We had the good fortune of connecting with Annah Tencic and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Annah, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
I started playing the cello when I was 6 years old. My parents like music but are not musicians themselves. However, they felt it would be very enriching for me and my little sister to learn music. They thought playing in music ensembles would give us joy and develop a sense of team spirit, they believed that practising our instrument every day would give us discipline and teach us the value of hard work. And of course they were right.
I soon grew very passionate about the cello, and particularly enjoyed playing in the symphony orchestra and singing in the children’s choir. I loved being part of something bigger than myself, I loved the powerful emotions that washed over me as, all together, we were playing that music and making it come alive.
When I was 11 years old, I started composing little pieces as part of my Music Theory assignments at the Conservatory of Paris. My first compositions felt like doors opening onto a new world, a land of unexpected possibilities: I could do more than perform the music of others, I could actually write my own. And then, when I was 15, I watched the Mission, with a beautiful score by Ennio Morricone, and Edward Scissorhands, with a hauntingly magical score by Danny Elfman. That is when I realized, first of all how important music is in bringing a movie to life; second of all, that there were people out there who were actually making a living by composing scores for movies. And I started daydreaming about one day becoming a film music composer.
Yet my family and my high school teachers encouraged me to follow a more academic path. In that environment, I never really considered music as a viable career option. I would have to pay the bills, I would need a “real job”. So I studied hard and got a Master of Science. I also worked one year as an innovation consultant in a consulting firm. And all the while, I felt like something was missing: I was spending 10 hours a day doing things I was not passionate about. Nothing in my student or professional life made me as happy as composing.
So I decided life was too short to spend 10 hours a day in an office writing boring powerpoints. Now that I had my Master’s degree, I figured: “Why not give it a shot? I can always find another “real job” later if this doesn’t work out.” So I bought studio equipment with my consulting wages, I learnt how to use sequencers and music softwares by myself, I applied to USC Thornton’s Screen Scoring program in LA, and here I am, 1 year later, having recorded one of my pieces at Warner Brothers with a 40 piece orchestra just last week, and finally living my dream.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
There are many challenges to scoring music for media that I discovered along the way. I started composing with the piano or the cello, writing down my scores and parts by hand. But the modern film composer needs many technical skills: what hardware to buy, which mics to buy, how to create a good sound environment to record players in a home studio, which speakers and soundcard to get and how to run the cables; how to use sequencers (like Logic, Cubase etc.) to compose mockups on the computer that will sound amazing, which samples libraries to buy and how to use and program them, which plug ins to get, how to mix, how to manipulate MIDI and audio, how to sample your own sounds; prepare your own scores and parts (how to use Sibelius or Finale to edit them). There is a big tech learning curve, and all that equipment also requires a significant financial investment.
The more I go along the path of composing and producing my music, the more I realize how vast a skillset this job requires. There is the whole tech part. But then there is the whole music part: orchestration, the knowledge of the technical capacities, strengths and weaknesses of the instruments you are writing for, good voice leading, composing music in different genres. What if they need jazz? or sound design? What about the vast number of ethnic instruments out there, from all corners of the world? Not to mention analog and digital synthesisers, that are a world of their own… And then, in the instance of scoring for film, you need to have a sense of storytelling, you need to learn how to sync your music to picture, how to conform it time and again to the latest cuts.There is so much to learn, to discover and to experiment with, and that is what makes it fun but can also, at times, feel a little overwhelming.
And with all that going on, a composer also needs to understand and work with budgets and contracts. And you need to communicate about your work, and to ensure you have other gigs lined up after this one. Right now, I am a composer, an orchestrator, a mixer, a recording engineer, a conductor, a copyist, a librarian, a contractor, a businesswoman etc. There are so many aspects to this job I didn’t even realized existed before I started actually doing it. 1 minute of music requires hours and hours of work!
I find it fascinating how much detail, knowledge, effort, and time go into creating a score, and ultimately, a story. And I am happy that the job of a composer combines so many different aspects, and provides so many possibilities to learn and experiment. I love to keep trying something new when I compose, another approach, another combination of instruments or sounds, another angle to explore the story. There is something comforting in doing what one does well. But reinventing oneself keeps it more interesting.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I would definitely recommend a nice hike in Topanga state park, a stroll on Venice beach with your feet in the water, and a nice brunch at Beachwood Cafe !
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I wish to thank my parents, sister, boyfriend and family with all my heart for their love and unwavering support. I also have the deepest gratitude, respect and admiration for my first cello teacher, Barbara Varsanyi; my first composer friend and mentor Raphaël Dargent (who is immensely talented and composes under the name of PHAR); my dear friend Jean Lepeudry (who is a wonderfully inventive filmmaker and photographer and works under the artistic name of Jayprod); and my teachers of the Screen Scoring Master at USC Thornton School of Music, particularly my first private instructor Patrick Kirst (who is not only a fantastic teacher but also an amazing composer). I could not have made it this far without them. And I expect there will be many more people to thank, since my journey is just beginning.