We had the good fortune of connecting with Jonathan Sanford and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jonathan, what is the most important factor behind your success?
If I had to point to one singular thing, people have been the most important factor behind my success, not only as a composer, but also in all other aspects of my professional and personal life. Whether these individuals are friends, family, collaborators, or peers… the support and love I experience have been amazing. I find I am surrounded by kindness and generosity. Now, nobody is going to do the work for you, but I found that if you create a spark or light a torch, people will help you carry the fire. Most of us want to be around folks that are moving progressively. Together we create this wonderful energy. It is magnetic.
I spend the majority of hours on most days alone in my studio. That’s just the life of a composer. I always stare at the wall for a bit when I’m starting on a new project. This is an integral part of the process and I give myself this space, even if it is just for a moment. This time can lead to some crazy ideas. I do have people that gut check me though. I always share my work with friends. When I first invite someone to hear something on which I’m working, I normally say, “did I lose my mind?” Sometimes the answer is “yes… but keep going with it!” We all love a little encouragement.
The nature of film and television composition, as well as artist development and production, is one of collaboration. People are inherently part of the business and process of my work. I am lucky to work with adventurous creators who permit me to be myself and allow my instincts to flow. Ultimately, I just want to create a feeling and to find other people that vibe the same way. I mean that at every level between metaphor and literal. My literal dream-side of this would be a physical space where people work, create, and stop by because of the vibe we create together.
There are so many questions that can be answered with people. There is a strength and power that comes from a community built on love and kindness. It is so supportive. I’m not even a lovey-dovey person, but as the success comes, I always look around to see who’s there and it intrigues me. One of the best tidbits on life, work, and success I have ever received was something like… as you are deciding with whom you are going to work and hangout, picture the moment far down the road when you’re popping the champagne bottles in celebration of it all… visualize who you want there with you; those are the people, your people.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am a composer for film and television (including Teenage Bounty Hunters (Netflix), Social Distance (Netflix), and Dare ME (USA)). I also write music for theatre, live events, and commercials. I love to collaborate with directors, writers, and other artists.
I absolutely love writing music for stories. I figured that out just a few years ago. I didn’t grow up inspired by the music I heard in movies or television shows. I actually grew up listening to a lot of jazz and blues with my dad in the car. If it wasn’t talk radio, it was always jazz and blues. I chose the saxophone at the age of nine, after playing piano and violin. The saxophone and I really bonded. I played in the school bands, bands with friends, and I even competed. The athlete in me loved the competition part. I ended up studying music at Northwestern University. I was playing football, too, but going into my sophomore year at NU, it was time to choose a path. I chose music. I could visualize a lifetime of music ahead.
As far as the craft is concerned, I work with a number of electronic instruments, vocals, saxophones, and cello. I try to come up with unique combinations of instruments for scores but they feel perfectly at home and organic to the story being told. I love writing music after reading a script before I see anything. Just reading conjures up so many sounds for me. I start writing immediately. I don’t even want reference material. I just want to dive right in and start making sounds. The sound is paramount to me, then I start thinking about harmony and melody.
I can only be me. That sounds simple, but it took me a good minute to arrive here. I spent so much time looking around at other people, other things, thinking I want to be like this or that or the other. It turned out, that’s not what I’m good at. There are people that are really really good at seeing something and then morphing right into it. It doesn’t matter the discipline. In music, there are people that can hear something and then replicate it, in an instant. They can identify the notes, the chords, and the sounds. That’s not me. I can do it, but it’s painful and I don’t find any joy in it. I do find things in music that fascinate me, normally sounds I haven’t heard before. I will dissect them and figure it out, but that’s fun and comes from a place of curiosity.
When it comes to writing music for film and television, my best work comes when a director or showrunner come to me and ask what I would do. They want to know how I see things and hear things. There is a risk in how I respond because my thoughts are inline with the creative or at odds with it… and there are no take-backs. I like to bring bold ideas and the person across from me is either buying or moving on. That’s the reality. The wonderful side of this practice is that when everything lines up, the work is easy. There is a challenge to this process, but I have found it to be rewarding. I get to be me.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Oh, wow. Only in 2021 would this be tough to answer. This past year of Covid-quarantine-isolation… I’m starting to forget. That’s embarrassing because I’m certain most people have a list of places they can’t wait to get back to as soon as the doors open. I will build this list out of the places I miss the most but include some places that I still frequent. Hopefully, all these places will still be in business after the resolution of the Covid shutdowns.
It starts with food for me and there are three places in my neighborhood that have kept me fed over the last year: Open Face Food Shop is a Danish sandwich shop, run by the sweetest couple, with the freshest of everything! It feels like you are eating out of someone’s garden. Next would be Tacos Los Anaya. This is Los Angeles and we love our tacos and Los Anaya has some of the best. Period. And there is Highly Likely Cafe. They are newer in the neighborhood, but it’s the place where most of them know my name. The food is great, and the chef and her staff are all wonderful. And I wouldn’t forget my favorite breakfast downtown at Wexler’s Deli inside Grand Central Market. If my friend doesn’t like bagels, there are plenty of options in Grand Central Market. There are wonderful dinner spots downtown, too, like Bestia and Majordomo where you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. If we opted to stay in for a night, I would pick up Sugarfish for dinner. Also, the only dessert I must ever have is an ice-cream sandwich from Coolhaus in Culver City.
More than food, I love coffee, and I take every friend to Bar Nine in Culver City. They are wonderful roasters and even have a tasty breakfast sandwich. If we make it up to one of my favorite beaches in Malibu, we would visit my friend Max’s coffee shop, Joules & Watts. Max is also a great roaster.
When I think of things I missed this past year, live shows and events are at the top of the list. We would go see a show at The Pantages theatre, LA’s home to Broadway musicals, catch a concert at Disney Concert Hall and beforehand, visit The Broad museum next door. Hopefully, this friend’s visit happens during a warmer month and we can also catch a show at The Greek. And one night we would catch an action movie in Hollywood at the dome, The Cinerama Dome.
I’m into fitness, so I would definitely take a visiting friend to the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. We kindly refer to this place as The Stairs. Yup, it’s just stairs straight up with an awesome view from the top of the ocean and downtown. As any regular will tell you, we walk up, then down, then back up again, and again and again. Finally, my friend would also accompany me to my daughter’s Capoeira class at Capoeira Brasil Los Angeles.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Coming out of this past year, my family has been everything for me. My wife and children have managed life beautifully between staying at home, schooling at home. We really solidified our little foursome during this time. It also turns out my wife is a pandemic pro. Nobody can secure resources with her finesse and prowess.
Outside of my home, in my professional life, I have to send a mad shoutout to Amanda Yamate. Amanda has been a constant music collaborator of mine. This past fall and winter we co-composed scores for two experiential productions, Firefly Nights and Rio Records, both were produced by 13EXP with Mikhael Garver at the helm of the creative and inspired by the LA River. Amanda and I wrote a wild amount of music in a very limited time for both productions. We also worked on a song together for a Netflix Show, Worn Stories.
Dan North, my agent at Kraft-Engel, is a regular hustler. We haven’t even been working together for a year, but he has opened numerous doors for me. I’m very excited to see where we take things.
Todd Westphal, Beth Morgan, Self