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The raw and dramatic edge of Conor O'Brien's music | #MemberSpotlight

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Freelance Composer and Sound Designer Conor O'Brien has been playing music for most of his life.

His passion for music composition and for striking the perfect soundtrack for any project is almost physically tangible in all the beautiful projects he's worked on. His stunning portfolio of clients is a good testament to his skill too: from Friends of the Earth to FIFAMTVBritish Cycling and more, Conor's work has grazed many a campaign and will be of inspiration to any aspiring composer out there.

In this Member Spotlight, we're learning more about Conor and his path into the industry.

How did you get into the industry?

I’ve been playing music and have been fascinated with sound for what seems like all my life. After studying sound and music and working for various recording studios, producers and music agencies, I started to branch out more into music and sound for TV, film and advertising.

Where are you based now and who do you work for?

I’m now based in London for over 12 twelve years (still hanging on!) and have previously worked out of Dublin and New York - I also do a lot of field recording, which takes me pretty around the world. My clients cover a wide spectrum to say the least - from independent filmmakers to large scale brands and corporations (FIFA, Nivea, MTV, Sanofi, Noom, Nurofen) as well as some of the top advertising agencies.If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

Certainly a tough question! To be honest, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else, but whatever it would be, it would have to be music or sound related. The world of psychoacoustics has always fascinated me, so maybe I could invent a job for myself in that area.

Can you explain your creative process?

My workflow always adapts to the collaboration I have with a producer and/ or director and what best serves the project. Once the end goals are clear I can start putting the pieces together. Creating music or sound design can be a heavily-involved process, even for the shortest snippets of audio, but when you know the right sound is out there, you do whatever it takes to capture it.

How would you describe your style?

Vast and varied and all dependent on the job at hand, but I do work a lot in ambient, cinematic and electronic styles, often with a raw and dramatic edge for both music and sound design.

Which individuals do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?

Well too many to mention. I tend to draw inspiration from everywhere - not just the soundtrack - and I find directors, cinematographers and performers can all inspire by what they can bring to a concept or how they interpret an emotion. But in the realm of sound and music, some of my favourite modern composers would be Jonny Greenwood, Benjamin Wallfisch and Johann Johannsson. Nick Forshager’s soundscapes (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul) are some of the crispest things you can hear, and for his high-octane rawness and creativity, I have to list visual and sound artist Ryoji Ikeda.

If you had to pick one ideal client/employer, who would that be and why?

No matter what the scope of the project, someone who is communicative, open to the collaborative process and wants to get the very best out of the soundtrack. 

How has technology affected the way you work?

Every way you could possibly imagine. When I was in college we were learning how to splice multitrack tape and operate 15-foot wide mixing consoles - and for the most part, the same work can now be done on a laptop with a pair of headphones. Although there is still unique magic in analogue, the quality of modern digital audio has made this industry unrecognisable from what it was even 20 years ago.

What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?

Keep reading, keep learning and keep listening.

What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?

I couldn’t pick one, but my personal favourites from my portfolio would be the soundtrack I provided on a short film for P&Co, which has also been used for Channel 4 and Nike promos, and the sound design I created for MTV’s ‘Anxious’ ident (growing up in the MTV generation, it was such an awesome opportunity!). I’m also pretty pleased with the score I composed for the feature ‘Dragonflies Only Live for 24 Hours’, which picked up a few awards, and it was great having my music played during every game at the 2018 World Cup for FIFA’s ‘Get Social’ campaign.

How do you recharge away from the office?

My field recording is a great way to escape, while seeing and learning so much about the world. Although it is a bus man’s holiday of sorts, scaling volcanoes in Europe and recording wildlife in the jungles of SouthEast Asia has me a world away from the soundproofed (and often windowless) production studios where the most of the work is done.

What is one tip for other aspiring creatives looking for work?

As cliché as it sounds, you have to keep creating and keep pushing yourself to make your work the best it can possibly be - and if you keep it up eventually the jobs will come to you. This industry is a real long game, and there will be plenty of setbacks and mistakes along the way, but this is the way you make progress. 

What is the one thing that you would change about the industry?

I think there really needs to be more uniform regulation, clarity and accountability when it comes to hiring freelancers in creative industries. Time and again you hear of people being exploited for their work, or of it being simply stolen from them. As much as there are unions for every subsector, I feel if they pooled their resources to represent all creatives they could become a much stronger force for good.

Any websites, books or resources you would recommend?

One bible of mine is ‘Sound Design: The Expressive Power of Music, Voice’ by David Sonnenschein, while a great online industry resource is - if you’re working in sound, you have to sign up to their newsletter.


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