'Boy George Bought Me My First Synthesizer' - Composer Dean Valentine on his Extraordinary Career

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Internationally recognised composer, Dean Valentine, shares his incredible journey through production music, blockbuster successes, and his Irish ties
'Boy George Bought Me My First Synthesizer' - Composer Dean Valentine on his Extraordinary Career

Composer for film, trailers, TV and games, Dean Valentine has an impressive portfolio of titles under his name. Renowned for some of the biggest trailers in Hollywood, Dean has worked on the likes of Captain America: Civil War, Star Wars: Rogue One, Dunkirk and The Shape of Water, as well as numerous film scores including the breathtaking epic Viking, recorded with The Orchestra of Ireland, and video game music for Rune II. His work on the American Sniper trailer won him a CLIO Key Art Award and he holds a Golden Trailer Award for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. 

Here, Dean reminisces on his unlikely journey into music, reveals an exciting new album launch with BMG, and shares his best advice for new talent.

Q> How did you get into music and composing in the industry?
 
Dean> I sort of fell into music by accident when my dad received a piano as a gift. I never studied music at school but I just started messing around on this piano and picked it up pretty quickly. I got so into playing that I’d often skip dinners just to continue practising. 
 
I was very creative as a child but my first passion was art. I loved drawing and went on to work in animation. Then a colleague of mine who had left to become a scriptwriter wrote a series for French and German TV and asked me to compose the music. I had no equipment but I said yes anyway and pretended I had a studio. It was a very big undertaking for my first gig and took seven to eight months to complete but it launched my career - the rest is history!
 
Q> Did your childhood in Ireland influence you in any way?
 
Dean> I feel like there must be something in the water where I’m from. I lived on Cedarwood Road, famously known because Bono lived there - in fact, he was my neighbour! Music also runs in the family as Boy George is my first cousin but we were into very different music. When I first heard Do You Really Want To Hurt Me I didn’t even know it was him - I just loved the song. He did buy me my first synthesizer though so that kind of kicked things up a notch with what I could create.
 
I guess Ireland gave me the luck of the Irish too; we like to take a leap of faith and give things a go. I’ve never thought that I couldn’t do something so I always give things a try if I want to. A little bit of freedom comes with that attitude.


The Hunger Games:Catching Fire trailer


Q> You are often described as having a signature sound - how would you describe this?

Dean> People tell me that they love the emotion and themes in my music. I like a slow burn where it gradually builds up and that naturally became the sound of what I did. 

The sound of trailer music has evolved a lot over the last 3 years, there’s been an explosion of new boutique trailer houses lately and the competition is fierce.The big blockbusters have a much darker hybrid sound and trailerised covers of songs and existing film themes are really in demand right now plus there’s a lot of really inventive and original ideas coming through. There’s a new sound filtering into trailer music influenced by TV and film scores like Sicario, Chernobyl and The Joker which have that raw Icelandic string-based sound - a style that I also love to work in so I’m happy to adapt and evolve with it.

Trailers are admittedly difficult to create because you don’t actually get to see the footage when you compose the music. Trailers are usually produced up to a year before the film is even released so they can’t risk sending footage in case of leaks. So you have to work from a written brief.

Q> What have been some of your most memorable projects to work on so far?

Dean> After slowly figuring out the trailer structure and sound, I eventually landed my first major trailers in the same week - Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises - maybe it’s the luck of the Irish again! I wrote a piece of music for The Dark Knight Rises which ended up being chosen for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire instead. Plan B worked out well though as I won a Golden Trailer Award for it. The next trailer I worked on for American Sniper also won a CLIO Key Art Award. 

On a completely different vibe, I worked on Disney’s Winnie the Pooh series narrated by Robert Webb of Peep Show while working on the trailer for Prometheus at the same time - it was surreal working on projects at such opposite ends of the scale.


American Sniper trailer


Q> You’re working on a custom trailer album with BMG, what does that entail?

Dean> I’m really excited about this release! The album’s called, A Reluctant Hero and consists of 12 orchestral hybrid tracks ranging from sparse and emotional to massive and hopeful. There are a few classical covers by Beethoven and Mozart in there too. The overall concept centers around ordinary women and men doing extraordinary things; speaking up when others are silent, putting themselves in harm’s way to save others, not reluctant to act just reluctant to call themselves heroes. 

I also love the album cover which BMG were a great help with. I was keen to place a female character on the front as I’m kind of sick of the male misogynist attitude going around and the imbalance within the industry itself. It’s a little thing to do but it all adds up to raise awareness and make changes.


Captain Marvel trailer


Q> Do you find that composing music for film works differently to composing trailer music in any way?

Dean> Film scores are a very different beast to trailer composition. Firstly you work hands on with the director/producer for many months scoring to picture plus there’s a mix of tones, instrumentation and emotions whereas trailers have a very precise tone and structure and you never work to any visuals. Film and trailer music has a massive following online and its getting bigger and bigger. A lot of this music now gets released publically and some trailer composers are touring with full orchestras performing to sell out crowds!

I’d love to work on more music under my own name, writing just to be creative. If people are then interested in using a piece for a trailer or a project, that’s great, but I’d love to write the music and then put it out into the world to see what comes of it.

Q> What sort of music do you love creating most?

Dean> I love writing for trailers because you’re free. You’re not trying to score it to a picture; you don’t have to follow what’s happening on screen in the same way. Even though there’s a structure with trailers, you can still write a piece of music all on its own and then it’s up to the editors to make it work with the image on screen. Saying that, the brief of the project always has to come first for the idea to land.


Viking trailer


Q> Do you have any new releases coming out?

Dean> I composed the music for the game Rune II and the score is now being released by BMG. I’m also working on a period feature film score, a number of customs trailers and I have another pretty big game score coming out next year which is under NDA at the moment but I’m really excited about it as the music is quite different to the Rune II score. I’d like to work on more games and film scores in the future.


Rune II trailer


Q> What advice would you give to aspiring trailer and film composers looking to get into the industry?

Dean> I don’t need any more competition... just kidding! In seriousness, always listen to what’s going on in the industry and the advice you receive - you may not like what you hear but consider it and get out of your comfort zone or you’ll get stuck writing the same sort of stuff and not developing. With creativity you can’t be precious about your work. Don’t take feedback personally, just grow from it. And practise, practise, practise! You learn more from your mistakes than from anything else.


Dean Valentine’s new album, A Reluctant Hero, will be available for sync in January 2020 through BMG Sync UK (e: sync.uk@bmg.com). To gain access to an exclusive preview of the tracks before their official release date, please contact JustAsk@bmg.com. 

For more information on Dean’s composition work, please visit the Altitude Custom website

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BMG Production Music, 6 months ago