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Uprising: Why David Chapdelaine Loves the Extreme Highs and Disappointments of Composing

Uprising 161 Add to collection

Composer at Forager speaks about embracing the hard days and lives up to his first words: “Smooth jazz”, writes LBB’s Ben Conway

Uprising: Why David Chapdelaine Loves the Extreme Highs and Disappointments of Composing


Being home-schooled, David Chapdelaine got to focus on what he loved growing up; music, making videos and skateboarding. Listening to his iPod, he would imagine the colours, emotions and scenes that he could pull from each track - eventually leading him to create lyric videos with Adobe After Effects. Some of these amassed 200-300 thousand YouTube views, almost by accident. “I often regret not keeping my YouTube Channel alive,” he laughs, reminiscing about the guitar covers, BMX ‘sponsor-me’ videos and other content he produced as a teenager.

He was born into a musical family; his dad was a drummer and got him involved wherever he could. “I remember seeing photos of a two-year-old me sitting on his lap as he held the sticks in my hands as he practised. Believe it or not my first words were ‘smooth jazz’. My parents would always listen to this local radio station in Michigan and the opening line of the radio station was ‘smooth jazz’.” Seemingly speaking his destiny into existence as a toddler, David pursued music as he grew older. 

Shaped by the punk and hardcore music of the early 2000s, he eventually graced the Warped Tour stage with his band and continues to explore his passion for the heavier genres of music through his work. “The first full-length feature film I scored featured a cameo by Ozzy Osbourne and the director wanted flares of hardcore and metal music throughout. It was super fun pulling from inspiration based on what I grew up listening to.”

As early as aged 16, he had already started working professionally as an amalgamation of videographer, editor, and composer in the wedding industry. Describing the people in this field as “hard workers” with a “crazy high level of stress tolerance”, he was relieved to move in to the commercial world shortly after and is grateful for having stayed away from that intensity ever since.

As he approached the end of high school, he strayed from the creative allures of a music degree and found a job as an assistant editor in Detroit - a difficult decision between his two occupational aspirations. Still only 17, he cut his teeth in the ad industry working on spots for Google, Ford and McDonald’s to name a few. It didn’t take long however for David’s passion for music to make an impression and change the trajectory of his burgeoning career.

“Eventually we needed a music pull for an ad I was editing and I thought, ‘hey I could probably make something better than this stock track we are pulling’. The client ended up liking the music and I started switching over to full-time composing after that.”

After entering the industry at a young age, some things took getting used to - especially as his iterative feedback process had always consisted of a group of enthusiastic, but perhaps not so critical, skaters. “They would never send me feedback or any notes. It was just ‘wow this looks amazing!’. The first time I got notes back on a commercial project and had like 20-30 rounds of revisions was a bit of a harrowing experience…” Retrospectively, one of the most valuable lessons he learned was how to collaborate with others and utilise their notes to make the best project possible.

It is this collaboration, rather than a specific project, that he feels has shaped and propelled his career thus far; he views his body of work as a whole collection that has forged bonds and produced ever-increasing successes through this teamwork. “It is amazing getting to work with some of the same people for the last five years or so. We have all grown and pushed each other to work on bigger and better things. It's all about relationships and building something together.”

Scrolling through David’s captivating Instagram feed, you are greeted with many videos of the young creative experimenting with a variety of instruments, sounds and ideas - some of which will culminate in an upcoming music project - an offspring from his band ‘Gold Route’. He says, “It is very important for me to keep music projects going on outside of the commercial and feature world. [It] Helps keep me inspired and sharp. I love recording bands and living in that sort of indie, punk, shoegaze, hardcore world. Hoping I can continue to incorporate that into my commercial and feature work more and more.”

Asked about his favourite instruments and music-making equipment of the moment, he warns, “Oh man, I could go on forever about this,” before sharing his current obsession with using “hardware” effects and instruments as much as possible, rather than relying on computers. 

“My favourite stand-alone synth is probably my [Sequential] Prophet-5 going into a Volante and a Blue Sky [both Strymon effects pedals; echo and reverb respectively]. But my favourite piece of gear is my Eurorack synth, there are just endless possibilities, and you can get some really unique sounds! On the other end of the spectrum, I really have been loving creating my own sample-based Kontakt Instruments. Lots of cool ways to make multiple dynamic layered instruments that move and grow. Not a lot of people use their own sounds when scoring, I feel like that is a very important aspect of my writing.” 

Combining his composition skills with his love for hardcore, punk and metal, David worked on his first feature film ‘We Need to Do Something’ over the pandemic, which premiered at the Tribeca film festival and in theatres in 2021. “I met the director through a good editor friend of mine. We met about eight years ago; it was actually his company I started working for right out of high school. We had both wanted to make movies for the longest time, so when this project came up, I was super excited.” At Tribeca, he also had the opportunity to meet Chris Dudley, the keyboardist in one of his favourite bands growing up, ‘Underoath’, and connected over their similar new paths into careers as composers.

“He [Chris] even came by and watched the movie we made, inspired by his music; it was truly a humbling experience. I wanted the flavour of the film's music to have that tinge of hardcore and metal elements, so instead of using strings or big epic cinematic drums, I used instruments closely related to the story. Using guitar feedback instead of tense strings, using a breakdown in a jumps care moment. The director told me, ‘What if Satan was in a doom metal band?’. I tried to take that to heart and ran with it.”

His other inspirations in the industry also spread further than just the musicians he grew up listening to. “My favourite artists are the ones who you can distinctly tell who wrote the music in the first couple measures of music,” he says. “Some examples would be Bobby Krlic, Ramin Djawadi, Hildur Guðnadóttir, Woody Jackson, Emile Mosseri, and Colin Stetson. They all do such an amazing job of conveying emotion, all in their unique ways.”

Though he has a lot to celebrate, David says, “I don’t think enough composers talk about the hard days.” As much as he enjoys creating diverse, genre and medium-spanning music - switching daily from emotionally driven scores for documentaries to EDM tracks for fast food commercials - he says that composers are “always demoing before they win the job”, putting their hearts out into the world to be judged and rejected. “You are more or less doing all of the work up front, and then waiting to see if you get paid or not. This happens to almost everyone in a creative position, it doesn’t make it easy, but it does help understanding that everyone goes through it!”

As well as this, David finds frustrations in other aspects of the industry, such as in the disappointment of assistants, engineers and others who help create the music we all listen to but rarely get the appropriate acknowledgement or celebration they deserve. He also shares that one of his biggest frustrations is when editors become too attached to a project’s ‘temp music’. “I always try to have editors working to my music from the beginning if possible,” he says. “Temp music may be good at the beginning to help understand where the piece is going, but if picture starts getting cut to it, it just ends up limiting what I can do.”

Away from the “extreme highs and extreme disappointments” that he says constitute the life of a composer, David finds a way to keep a level head and reset in his leisure time; he describes the free time dedicated to refreshing his mind as “the most important part” of what he does. “I have been reading this book called ‘Atomic Habits’ and have tried to focus on the daily process rather than the specific long-term goals. Other than reading, I also find it helpful to go on a run, bike ride, meditate, or cook a good meal.” But motivated by his passion for music and the industry he is in, the composer is grateful for being able to return after each break, fully refreshed, to a job that he genuinely enjoys.

“I love what I do, period. There is nothing else I would rather want to do. The fact that I get to help tell stories through music is such an amazing job. I am driven by simply the love of the craft and never wanting to stop writing music.”



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Forager, Tue, 26 Jul 2022 15:54:00 GMT