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Coming from the concert music world, Jordan Gagné says he never could have imagined that he would be able to make a living writing music for films, television shows, and video games. Originally from St. Paul, Canada, Gagné is a multi-instrumentalist capable of playing classical and electric guitar, bass, and the banjo. He completed a bachelor’s degree in music, with a major in music theory and composition and focus on avant-garde music composition, at the University of Alberta, where, he said, “I realized that I gravitated a lot more to film music, and not so much to the concert music world.” This realization led him to enroll in Berklee’s Scoring for Film, Television, and Video Games graduate program, from which he graduated summa cum laude in 2013. Gagné ultimately moved Los Angeles and founded Clockwork Studios, a music production company. In addition to his freelance work, Gagné is working under Emmy-nominated composer Jeff Russo and has written music for the television shows Extant (starring Halle Berry), Power, Complications, and the miniseries Tut. His credits also include work on Fargo, Battle Creek, CSI: Cyber, The Returned, and Hostages, and he has scored the film Teachers, which recently premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
How has your Berklee experience influenced you as a professional?
Coming from the concert music world, at the start I didn't think I’d have the skills required to be a film composer. But the sheer amount of technique, knowledge, and practice that you're exposed to in one year at Berklee’s campus in Valencia is incredible. In addition to that, the rest of your peers are all incredibly talented and many are already professionals. That raises the bar and forces you to learn at a pace that I don't think any other place can offer. I guess the answer to the question is that all I learned at Berklee is what made me a professional.
What from the experience do you carry with you now?
I learned to have a much more open mind, musically speaking. You quickly see that there are a lot of ways to approach any given cue, and that many of them are valid. Film music is almost always written for someone else's tastes, whether it's a director or a producer or a game designer. You learn quickly that you can't just be a rogue Han Solo figure ignoring what's on screen because it's hampering your creativity. Instead, you learn to use the screen as the source of that creativity.
What things did you learn at Berklee that positioned you for success?
Mainly, that you have to know your stuff. If you feel weak in one particular area, you need to work on it. Everyone talks about how competitive it is getting into the industry, and that's totally true, but if you give it your all in developing the skills that the program espouses, you'll be okay. You just have to do your learning at school, and not in the professional world. The program was based around "real talk" and it really prepared me for that world.
What opportunities did you have, being in Valencia, that you may not have had otherwise?
Being exposed to the Spanish culture! Not only was I getting a great education, but also being immersed in a totally different way of life, too. Aside from that, I loved that it was a truly global program, with people from all over the world congregating in one place. There's this whole other aspect of studying there that is life-enriching, in the sense that you learn so much about the rest of the world.
Would you advise prospective students to come to Berklee’s Valencia campus for their master’s programs, and why?
If you fully invest yourself in the program and do everything you can to learn and improve, you actually can make a living writing music every day. That very thing seemed almost impossible to me when I finished my undergraduate degree.
Can you tell us about your current project?
Right now we're working on a few TV shows. There's one called Extant, which is on CBS and stars Halle Berry, and we just finished a miniseries called Tut, which is based on the pharaoh Tutankhamun and lets you write all the giant-sword-and-sandal music that comes with that territory. That one just aired a couple of days ago.
Tell us about your work with Jeff Russo and how Berklee prepared you for it.
Like a lot of people, my work in L.A. started as an intern, and because of the tech skills that I picked up during my time at Berklee in Valencia I was able to make enough of an impression to be brought on as a paid assistant. When you're writing cues and recording your own music at Berklee, you're forced to literally do every step in that process and you develop really good tech skills, which will always get you a foot in the door. You also learn a lot about spotting, writing, and arranging, but these things get put on the back burner when you first try to break into the professional world.
Now that I work primarily as a writer, I get to put to use all those scoring techniques and skills that were put on the back burner for a year or two. For instance, on season two of Fargo we were asked to do a version of a certain piece from the first season as if it were a 1950s western. I happened to have looked at that exact genre in my time at Berklee in Valencia, so I was able to do an arrangement in that style. You get exposed to so much during the master’s program that it gives you a great musical foundation to work from.
What impact has it had on your job now?
It's verifiably true that without Berklee Valencia campus I wouldn't have a job. I wouldn't have known how to freelance properly and I also wouldn't have had the skills to be valuable in working for another composer.