Contact: Sarah Roche,
Most recent: The Holdovers
Mark Orton got into composing at a young age under the mentorship of a high school teacher, afterward working his way into film composing when the music from his acoustic chamber music group – Tin Hat Trio – began getting licensed in film. “I was also doing commissions for dance companies, narrative podcasts, music with This American Life, and I had engineering chops, so when film offers started coming my way, I had a sound that I was associated with,” Orton says.
Most recently, Orton again teamed with director Alexander Payne, with whom he collaborated on 2013’s Nebraska, on the new film The Holdovers, producing a ’70s-theme score with vintage recording techniques and instruments. “[The ’70s] is a great era to channel. I’m a bit young for it, but I had a brother 10 years older, and like a lot of younger brothers, I coveted his record collection. When I was a kid in the late ’70s, he was bringing me to concerts like Elton John, Billy Joel, so it’s a sound I grew up listening to. I’m also into vintage gear and collect instruments from that era, so the sound was kind of already in my wheelhouse,” Orton says. “I always hope to connect to a project on some level, whether it’s a character or the story’s arc or a subject I care about.”
Orton’s advice to aspiring composers: learn the technical side of music. “There is a practical reality to the fact that, in the early stages of composing, unless the Cohen brothers are your uncles, you’re going to have to demo things and put reels together, and if you don’t have your tech act together, you’re asking a lot of your potential director to listen past those tech deficiencies,” he says. “Secondly, you can’t have your own musical agenda. You’re trying to realize the vision of someone else. It’s not your solo album. That’s not what this career is. It’s a collaborative work, and the best collaborators will allow for a degree of artistic freedom, but in the end, you’re answering a question for them.”