Marcel Barsotti is one of the most successful German film composers. He has written the music for over a hundred cinema, television films and commercials (including Die Päpstin, Deutschland. Ein Sommermärchen, Jesus liebt mich), and has published 40 music albums. He has been nominated many times for his music and has been awarded prestigious prizes. He is the owner of the production music company tunesformovies, founded in 2017, and lives and works on Lake Starnberg near Munich. Epic Lab had a chance to speak with him.
Marcel Barsotti, you were just nominated twice in February for the BEST SHORT FILM SCORE (Best Film Score) and in the category BEST COMBINED USE OF SOUND AND MUSIC for the film “Klabautermann” by Anke Sevenich at the international Short Sounds Film Festival in the UK. Congratulations! How important is such a nomination to you?
Thank you very much. It came as a complete surprise, because I didn’t know about the Festival Award at first. And when you receive an e-mail congratulating you from England, you are of course very happy. However, it is important for me to make the film scores for the films and therefore I am especially happy for the nominations, because I was nominated for a modern, avant-garde and quite uncomfortable film score. And the score for “Klabautermann” is completely electronic, which fits very well with my album concepts right now.
Marcel Barsotti, your latest digital solo album “Earth” beats all your previous streaming records with over 100,000 streams and views within a few weeks. How do you explain the success?
Every new soundtrack is a poker game. Is the film successful or is the concept of the solo album right? “Earth” is an album I’ve been waiting for for a long time, which serves purely electronic music. It sounds like film music – that was important to me – and has an elegiac and minimalistic, reduced sound. The new trend: soundscapes. I think that my first electronic album “Transpicuous” paved the way for “Earth” and made music fans curious about it, so I think the success of the album is also related to that. I’m very happy about it and the duology will continue.
Is the success also due to a good business strategy? In 2017 you founded your own digital label tunesformovies. A smart move. Are physical music albums definitely over?
The time of physical music albums is definitely over. Of course there is still a small fan community, but primarily it’s about existing and older soundtracks. Nobody wants to go home, plug in the CD player and listen to a CD anymore, the mobile phone is today’s CD player. I recently gave away one of my soundtracks, the young woman didn’t even know that CD players existed and then listened to the music on Spotify, free of charge, of course. The CD probably ended up in the trash.
With the digital releases today you have completely new possibilities to market an album successfully. That’s why I founded my own label. This gives me 100% control to market the album exactly how I see fit. In addition, 100% goes to my label and the income can be used for future projects. So really just a win-win situation.
The audience’s attention span has steadily decreased over the past 20 years. Singer-songwriters are now leaving out the intro, and the statistically most successful song length on the radio has been reduced to 2 minutes and 50 seconds. A worrying development? Or rather a chance for composers to release more titles in less time?
I’m happy for changes in the system and the world just got faster, in every respect. Songs get to the point quicker these days, only the hook counts. And of course there are significantly more releases due to digital marketing. A single release can already be realized worldwide for €29. However, most titles and songs have no chance of success, without any concepts and social media campaigns, the titles are shot out and bob with a few streams in the streaming channels. I don’t care. Either my albums are successful or I wouldn’t follow up on it, so: a lot of social media work.
What effects do the developments in the music market mentioned above have on the film industry? Do you see parallels?
The film market is quite stable worldwide and is subject to normal fluctuations. Of course, the offer is currently inflationary here too, streaming services such as Netflix and Co. release a film or series on the market every day. And you can currently see that the marketing chain is reaching its limits. The number of subscribers is already declining. In any case, we will experience a decline again, ups and downs. The winners will always be those with new ideas, concepts, and with a new look and sound.
The user behavior of media consumers has changed dramatically as a result of social media and the rapid increase in streaming service providers (consumption of small bites; the audience has become more erratic; it is known from sales psychology that an oversupply leaves consumers more dissatisfied after their purchase decision as they may feel more like they missed something else). Do you see a tendency for film producers and directors to become more fickle and unpredictable in their demands on you as a film composer?
No, I don’t see that, film producers and directors have always been critical of the score and that’s a good thing. It’s the only way a good music concept can develop at best. But traditional orchestral-style film music is of course becoming less, because the sound has also become more redundant over the decades. The new sound has been the electronic score for over 10 years, see soundtracks like Dune or Interstellar. What has changed are the sequential, layered sound concepts. Compositions only dwell on one note and one tonality and it is built around the note. Actually the concept of Tekkno, a beat that continues and builds up constructively. That’s why pop music and film music are no longer so far from each other. Basically, I like this development, that music can also function like a sound concept. It triggers a different kind of emotion and film music seems much more modern and contemporary to the new generations of listeners.
With Netflix series, it is not uncommon that one single music supervisor is putting together music which is produced in individual parts by an anonymous team of composers. Is curating large, feature-length films, whose music is conceived, composed and recorded by a single film composer, an artistic obsolescence?
With the streamers, the showrunners (i.e. the authors) decide, a director is no longer involved here. Several composers and songwriters are committed to a project. One wants to cover the contemporary sound as much as possible. Thus, the sole composer is rarely in demand here.
Marcel Barsotti’s music studio
Is the digital oversupply undermining the demand for traditional film composers who oversee a film from A to Z?
No, both in the cinema and on television, there is usually only one composer. However, songs have always been written by people from the pop industry, that’s common. If you look in the cinema and on TV, nothing has actually changed here, you continue to compose from A to Z. With series and dailies, however, there are also several composers in the music team due to the mass of films to be set to music.
Large digital film music libraries like PremiumBeat have shaken up the film music business in recent years. Curse or blessing for the film composer? Why?
Well, production music libraries and – unfortunately – copyright-free music have always existed. Of course, that has increased and successful projects like the Korean series “Squid Games” are designed with library music. However, this development also opens up the opportunity for other composers to earn money. Catalog music has always existed and it is extremely important, especially in documentaries, sports, travel and news formats. I’ve always been interested in that too, which is why I founded the company Tunesformovies, which now has over 50 TV stations in Germany, Austria and Switzerland with over 3,000 titles sampled.
You are also a lecturer in film music and offer coaching for young film composers. What is the most important tip you give to promising young talents?
“Further training, further training and further training”. Basically, young composers often linger on the chance of being discovered, but that usually doesn’t happen. That’s why I offer FiMuCo coaching on how to professionally develop a musical concept, how to stand out from other composers, how to use social media and acquisition in today’s world. Unfortunately, I find that many of them have no idea at all, make a few posts and live with the day for the chance that someone might call. In the meantime, in addition to film composers, I also have directors, musicians and people from other music industries in coaching and even successful film composers who want to become even more successful. The need seems to be huge, no one survives today with a personal touch and with “only” great talent.
What was your career path like? If you look at what you have accomplished to date: TV films, series, cinema, you brought one of the largest sound libraries like ETHNO WORLD on the market worldwide, founded a production music company and a successful soundtrack label, offer additional coaching and workshops. How does it all come together, do you still have an overview?
I think so (laughs). Above all, I have developed a personal time management, i.e. how do I divide the day, concentrate on the essentials and realize everything calmly and carefully. Of course, that doesn’t always work, something always comes up. But that’s why I also have the PILLAR4+ module in my coaching sessions. So, what happens when you only have one financial pillar in life as an artist, you put everything on one card. This pillar can of course be successful, but what happens when you are getting on in years and you are perhaps no longer in demand or other talents take over? This is where PILLAR4+ comes in, i.e. 4 pillars of earnings AT LEAST! This is how the diversity of my musical interests came about.
Back to the basic question: every beginning is difficult. I fought my way through with lessons, during which time I completed classical and pop studies and then did nothing more than making acquisitions every day from morning to night. At that time it was called “peddling”. There was no internet and email yet. So meet people from the industry, dance at parties and festivals, travel and explain, convince and show everyone that I can do more than the others. Gain self-confidence because you get more rejections than confirmations and then, what you always have to see: being in the right place at the right time. For me it was a film premiere, where I met the director Sönke Wortmann, and we made four big movies in 6 years, including the cinema blockbusters “Pope Joan” or “The Miracle of Bern”. Everything else is history. And someone discovers you and makes you successful. My manager at the time said to me: “It’s not the first film that’s important, it’s the follow-up order”. He was right about that, but paradoxically. If you miss the point then your possible success will be getting old and before it’s too late other composers will catch up with you. Of course you always have to say: the music is decisive for what you write. Producers and directors don’t book you to pass the time, but because they want YOU and nobody else for this project.
My first composition teacher, good old George Byrd (USA) once said to me: “You know, the most important thing in life is not to make money, but to win prizes, prizes and more prizes.” Me I’ve always had that thought in the back of my mind all my life. If you want to win prizes, then you have to write something that others don’t write, develop a concept that you wouldn’t expect for this film and still works, your personal style, unconventional, weird, just DIFFERENT.
Does a good film composer have to be a good businessman these days? In addition to the actual compositional talent, what requirements do you think are crucial in order to survive in today’s film music business?
Unfortunately, that’s usually the case. Talent is the basic requirement, but there are such great writers who just don’t make money from their music and have to support themselves and their families with teaching or other jobs. I assume that’s almost 90%! Being a businessman or businesswoman is an essential part today and most talented people don’t get any education or training. You think you’ve written a hit and that’s it. One can be more successful with less talent and better marketing, although I’m always for the special quality of each composition. Today there are too many talents in one pool worldwide, the air is getting much thinner. My times were still in the Golden Age, there weren’t nearly as many composers as there are today, and millions of moviegoers, millions of VHS, DVDs and soundtracks were sold. That was a different time, which doesn’t mean that we can be just as successful today.
Happiness is up to everyone to do something, to do something RIGHT, above all to change something.
Finally, do you have a little anecdote that you would like to tell our readers about your film music life?
Oh, there are quite a few bizarre ones (laughs out loud)!
When I had my twentieth job interview with a film producer for my first project (I was 29 years old at the time), the producer said to me: “If you haven’t made a film yet, I can’t give you a movie”. This statement is not uncommon for film composers in the industry and yet completely absurd. So I said to her in a slightly emotional tone: “I’ll write you the next film music in 14 days, just as good as Hans Zimmer and for a 100th of the fee”. Then I didn’t see the producer again. After 9 months, the producer actually called: “Back then you spit out such big words, now you have the chance, and if you screw it up, then that’s it with us”. I wrote my first film music for the film “Brüder auf Leben und Tod” by director Friedemann Fromm and in the same year three follow-up films. That’s life!
Mr. Barsotti, thank you very much for the interview.