphony.
Carly recently took time out of her busy schedule to tell us more about how she got into the industry, how she approaches composing for new projects, and why she loves Synthogy’s Ivory II range of pianos.
Hi Carly, how did you get into composing for TV and film?
I’ve always wanted to create instrumental music since I was a little kid after hearing the opening tracks of Elton John’s ‘Yellow Brick Road’ album. I began playing the piano by ear when I was 4 and then parents enrolled me into piano lessons.
I started writing little pieces of music at age 9 and I studied piano classically but always loved improvising and getting lost in my own sound world sitting at the piano.
I studied music and multimedia at University because I had an interest in using technology to make music. While I was an undergrad I did little pieces of music for friends art projects and made little websites and games.
As a backup plan I got my teaching degree (I knew in my heart I didn’t want to teach as a day-to-day event but wanted to make music). For six years, I was a substitute teacher while writing/recording/performing in a Canadian indie band and I also volunteered at a local commercial jingle studio where I ended up working as a secretary for a while to learn more about the business side.
I knew I wanted to score film and tv and also continue to write and release my own albums. I ended up doing some library trailer music and trying to get my pieces pitched for trailers and tv etc…
I was a huge fan of Clint Mansell and thought to send him a message (through good old ‘Myspace’). I wanted to share with him how his music made me feel and how I connected with it. Not expecting an answer, he actually wrote back!
We started talking and sharing music we were working on at the time and when I went to LA for the first time in 2007 to attend a music/film conference, we met for coffee and kept in touch. Six months later he needed a pianist to perform at the Ghent Film Festival in Belgium. I, of course, was over the moon and with the band that performed with him there, we have gone on to play at venues worldwide.
Clint also got us to play on the Bafta-winning film Moon (Duncan Jones). From there I started scoring more short films and documentaries and then tv series and films.
You’ve composed music for a wide range of projects, are there any genres you prefer/particularly enjoy composing pieces for and why?
I really enjoy dark thrillers and drama. I find I’ve always gravitated to emotionally heavy sounds/melodies and have a deep well for inspiration there since I was very young.
It is funny how we can be inspired deep down or attracted to music and arts that don’t necessarily describe our general character. Maybe it’s the old ‘taboo’ thing where we are attracted to experience something different or ‘frowned upon’ by society. Probably why cop dramas are still very popular because audience can experience what its like to ‘be bad’ without any consequence.
I’ve done some horror which can be really fun and also recently been scoring a comedy-drama called ‘Sick Note’ (stars Rupert Grint, Nick Frost and Don Johnson). I had an absolute blast working on this and the general energy of the team I feel is different compared to working on a more serious thriller, because at the end of the day if you want people to laugh, you have to be in a certain headspace.
It was so much fun and I got to write really quirky energising unique blends of music from 80’s throwback video game sounds to hip-hop and electronic music. I also feel that after doing a comedy-drama, I then crave something dark or to work on my own album music. It keeps things inspired, motivated and fresh to switch things up.
How do you first approach a new TV project?
With procrastination. Haha but no really, I procrastinate for a bit. This is my gearing up to ‘face the music’ phase. I’ll be absorbing a lot of information day to day from attending concerts to watching film and tv, to hearing a melody in my head in the shower.
Of course there is a lot of dialogue with the director(s), producer(s), writer(s) etc… so you lay the groundwork ideas/tone and can do some research if necessary (if scoring a period drama maybe learn a bit about the type of music that people were listening to at that time, or general ways of life in that period).
Sometimes this can spark ideas but at the end of the day its all about the story, so you need to get to the core of it, and let that begin the inspiration. Its a big blank canvas but you begin to find what tools and framework you will work out of, and that way you are headed in a direction and not randomly using every style, tone, colour imaginable. You can begin sketching ideas and getting feedback from the team.
For me, it is important that each score sounds like the film or the tv series. It has its own voice. This takes a lot of time experimenting with melodies and sound palettes, instruments etc…
Its very important to put the hard work in here even at script stage (I wrote the basics of the end titles theme to BBC’s Line of Duty after reading the first episode script). Once you have some cue approved for the first episode the ball begins to roll and once you’ve set the tone, the workflow becomes better.
Who are your biggest inspirations music-wise?
Frédéric Chopin, Clint Mansell, a lot of 80s and 90s bands (especially UK artists). Steve Reich and Phillip Glass. Elton Johns ‘Funeral for a Friend (Love Lies Bleeding)’. So many!
Could you run us through the fundamental hardware in your setup?
- Mac Pro, iPad Pro, iPhone.
- Fully weighted 88 Yamaha keyboard midi controller.
- Roli seaboard studio
- Neve 1073DPA preamp.
- Mackie mixer.
- 2 screens (although I’m interested in those really wide curved gamer screens)!
- Apogee duet and Apogee ensemble
- Focal SM9 speakers
- Grand piano and an upright piano
- Telefunken copper head mic
- 2 Neumann km184 mics
- Tascam handheld recorder
- (I currently have a bunch of early 70’s vintage gear in my studio from Prime suspect:1973 and usually bring in pieces of kit/hardware specific to a project).
We understand you’re a fan of Synthogy’s Ivory II Pianos – how were you introduced to them and which do you use?
I think it was my composer/musician friend Charles Olins (played keys in the band Yes). He recommended it and also made his own little template called Charlie Steinway he gave me, I think based on the German concert D grand sound. Been hooked for a long time! It’s my go-to for grand piano in the box.
Do you have a favourite Ivory piano, and if so, why that one?
I’ve been using the custom template Charlie made me. Sometimes I’ll tweak it for a particular project. My template just sounds like an awesome grand piano and inspiring to play. It’s great to lay in any piano ideas I have or lay in a grand sound. I’ve used it in a lot of projects.
I just got the American Concert D for Ivory II and I’m excited to play around with it. I’ve already fallen in love with the ‘Solo American D’ sound!
Are there any particular features/controls within Ivory pianos that you frequently use?
Definitely the amount of key and pedal noise. I like messing around with the room ambience and resonances. Love how you can create your own presets from the already fabulous pianos loaded in Ivory. I tend to need to jump on an idea quite quickly and get it down so I sometimes don’t spend a lot of time tweaking samplers. Ivory II is perfect for me because it is ready to go the way it sounds.
Do you tend to sketch ideas ‘in the box’ or out of the box on a ‘real’ piano?
I tend to go to my grand piano or upright piano to generate the first ideas for melody or something that sparks my interest after reading the scripts or discussing with director and/or team.
If it is a more electronic score maybe I’d play around more in the box but even with Sick Note, the main theme comes from sitting at a piano and then diving into tones and colours in the box. Of course, inspiration may strike at any time so I always record ideas by voice into my iPhone. Or if I’m at the midi keyboard will immediately record so I don’t lose it.
Which TV/film projects would we have heard Ivory pianos featured in the music?
BBC’s hit cop corruption drama Line of Duty (currently in its 4th season guest starring Thandie Newton with a 5th and 6th commissioned). PBS Masterpiece/ ITV’s Prime Suspect:1973 (Prime Suspect: Tennison in North America). Sky’s Sick Note (Rupert Grint, Nick Frost, Don Johnson). BBC’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (tv film starring Richard Madden)…I could go on!
Sticking with software, what other effects plug-ins/virtual instruments do you find yourself relying on time and again?
I love Lexicon reverbs. I use a lot of Waves compression and EQ. Spitfire’s LCO strings and orchestral percussion (Joby Burgess). I really like Arturia’s Analog lab and Lennar Digital’s Sylenth. Soundiron Emotional piano and custom making samples can be fun too.
Finally, we’re sure a lot of people will find this helpful – what do you do if you experience creative block while working on a music project?
For me, I think it’s important to step away from the piece or cue or project to get some perspective. You spend a lot of time alone in your workspace and when you hit a wall, sometimes I find I’ll come back to an idea I had the week or day before and rework and it can become something really cool.
So even in the moment if it’s not working, you never know down the road it might evolve into something else. I think exercising helps me to get energised and also do TM (transcendental meditation) if I’m feeling stuck. Listening to inspiring music can help reboot your creative juices too.
Thanks Carly, best of luck for the future!
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Check out the video below to see Synthogy’s Ivory II range of pianos in action.