Hello everyone. So... I grew up in Liverpool, played in a lot of sketchy bands, and scored my first movie when I was 25. And I’ve been trying to figure it out since. But I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of my favorite filmmakers, like Danny Boyle, Guy Ritchie, Michael Mann, Stephen Frears, Matthew Vaughn, and James Gunn. I’m a self-taught musician and I love loud music. You can check out my music here: https://open.spotify.com/artist/4UGoqrmNHDJ166XD6DtZni. Ask me anything!

Proof: https://i.redd.it/bhqob8junzk71.jpg

Comments: 386 • Responses: 28  • Date: 

Bearded_Joe531 karma

How do you climb into the headspace to make music for something like 28 days later? How do you climb out again?

JohnMurphyComposer715 karma

28 Days was a tough one because it was so hardcore and bleak; especially with no music written yet. But once you immerse yourself in the ideas and the story you end up in that headspace anyway. And then it's hard to think of anything else. Helps to have an ongoing dialog with the director too. And Danny is good at that.

Climbing out again... beer and sleep.

159258357456121 karma

I listen to Kanada's Death, Pt. 2 (Adagio in D Minor) almost every week. Sunshine is one of my favorite movies because of your music.

Coming from being self-taught, do you ever have any roadblocks due to not having a "traditional" music education?

JohnMurphyComposer168 karma

Thank you! I started out as a punk guitarist in Liverpool so EVERYTHING was a road block! The first couple of years in LA were scary because I couldn't read music, couldn't orchestrate, didn't know shit about how a film score was really supposed to be produced. So I just taught myself. And I realized quickly enough that the theory, and the orchestration skills, are not the most important thing after all. They're wonderful and practical things to have, they really are. But, for me at least, the most important stuff were the ideas, and the understanding of story, and the heart you put in.

josi3006105 karma

Do you get to hire your own musicians, or do you work with the people the studio gives you?

JohnMurphyComposer172 karma

I do. But I end up playing a lot of stuff myself e.g. guitars, keys, bass, synths, percussion etc. Mostly because that's the bit I like the most.

nate625927 karma

That's awesome! I wonder how much of any given film nowadays is live orchestra vs. Individual instruments or MIDI/computer generated sounds put into a mix.

JohnMurphyComposer4 karma

Depends on the film and the cue. In my own experience, if it's a purely orchestral cue, then it's best to leave it all real. Because if you add midi orchestra to it you start to lose a lot of the natural dynamics and expression, and the blend goes to cock. It's just not worth it. But if it's a hybrid cue, with synths and guitars etc. smashing away, then you can get away with sneaking a bit of the sampled orchestra in - because the balance isn't natural any more anyway, plus it's easier to disguise the fake orch under the rest of the noise. I do it sometimes with choirs. You get the best sound you can with the real thing, which no sample libraries can emulate, and then you sneak a bit of the midi choir in for size and effect. But the main sound should always be the real thing. Nothing beats the real thing.

highlightrealm97 karma

What has been the most difficult setback or hurdle you’ve faced when working on a large project? On the other side of that coin, what has been the most interesting or rewarding project you’ve done that you’d highlight or love talking about?

JohnMurphyComposer254 karma

Recording the orchestra on The Suicide Squad was tricky during Covid because we had to record each section of the orchestra on separate days. So any changes made with dynamics or expression had to be added to to the score for the next sections. And we had no idea what the orchestra would sound like all together until we pulled everything up in the mix. But everyone recording around that time was in the same boat so we just got on with and hoped for the best. Thankfully we had great mix guys at Igloo who pulled it all together.

The most interesting and rewarding project was also The Suicide Squad. Loved every minute and and James was a blast.

HomeAloneToo3 karma

Obviously the time delay of plotting the orchestra alone is a rough transition for a piece, but did you find any benefits?
Did having that extra level of isolation of each section help you with control of the final product?

JohnMurphyComposer2 karma

The feel of the orchestra suffered a bit - but the separation of the sections definitely gave us more control in the mix.

MisterSunny75 karma

What is the collaborative process like between you the composer, the director, and anyone else? I imagine there is a lot of input from many people, do you ever have a different vision than how it ends up?

JohnMurphyComposer129 karma

It depends on the film. But I've been really lucky in that most of the movies I've scored haven't had too much interference from the studio. So it's usually just me and the director, and sometimes a creative producer. But the collaborative process between a director and a composer is pretty unique. And it only works when there's complete trust both ways. Some of the stupidest/weirdest ideas I've ever come up have ended up being the best e.g. the end of 28 Days Later. And I could never play weird ideas to a director if I didn't trust him/her. You've got to feel that it's ok to make stupid mistakes sometimes or you'll never do anything original.

LunarJet7468 karma

What’s your perfect Sunday?

JohnMurphyComposer225 karma

Chilling with the wife and kids. English Sunday roast. Liverpool beating Man United 5-0. A good movie. A few beers. A good book. A good sleep.

The_Dork_Knight747 karma

If offered would you compose music for star wars and also who are your influences?

JohnMurphyComposer117 karma

I would kill to do Star Wars! And my influences are all over the place... Ennio Morricone, Lennon, Bach, Sex Pistols, Puccini, Sigur Ros...

DarSwanSwede2 karma

Morricone…. What a master of subtlety. Those are big shoes 😂

JohnMurphyComposer2 karma

No shit!

SkinnyPete445 karma

Has enough time passed for us to get WAY more details about Anonymous Rejected Filmscore?

JohnMurphyComposer32 karma

Not yet!

shannister38 karma

How prescriptive is a director for the music, and how do you like getting “briefed”? I’m really curious what is a starting point, and if it’s more something collaborative or that you process in your “cave”.

JohnMurphyComposer96 karma

That's a good question. And again, it depends. But I've found that the really great directors I've worked with NEVER get specific about sounds or instrumentation - they leave that to me to figure out. But we will talk about the emotions in the scene, what the scene means to the story, or the character, what the scene means to the underlying themes of the film etc. But how we achieve these things musically is usually left for me to figure out. And this a great way to work. Because you understand the meaning and the goal before you even start writing - and you have the freedom to try different ways to achieve this. I love working this way. Because it gives me the best of both worlds - insight and creative freedom. The good directors know this is how to get the best out of composers.

HumbleChallenge34 karma

Is music made before, after or during the other sound tracks like foley and other FX are being made. Do you consider these other sounds that might be occurring in a scene while you compose your music?

JohnMurphyComposer56 karma

Usually at the same time. Yes, I have to work around them. And I always ask for the updated FX tracks so that I can hear what mental sounds I'll be competing against!

TrueSpins33 karma

Is it frustrating when music you poured everything into is used in a movie that perhaps, fairly or unfairly, doesn't really gain much popularity? Or do you see your work as distinct from the movie as a whole?

JohnMurphyComposer71 karma

It's great when a movie gets the recognition it deserves. But as long as I've given it everything and I've made a difference I don't feel frustrated that the music didn't get out there if the film didn't do great. I only get frustrated when I feel I could have done it better.

lucyskyanddiamonds30 karma

I adore the music you make, I don't really know what to ask but.. What is your favorite track you composed?

JohnMurphyComposer80 karma

Ahhhhhhhh.... I hate that question! Maybe 'Adagio in D Minor', 'In the House', 'Ratism'? They were ok.

doc_birdman26 karma

What was the process for scoring ‘Sunshine’ like and was it different than how you approach other projects? Did having a film largely set in a confined ship in space encourage you to use more “soundscapes” or utilize the sounds of the ship to incorporate them into the score?

JohnMurphyComposer49 karma

The setting and the visual images of 'Sunshine' were an inspiration. And I LOVE 'space scores' - I just didn't want to write another one that just paddled in the same pool that other guys had established before me. So I tried to achieve what we needed emotionally in a different way, with different instrumentation, whenever I could. I wasn't really interested in the idea of the ship being a character (maybe I should have been?!) - At the time I was more interested in the humanity of the characters faced with the ultimate sacrifice.

Frankydlt319 karma

Will we be hearing more John Murphy in movies to come? 👀👀

JohnMurphyComposer27 karma

Yes! But I can't say what just yet...

dedpol2116 karma

What genre of movie is your favorite to work on and why?

JohnMurphyComposer30 karma

There isn't any one genre. But I feel most at home with the dark stuff.

XiJinpingLovesHoney15 karma

Damn. You're talented. I don't even have a question I'm just an admirer and glad I can put a name to the music.

OK fuck it, my question is what have your favourite pieces of equipment been in the years since 28 days later and how do you compile your music, do you use a DAW?

JohnMurphyComposer21 karma

Haha! Thanks! I'm actually not a super tech guy but my favorite guitar is a Custom-built Pistolero Bandito, fave bass is my Epiphany EB0 (shit but awesome), fave amp is a Hand-wired Vox AC15, and my fave synth is my Moog One. Too many fave pedals to mention!

FennecFanatic9 karma

What would be your dream composition job? Excluding Star Wars.

JohnMurphyComposer26 karma

Anything with James Gunn or David Lynch. Or a hardcore, old-school Western. Or a Bond movie.

danimation888 karma

You vs Henry Jackman in arm wrestling. Who wins?

JohnMurphyComposer2 karma

Haha! I love Henry and he's a phenomenal composer. But I reckon I'd do him in an arm wrestle.

Spritestuff8 karma

Recently I saw the ShangChi scaffold fight trailer, and I found the music to be... Stock? For lack of a better term. I played Mayhem on the Beach over the top of it (at the scene where they look up at the ninjas) and I gotta recommend that to everyone. Its night and day how much better the scene is with some creative music.

Can you give some other examples that come to mind, in terms of music that just really elavted a scene to a higher level, and a good scene that was just let down by a lazy music choice?

JohnMurphyComposer16 karma

Too many great scenes to mention. And I'd never mention the weaker scenes because I know how tough the job is. And I've done my fair share of scenes I'm not proud of!

lopexina7 karma

What's the best way to get into the film industry, make yourself known and get your work recognised?

JohnMurphyComposer16 karma

I came into the industry in a weird way so I'm probably not the best guy to answer this. But everything I said in the previous answer, about finding your own unique voice, would make a big difference.

WillyTanner7 karma

What piece of gear or software can’t you live without ?

JohnMurphyComposer9 karma

My Pistolero guitar.

LeopoldKain6 karma

Who is your favorite soccer / football team? Why?

JohnMurphyComposer17 karma

LIVERPOOL! Because they are the greatest.
And because I come from Liverpool.

Marquetan5 karma

What DAW do you use to compose and which sound libraries do you prefer?

How’d you land your first gig? I’m an aspiring music producer myself and dream of composing a film one day!

JohnMurphyComposer12 karma

Logic to write with, production work in Protools. And most of the usual suspects re. sound libraries e.g. Native Instruments Komplete, Orchestral Tools, Spitfire etc. But I use a lot of my own custom-made sample libraries too.

vaelroth2 karma

How about the minor plagal cadence, am I right? /r/minor4

More seriously, can you share any advice on getting started on a composition? And maybe more importantly, how you wrap up?

Also, based on some of your influences I think you should check out Sithu Aye. Great instrumentalist with a good ear. I think you'd enjoy his work.

JohnMurphyComposer5 karma

If I was sure I was doing it the right way I would! But what seems to help me is... I think a lot about a piece/scene before I start writing. And I make a simple plan. Demos take time but thinking is quick! I never know when to wrap up because everything I write for a movie is snatched from me before I really think it's finished!

markusmatthewhill-1 karma


JohnMurphyComposer6 karma

Cheers Mark! The best advice I could give, and the thing I wish I'd realized much sooner, is try to be yourself. Whenever, and as much as you can.

Every film composer has their own way of doing things that feels truthful to them. Think of any great film composer - Morricone, Herrmann, Korngold... you can hear their DNA in everything they do. So find what it is that makes you unique. And explore that, and develop that. But do it with conviction. Because that's where your deepest creative well will be. Things only really started to happen for me when I had the balls to finally write a score the way I heard it in my head, which was on 28 Days Later. No one cared about the stuff where I was just trying to do a good job. It's that Oscar Wilde thing... "Be yourself. Everyone else is taken". And with film music I think that's especially true. I have to remind myself of this all the time.