I've wanted to compose soundtracks for films since the age of 14. I had just watched Gladiator, a film that had come out three years earlier (but I was finally "old enough" to watch). Hans Zimmer's sweeping, bombastic orchestral score spoke to me in a way that gave me clarity of purpose and defined the direction that I wanted to take my burgeoning music talent. After working my tail off (musically, at least) throughout high school, I found myself accepted and starting coursework at Berklee College of Music - one of the top 3 schools for Film Scoring in the country.
Though several subsequent twists and turns in my life have brought me to where I am today as the Director of Design & Development at Arise Design + Brand, my "first love," classical and orchestral music, continues to shape what I listen to, the way I listen to and analyze it, and how I connect emotionally with music. So, without further ado, here are ten songs, in no particular order, that keep me inspired in various ways while I work.
1. "The Battle" - Hans Zimmer, The Soundtrack of Gladiator
It has stuck with me for 16 years and still gives me the same adrenaline kick as it did the day I first heard it. The fact that my first instrument I learned to play was a trombone probably helped that along - this piece has some of the most "in-your-face" brass melodies of any track you'll hear.
2. "Top of the World" - Kimbra
Kimbra first came to prominence in the U.S. when she appeared on Gotye's popular song "Somebody That I Used to Know." I became acquainted with "Top of the World" from the FIFA 18 soundtrack. The message is powerful and the rhythm is infectious and organic yet strong and driving, but it manages to be just reigned in perfectly enough to not distract from the task at hand.
3. "Everybody Walkin' This Land" - Paul Cauthen
Paul Cauthen's "Everybody Walkin' This Land" is another tune on this list that comes from a soundtrack (seeing a theme here?). This time, Starz's American Gods does the honors. Sit back, have a listen, and let the Johnny Cash-esque stylings of Paul Cauthen preach to you a message that is especially pertinent given the political and cultural climate of 2019.
4. "Kong" - Bonobo
I probably could have filled this entire top 10 with songs by Bonobo and Emancipator. For me, they both embody a perfect balance of organic instruments and rhythms and EDM nuances that feeds perfectly into my mental wavelength when I'm pushing pixels or cranking out code.
5. "Construção" - Chico Buarque
During the military dictatorship of Brazil from 1964 to 1985, many popular artists used cryptographic lyrics to spread messages against the oppressive regime, fearing that a more direct approach would bring negative consequences. This song by Chico Buarque is one such song. Each verse tells the story of a the same man, but the nouns, verbs, and contexts are progressively swapped around to show how a message can be distorted by whomever is controlling the message.
6. "Budapest" - George Ezra
The quintessential "go for a drive and see where the road leads" kind of song. With its rambling guitar and George Ezra's soothing baritone-bass voice, it brings a positive, hopeful energy that simultaneously calms and inspires. It's also one of my favorite songs to play guitar and sing for friends and family.
7. Donuts (Album) - J. Dilla
J. Dilla was master of organic hip-hop beats throughout an adult life that was cut short by complications from lupus. His entire Donuts album is worth a listen. It's chock full of instrumentals that stay delightfully out of the way while being so infectious that you can't help but sway along to.
8. "Feel It Still" - Portugal, the Man
If you can make it through this entire song without jamming out a bit at your desk, you should probably have your pulse checked. Portugal, the Man has been putting out good music for over a decade. Just listen to their entire catalogue - it's a great rabbit hole to fall down and I doubt you'll come out the other side asking for that time back.
9. Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection" - Gustav Mahler
Gustav Mahler poured the entirety of his emotional being into the music he wrote. Sadness, anxiety, fear, hope, and happiness - it's as though you're a passenger to his state of mind, to an episode of his consciousness - and this symphony details his coming to grips with some of the heaviest questions about the human condition. I find his ability to use the language of music to both cope and communicate incredibly inspiring and this work is a massive achievement.
10. "Sail" - AWOLNATION
It's amazing to think it's already been eight years since this song came out. Nonetheless, it's still one of the best to pump yourself up and focus, and I frequently come back to it to give myself an extra little push.
Looking back at this list now - it's a bit all over the place, but I feel like that perfectly identifies how I draw my artistic inspirations. Diversity is key to unlocking new solutions and ways to communicate, and it's equally useful in music as it is in design.
So, what inspires you?