We had the good fortune of connecting with Michael Van Bodegom Smith and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Michael, how do you think about risk?
As a younger artist in the industry, the risk and the career path are essentially indivisible; everyday provides a new financial, emotional, and reputation risk. Living in fear of the risk would be an endless sentence of fear, so I’ve come to welcome it with open arms. Working as a composer for media relies heavily on the people we connect with, as well as the projects we invest in. While I know that I will always give it my all on a project, the actions that a collaborator may take might have serious repercussions. This constant risk drives me to seek and befriend genuinely good people. Surrounding myself with good hearted and benevolent people has helped put my mind at ease, while simultaneously allowing me to take even more risks, knowing that my friends and I will always have each other’s backs.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am a composer and music producer, specializing in Visual Media in Los Angeles. During these difficult times during the pandemic, I co-wrote, arranged, and produced a musical, scored heartwarming and mind-blowing animated films and series, written music for experimental and traditional films, and I have been co-developing an animated musical series from the ground up with a good friend. Working on all sides of the creative aisle brings me so much joy, within music and film. If I’m not invited, I’ll pry my way onto a film set or an early storyboarding session to get a sense of how the picture will develop. A majority of my greatest role models are filmmakers/entrepreneurs, and I have always gravitated towards making friends with aspiring filmmakers from a young age. While music may have stolen my heart along the way, I will always have a love for animation and filmmaking. Before live venues were closed down, I devoted a large chunk of my time to playing gigs around town and collaborating with songwriters and performers. I believe it is vital to participate in the music scene in ways that are not bound by a picture or prompt. Sitting in the studio and jamming alongside other artists unlocks something in my brain that I haven’t thought about before, which I take and attempt to implement into my work in visual media. Getting to where I am now was easy in a sense, I don’t mind working 14 hours long days because I love what I do. I am naturally extroverted (and maybe a bit overly enthusiastic at times), so I love going out and making new friends/connections whenever I can. The hard part is waking up every morning and fighting to do what you love. Having a successful project one month doesn’t ensure another the following, which can feel intimidating at times. In a typical STEM-oriented job, one would typically expect a steady 40 hour work week with paid vacation and steady promotions. Working in the entertainment industry sometimes feels like getting a big promotion on Monday and filing for unemployment on Saturday. I try to overcome this daunting scenario by maintaining a good work/life balance. When I feel mentally and physically healthy, it is much easier to wake up and give it my all. A lot of my work has a heavy brass influence due to my background as a brass player. Brass instruments have such a diverse range in sound and character, although they are often mistaken for being only loud and aggressive. When I record trumpet, french horn, or trombone, I try to push the boundaries with the style, setting, and sound of each instrument. A large part of what makes my sound and career unique is my inability to follow the rules. If somebody were to hand me a treasure map to a legendary fortune, I would probably tear it up and go look for it on my own. I personally believe life is more fun this way, and I approach art and music the same way.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
My favorite part of LA is the vast diversity in culture and geography. The first thing I would do is hit up the local taquero vendors. Los Angeles has an ample amount of brilliant taqueros spread out through the entire city, each providing their own take on authentic latin american food. After a good meal, we’re off to the beautiful trails and parks the LA has to offer. My favorite spot within the greater LA area is Franklin Canyon, but I believe the Elysian Park trail is underrated and is worth checking out. Little Tokyo near the heart of downtown LA is another underrated spot. There are dozens of fantastic restaurants and many cool walkways and market places to shop and hangout. To get it out of our system, I would take my friend to Hollywood for a night to enjoy the crazy nightlife and bars. For the following morning (maybe more like afternoon), we would venture to the neighboring West Hollywood area to relax and grab a coffee, the Blu Jam Cafe on Melrose makes a great breakfast. It may be cliche, but it’s undeniable that a great trip in LA can’t end without a good sunset at the beach. My favorite beaches around the area (although they’re a little far) are El Matador Beach and Laguna Beach. At the end of the day, Los Angeles offers an endless amount of top notch, diverse restaurants and so many fun outdoor activities. The city is a cultural melting pot, driving 20 minutes can bring you into a brand new landscape. While Covid-19 may have suppressed a large amount of the city, the people fight on and find new creative ways to keep the city thriving. Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I had a few connections and a couple of new numbers to call; however, in a city so large, building a sustainable network seemed like it would take more than a few cold calls. A friend of mine recommended that I apply to the mentorship program by the Society of Composers and Lyricists (SCL) during the 11th hour, I was very fortunate to have been selected because it has been an absolutely enriching experience. Through the amazing people I have met in the program, I have been able to immensely expand my network in LA and make long-lasting friends all around the world. The leader of the program, Cindy O’ Connor, is extremely benevolent and truly cares about all of the mentees and their well-being. The SCL mentorship was such a great way to get a start in LA, I would highly recommend it to any composers and/or songwriters!