A conversation with award-winning composer Simone Benyacar

George Skendros
George Skendros Interviews

Simone Benyacar is an award-winning composer who began as a classically trained pianist at the age of 4. He has spent the past twenty years making his name in the world of music for film and tv, and is considered an industry leader. Simone has provided music supervision services and written original compositions for a wide variety of campaigns including: Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Transformers, The Wolf of Wall Street, Mission Impossible, Joy, Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed, and has written custom mnemonics for companies like Amazon Studios, Pepsi and many others. I had a talk with him about cinema, his current and past projects and the future of music in general.

Where do we find you at the moment and what are you working on these days?

I am in my studio in Culver City (LA) – and as always, working on a myriad of projects. I am working on a couple of new artist albums, producing songs, scoring films and commercials, and consulting on a few big (secret) music consulting jobs.

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You have been involved in a variety of commercial projects and films, can you describe the process you follow when taking on a new project? Are you provided with a theme, a preview or the final product?

The process varies a lot on the type of project and the timeline I get approached by a client. It can range from the early stages of production, where we have the luxury of time to explore ideas/themes/tones/colors etc., to the opposite: hot rush call, on the last minute to score something that is ready to air in a few days, and the direction is very clear. In general, I like to have an extensive conversation with the client (creative directors, producers, directors…) to get a sense of what they want to accomplish emotionally, and I tried to avoid speaking about specifics on how to achieve that (instrumentation/orchestration, melodic ideas, dynamic, etc.).

Then I go into “experimental mode” where I throw a bunch of ideas on the wall (or my logic session) and see/hear what sticks. Once I commit to an idea I like, I do my best to take it as far as I can, and always present something that could be final. (I don’t believe in demos). So my production has to always excel and impress. No excuses.

I collect instruments from all over the world. Often I record instruments in a very unorthodox way, not the way they were meant to be played. For example an old vintage Italian Lap Harp, out of tune, played with glass guitar slide, for a horror movie, while scraping the side with scissors.

Could you tell us a little about the equipment you usually use? Does it vary depending on the project you are taking on?

Logic X is my world. I find it simple and detailed at the same time, and it allows me to move quickly, and it has been really reliable for years. However, my gear often is my good ol’ piano. Keeping it raw is usually the best. It all depends on the project, and often playing around with different samples inspires me to come up with new ideas.

For example: when I started using OlafurArnalds felted piano by Spitfire, a whole new world opened up in front of me, and I couldn’t stop writing and recording. 

We noticed that you have quite the collection of musical instruments, what are your favorites? Have you associated any of them with a particular project?

I collect instruments from all over the world. Some of them are for purely esthetic reasons (yes, I am superficial like that) and some are to be used and abused. Often I record instruments in a very unorthodox way, not the way they were meant to be played (ex: an old vintage Italian Lap Harp, out of tune, played with glass guitar slide, for a horror movie, while scraping the side with scissors).

However, the piano is my favorite instrument, and since it is hard to carry that around everywhere I go, I learned how to sketch down ideas and melodies anytime they pop in my head. Yes, the good old fashion - pencil and paper. 

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What do you find challenging in your work and which of the tasks you have as a composer are considered the most fun?

One of the most challenging aspects of my work is managing multiple projects at any given time. It is very rare that I only have one project/movie/commercial/tv show and nothing else. So jumping from one to the next is something that I had to learn to do over time, and accepting that if you can be nimble, and not get stuck, you can multitask and create a lot more work.

One of the most fun aspects of a composer is coming up with unique ideas, and often having the freedom to create something completely different and bizarre, allows for some interesting experimentation.  

What music do you listen to when you have free time? Name some of your favorite artists.

One of the most inspiring and stimulating artists I often go back to is mad genius jazz/classical pianist, Keith Jarrett. Especially his piano solo improvisations are pure art, and listening to his musical journeys is invigorating. (just trying to follow what he is doing on the keys is absolutely beautiful).

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Can you name some of your influences throughout your career? 

Without stating the obvious, the top film composers have had a big influence on me, however, my classical roots helped create my musical DNA (from Bach to Stravinsky).

You recently released your first NFT music collection. Tell us a little about it and how it came about.

It all started with one of my best friends (Andrea Moshi and his brother Marco Moshi) that have been involved in cryptocurrency for many years. Since I neglected to listen to him when he was telling me to buy Bitcoins when he brought up in a conversation NFT’s I quickly jumped on it. It has been a fascinating new world, and artistically speaking very liberating. Creating music as “art for art’s sake” is a wonderful thing, that often is forgotten in my film/tv world.

We released a collection of pieces (one theme and variations) with NFT Studio and we are currently working on new projects. Very exciting.

One of the biggest challenges on a big film campaign was the trailer for Mission Impossible: Fallout. The task was to create a custom mash-up of Imagine Dragons’ song “Friction” to the well-known Mission Impossible theme and evolve into a hybrid intense re-orchestration of the theme.

How do you see the future of the music industry in terms of music release, sales and new ways of distribution such as NFT collections?

I believe that we will adapt to the new technologies, although it may take some time. We currently use a pretty archaic way to license music (in my opinion), and smart contracts will be the future. I think that in the last few months things have evolved a lot, and just the fact we are talking about it is the first step.

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Throughout your career what do you consider to be the point in your career that established you as a composer where you stood in the mirror and told yourself you were on the right track?

I got really lucky at the very beginning of my career when I was asked to compose music for the trailer of Lord Of The Rings: Two Towers. The rest has been just trying to keep up with it. Joking aside, it was very gratifying hearing my music on such a big movie and gave me the confidence to continue improving my craft (still working on it).

Which one of the popular films you have been involved in did you find the most challenging and what kind of films would you like to work on in the future?

One of the biggest challenges on a big film campaign was the trailer for Mission Impossible: Fallout. The task was to create a custom mash-up of Imagine Dragons’ song “Friction” to the well-known Mission Impossible theme and evolve into a hybrid intense re-orchestration of the theme. Musically it naturally fit and as soon as I heard it in my head, the rest was all about making it sound smooth and believable. It turned out really special (we actually won a Clio award for it).

These kinds of projects are really rewarding so I always chase down big challenges like this. (actually working on another huge one right now, but too early to reveal)

Can you mention a notable event from some of the popular films you've been involved in?

I guess a notable event on a project was for Bad Boys 3 trailer: it was the first time I heard (or that I had to do) a mashup of 2 well-known songs and merge them into a big action trailer score. (“Bad Boys” by Inner Circle + “Bad Boys for Life” by P.Diddy + action score) I am still recovering from that.

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Who were the people you worked with and would you like to work with again in the future?

Over the years I’ve worked with many talented musicians and artists, and it is always a real pleasure being in a studio and recording live musicians. I would say that’s my favorite thing to do. So I would say any live orchestra or specialty instrumentalist is who I’d like to work with again in the future.

Tell us a few words about Out Of Office Music.

Out Of Office Music is a complete music services agency. We offer everything from custom scoring to music supervision/licensing/clearance as well as music consulting on large projects.

At Out of office music you also provide music consulting services and you have also graduated from UCLA in Composition and Musicology, what are the first steps you would advise a new composer to take when starting out? 

Find your voice. Figure out what you excel at. The competition is pretty fierce out there, so if you know what you are better than the “the other guy/girl” that’s half of the battle. Also, study study and study more! Understanding the hidden formulas in music you like and you want to compete with is very important. Nowadays there are no excuses, there are so many ways to dive deep into anything. 

One of your most recent projects is FINAL FANTASY XIV. Tell us a few words about it and how it came about.

Yes, this was an amazing project. I was asked to find a well-known rock singer to record a song written for the game. We ended up going with the amazing Sam Carter, frontman of the band Architects. What was fascinating about this project is that we had to handle both the creative aspect as well all the logistics. Learning how to speak the different sub-languages (from creative agency to artist managers, and International game publishers). As we were going through the process I realized that this is an art on its own. Being able to think from different angles, with one goal in mind: get through the finish line.

Would you like to tell us a bit about your future plans? 

I really enjoy working on large-scale consulting jobs, because I love seeing something being built from the ground up, from initial concept to complete execution. So I am constantly looking for new opportunities to do more in this specific field.

I am actually very close to locking a new massive project (too early to celebrate) that will be an intense but fun roller coaster.


NFT Collection
Out Of Office Music