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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Megan Cavallari Talks Being a Successful Composer in Hollywood

Female powerhouses are some of our favorites. While we love men in the business too, we love hearing women “breaking the glass ceiling” in all aspects. Megan Cavallari has done just that. While the composition field is filled with a lot of men, that did not stop Cavallari from stepping in and climbing the proverbial ladder to the top. With some upcoming projects to do with sports, movies and more she had a ton to talk about. See what she has coming up and where you can catch her work in coming months.

Megan Cavallari

KRISTIN: You have quite the impressive career so far. Can you tell us how you first got into composing music?

MEGAN: My mentor, the extraordinary Richard Kraft, invited me to Thanksgiving. I was sitting next to Danny Elfman whom I did not know. At the time I had a musical entitled “Echo Park” at the Mark Taper Forum. Danny was working on a “little musical for film” and I needed a job. He asked me if I could help. The musical was called “The Nightmare Before Christmas”. I worked in various capacities for the insanely talented Danny Elfman until the movie “Dolores Claiborne”. I learned how to score movies from Danny and Richard. I owe my film and television scoring/songwriting career to Richard Kraft, Danny Elfman, Jerry Goldsmith and Ed Shearmur because I was so lucky to work with all of them. I also collaborated with Richard Kraft and David Goldsmith on several original musical projects including a wonderful musical entitled “Pepita”. I am so humble and know I am fortunate to have learned so much from Richard and Danny. They are two of the finest, kindest, most talented and most generous men you will ever meet. I know I am incredibly lucky.

KRISTIN: You are one of a few female professional composers in the industry. It’s a very small group. Most are men. How does it feel for you to “make it” when there were probably a lot of people telling you it couldn’t be done because you were a woman?

MEGAN: This industry is full of composers who are geniuses. That is a fact. If you have talent you come to Hollywood. It is full of people who have long relationships of working together which is wonderful. For example the team of Burton and Elfman is fantastic. No one can touch that. I don’t think of it as being a woman because I have been working as a composer since I was 16. I have composed for 24 television shows, 17 musicals and I am scoring my 20th feature. I have written so many songs for television, theatre, features, records, and videos too. I am blessed. I am humble. I have found “my people” who tell their friends about me, and then they hire me. It is all about relationships and writing amazing music every time. I looked at Entertainment Weekly this week and notice only one out of 60 or 70 movies was being directed by a woman. Perhaps when that number changes women will ‘lean in’ and hire more female composers. I finally have an intern who is a woman and she is fantastic. Soon she will be my assistant, and then become a great composer. I have great people working for me, great directors, show runners, music supervisors, Kraft-Engel Management who are beyond amazing. Everyone tells everyone they “can’t make it”. I simply have zero time for negativity in my life because I have amazing things always going on. I have and will always be positive, helpful and happy. That will never change.

KRISTIN: You are going to write the soundtrack, songs, and score for the animated feature “Jacob Marley”. How is that project coming and how did you get selected for it?

MEGAN: I am writing the songs with Russ Francis, the director, in a month or so. Then the songs will be animated.
The score will be done to picture next year. The score process is like this: you watch the film with the director – in this case Russ has a great team, whom I adore, and I look forward to their input as well. We spot where the music will be – it’s animated so there will be a lot of music. I write the score over and over until Russ is thrilled out of his mind. We record the score and the songs at Capital Records with a great orchestra filled with my assistants and a lot of women, and I conduct. I will have arranged the vocals and will sing. Then we mix the score and songs and then my team and I sleep.

I got this job because I drove to Anaheim in rush hour traffic to meet face to face with Russ and his team. He wanted to do a Skype interview but I feel face to face is always better and my amazing agent Sarah Kovacs said to drive and I trust anything that comes out of her mouth. I loved everyone immediately! I got the story Russ was trying to tell and I loved it! I could see it winning a few Oscars it was so fresh and exciting and the images Russ showed me were breath-taking. I could easily see it going to Broadway. It’s story was so original and moving. I have been fortunate to work with Broadway producers who would eat this musical up. They loved me and it was mutual. We spoke the same language.They had a score composer but asked me to do the songs and score because they wanted to keep the team tight. I hope to do all their future features and always be their “go-to composer.” I can’t say enough about this incredible team I am on. Once again I am so fortunate.

KRISTIN: I am a firm believer that the music makes the movie; it sets the mood. Can you sneak us any information on what kind of feel you are going for with the music?

MEGAN: You want to whisper in the ear what you want the audience to feel. If it is a scary scene your heart beats faster so you may begin slowly and quietly and then move faster because your heart is going faster for example, what the great John Willams did for “Jaws”: we see the woman treading water, we see the shark, we are terrified, we know the outcome is not going to be good. Our heart is beating as fast as the music. We won’t be going into the ocean all summer.

KRISTIN: You also did music for The Righteous One: The Irena Sandler Story, which is an opera. That is a totally different sound than the film or TV aspect of your career. Is it hard for you to switch styles of music or is it just a switch that flips and you’re on.

MEGAN: It is not hard to switch modes of music at all. It is more difficult getting jobs. It is difficult getting commissions. It is difficult to get a chorus to sing your opera and find money for them and your orchestra. Music is fantastic and easy to write for me. I do that every day but I also get on the phone, email people, meet people, follow up, create new music for links, write demos, take meetings, write pop songs for Eric Robinson, my Emmy-nominated producer, create projects for television I can sell, create revenue streams, post on social media, update my studio and team to complete perfection, create musicals, write songs, all while raising a the most amazing 12 year old daughter, running the Talk Foundation, and volunteering for places like the Christian Mission because I am so upset that 13,000 children in Los Angeles are homeless and hungry tonight. So, writing any kind of music is a gift and getting paid to do it is the jackpot.

KRISTIN: A lot of people would say that when you know you have to write something the pressure can cause a block. Knowing you have a project and having to write specific styles or a general theme for a movie or tv show seems just as stressful. How do you avoid running into that block when you are working on a project?

MEGAN: There is no such thing as a block for me because music come from a divine power. You just “put the antenna up” as Danny says. The music comes through me. It comes back through me when I conduct it. It is spiritual for me. So just stay in a clear zone and let it flow. Composers work in post production. There is never time in post – ask anyone working in post production. It was due yesterday. Television is like this: spot it with the show runner, score it, show it to the show runner and get notes, re-write, show it to them again and re-write and deliver to the post house, sleep 4 hours, spot it…for film, you have a bit longer, but the score is longer and the process is just as labor insensitive. If you can not write amazing music fast you should be a professor and get commissions. There is nothing wrong with that. There is just a hustle and mad organization you have to have besides the talent.

KRISTIN: Switching gears for a minute, I am a girl from Michigan so the Detroit Red Wings and ice hockey are things I grew up watching. You are starting your tenth season with the LA Kings as an official composer. How is it for you to be able to merge two of your passions into one project?

MEGAN: I have a Hasek Jersey from the Czech Republic in my studio! I love Detroit! A real ice hockey town. I am not the official composer of the LA KINGS. I worked with the LA Kings from 2006-2015. There is another composer who does that. I have written many cues for the LA Kings with the Emmy Award winning director and producer Aaron Brenner who also worked for the LA Kings. Aaron and I worked incredibly close together. I scored a lot of cues with the players -comic cues. Aaron and I worked like we alway do. He tells me what he wants. I write it. He gives me notes and I deliver. I am from Philly so I am a born ice hockey fan. I learned to play ice hockey as and adult and met Heidi Androl, of the LA Kings organization and she introduced me to their producer Brian, before Aaron came on board. I met Heidi playing hockey. I play on a men’s pick up team. Left wing. I’m the tiny one.

Ice hockey is like life to me: you fall down hard-you get up, sometimes a miracle happens and you get the puck past a huge man in a tiny cage. It is fast, it can be violent, it is poetry, it is beautiful, it can have fights and then you are on the ice again. You have to work as a team, you have to count on your line because they are counting on you, you trust them, you have to deliver, you feel like a joyous ten-year-old, it’s a rush, it’s exciting, you can’t stop for a second or you are doomed, you never stop learning.

KRISTIN: You have a lot going on, but I have to ask if there are any other projects you are working on?

MEGAN: I am always looking for work. I never stop looking for the next job. I love meeting people. I don’t do it to to see if they will hire me. I do it because I just like meeting people and find their stories interesting. We may have something in common – like children, or seeing art at the Broad, or loving the last Jason Bourne movie or thinking Moby is like Jesus. I don’t “work” people because it is not authentic and it feels yucky to me and I am out of integrity. Some people “network” so well. I don’t. I just am myself. If I think your dress is beautiful I will tell you. If you have an accent I might ask you where you were from and what was it like growing up there. I can’t do “here’s my card-I’m a composer and songwriter working on this huge musical….” That’s bragging. That is not humble. I want to know about you. I find you much more interesting than me.

KRISTIN: Where can we keep up with all of what you are doing online? Do you have a social media presence?

MEGAN: megancavallari.com
facebook: facebook.com/megan.cavallari
Twitter: megcava (please follow!)

You heard her ladies and gentlemen. Follow her on Twitter, like her on Facebook, and visit her website to see more of what she is working on. And remember to listen for her work in some of your upcoming favorite projects she is working on! We are definitely excited to see more from her!

About Kristin Downer

Super Mom and Awesomely Nerdy Lady who can’t stand to sit still. Delving into the online world I ran a successful online radio channel and blog that brought fans up close and personal with their favourite music, television and movie stars. Now, with my hilariously nerdy partners in crime, we are hiding our nerdyness no more! Twitter: @Kristin_Downer

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