Industry Profile: The Society of Composers & Lyricists Strikes Gold With Its Career Symposium

Back in August, Music Connection informed readers about a brand-new symposium being presented by the Society of Composers & Lyricists, a professional organization devoted to the art of creating music for visual media—film, television, video games and beyond. Although the org is highly experienced in putting together educational events, this symposium marks a new era for the association. We wanted to know how the shindig went down, so MC decided to attend and get the inside scoop.

The Society of Composers & Lyricists Career Symposium took place on Saturday, Sept. 30, at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music, located in the heart of Nashville. Attending were plenty of students, although people of all ages, backgrounds, and career stages took advantage. The gathering was also available to the general public, not just members of the SCL. Those present included pupils who haven’t yet entered the industry, apprentices currently working under panel participants, and an owner of an online music school. 

One attendee was Logan Bray, the ambitious singer-songwriter mentioned in our previous article. She took pleasure in meeting one of the event’s organizers, Scott McKinlay, in the flesh, but he isn’t the only connection she’s been able to forge. “I’ve met a bunch of other students and post-grads here who are engineers, producers and composers,” the bright-eyed artist reveals. She is intensely aware that there are many scenarios under which expanding her network could pay dividends in the future.

The day kicked off with opening remarks from Ashley Irwin, president of the SCL. Now that the crowd was properly welcomed, attendees had to choose which of the four presentations they most wanted to experience. This was then repeated three more times, each seminar running an hour and 15 minutes. Because of this, it was only possible to be physically present for a quarter of the 16 offerings on tap. Fortunately, each discussion was filmed so they could later be uploaded, giving members an opportunity to check out whatever they missed online.

One of the most eagerly anticipated discussions was the spot covering music for video games. On the panel were three luminaries in this exciting discipline. At the far left sat Steve Schnur, Worldwide Executive and President for Music at Electronic Arts. He’s toiled on some of the most popular games on the planet, including Battlefield, Dragon Age, Mass Effect and the recent Star Wars: Jedi Survivor.  

Next to Schnur was Pinar Toprak, the Emmy-nominated composer whose talents grace Fortnite. On her other side was Satoshi Noguchi. His resume includes interactive experiences such as the groundbreaking Elden Ring. Tom Salta moderated the chat. He, too, has a stunning CV, having created soundtracks for Halo, Prince of Persia, and Deathloop, just for starters. The open-ended discussion explored all angles of creating sound for this dynamic medium.

Present and ready to level up was Emily Cheng, known professionally as Gisula. The Taiwanese-American composer is a full-time engineer with an equal devotion to the sonic arts. Beyond releasing solo albums, she creates soundtracks for short films and interactive entertainment. Her most recent game, The Spirit & the Mouse, came out in 2022 on the Nintendo Switch and this year on PlayStation 4 and 5. Rubbing shoulders with rising stars like this is just one benefit that comes with attending an SCL symposium. 

Composers and film music professionals from across the country came to Nashville to be panelists and to join SCL member and composer Dayna Bee (Front, R) and SCL member and composer Glenn Argall (back row, 3rd from L) on Sept 30 at Vanderbilt University. Pictured here is a group of Nashville Film Institute students—who joined Vanderbilt University students and students from other local universities—to attend a day-long event on breaking into the entertainment field...all as part of the 1st annual SCL SYMPOSIUM, in partnership with the Nashville Film Festival. For more info: thescl.com and nfi.edu

The second block featured a master class on the art of matching sound to film according to the legendary Mark Isham. His extensive cinema credits include A River Runs Through It, Crash and Never Cry Wolf, plus many more. The time was devoted to examining his score for The Black Dahlia, a 2006 film starring Josh Hartnett and Scarlett Johansson. Chunks of the soundtrack were played, as were scenes from the film, after which people had the opportunity to ask questions. In response, Isham enlightened knowledge-seekers with tidbits about collaborating with cantankerous director Brian De Palma. Interestingly, the composer revealed that Robert Redford is his favorite filmmaker to work under, due to his actor’s perspective.

After a boxed lunch, the afternoon offered heaps more information. One seminar analyzed the challenge of creating sound on a budget. Composer Jay Weigel, who also happens to be the chair of the SCL’s Nashville steering committee, hosted this revealing session. Audience members were keyed into important topics, such as how to decide when to take a job and at what price.

In the final block, those interested in using social media as a means of self-promotion gained insight into this vital subject. One of the panelists, Emily Goglia, delivered a handful of pointed tips. The singer, actress and social media professional proposed following people on various platforms in hopes that it will cause them to notice you. This simple action alone could forge an industry hookup that significantly advances someone’s career.

The symposium was loaded with other opportunities for enlightenment about the industry’s inner workings. Sessions plumbed the delicate task of eliciting the perfect vocal performance, songwriting for sync, assembling a business team, and tending to one’s mental health while earning a living in this stressful field. Between seminars, everyone had the chance to rub shoulders with the panelists and pepper them with follow-ups.

Judging by the day’s success, it is a near certainty that the SCL will continue to offer additional learning opportunities of this nature in the coming years. Anyone who wants to create sound for visual media should consider checking out future iterations. 

Contact Jay Weigel, [email protected]