ALUMNI SPECIAL: CHRIS COZENS

From LCoM to Hollywood

Leeds College of Music graduate, Chris Cozens, has been part of the music production team of four of the biggest franchises in the history of Hollywood: The Hunger Games, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and James Bond. As one of the first artist/producers to have a hit ‘top-ten’ album recorded in a home studio, he has remained at the cutting edge of the music industry for thirty years.
 
The music scores Chris has worked on have earned four Academy Awards (Oscars), with a further eleven nominations. Chris divides his time between the US and the UK – working on projects including song writing, film and television music, soundtrack production, and music editing, composing and writing.
 
Soon after studying Light Music (Jazz) at LCoM in 1981, Chris worked as a session keyboard player, songwriter and arranger for bands including The Johnny Mars Band, Dark Lady (Henry Cluney’s band post-Stiff Little Fingers), Long Distantz and Forcefield. Forcefield also included artists who went on to play for Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Focus, Whitesnake, Spencer Davis and the Ian Gillan Band.
 
Since 1985 Chris has established an international reputation as one of the best programmers/music editors working in film and television soundtrack music production, composing scores for BBC TV, Channel Four, Central TV & Granada TV in the UK, and HBO in the US. He has also acted as music editor and Auricle consultant, as well as keyboard/computer programmer on more than 150 feature films from major Hollywood studios, including Dreamworks, Warner Bros, Disney, Paramount, Universal, 20th Century Fox and HBO.
 
Alumni & External Relations Assistant, Amy Lynch spoke with Chris in December 2015 to ask him about his journey from LCoM to Hollywood, and about his career so far.

 

What was your earliest musical experience?
 
I come from a home that was full of music; if the radio wasn’t on then the record player was. My Dad, in particular, loved his music and taught me that you were allowed to like all different genres so my musical loves are wide ranging – something that has stood me in good stead.
 
 
Who/what encouraged you to study music?

My maternal Grandmother’s family was full of musicians so encouragement was always there. I was lucky to grow up in the 60s with a robust peripatetic system of instrumental teachers in place and we were encouraged at school to have a go. Although I wanted to play sax, I went to the wrong room and ended up playing the trumpet. One of many ‘happy accidents’ throughout my musical life!
 
 
Who/what made you aspire to a career in music?

It wasn’t really planned. I just carried on having fun, meeting lots of different people and playing in lots of different bands and ensembles. It just never occurred to me to not do it. Even when I had to complete a probationary year of teaching to ratify my PGCE, it was all performance based. I still keep in touch with some of the kids (who are now in their 40s, how did that happen?) and their love of music is as strong as ever.
 
 
Who’s your greatest inspiration?

Just about everyone I’ve ever listened to, been taught by, worked for and played with. Everyone has something to share.
 

What attracted you to the course at Leeds College of Music?

Although I auditioned for the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester because I wanted to study with Philip Jones, the jazz course at Leeds was the course I really wanted to do. In those days though it was called ‘Light Music’. 

Dick Hawdon ran the course and had called upon an amazing group of seasoned professionals, so it was that and his reputation. I loved Dick’s playing with Johnny Dankworth. I came from a classical background so I naively asked him once ‘how do you play be-bop’? His answer of ‘Wiggle your fingers and blow like f***’ is a story I’ve dined out on ever since.
 

What was your favourite thing about being a musician in Leeds?

The diversity - some of my contemporaries such as Chris ‘Snake’ Davis, John Thirkell, Pete Beachill, Alan Barnes, Peter Fairclough, Stuart Curtis and Chris Whitten went on to have very successful careers and yes, you could tell how good they were while we were at college.
 
 
How would you describe the challenges and joys of being a musician in Leeds?

When I was there, there wasn’t an infrastructure to support students. The first term we rented a house in Harehills with holes in the windows and so cold in winter that the water in the toilet bowl froze. But we were all in it together so there was a real community spirit. One Sunday my three housemates and I pooled every penny in our pockets and didn’t have enough for a can of baked beans between us! The experiences I had in Leeds set me up for life. 
 
 
What has your journey been like since leaving LCoM?

Angular, although I can trace my career path through all the people I’ve met. I did a lot of writing and arranging on spec for various producers, record companies and publishers. I moved through live work to studio work, from radio to TV to film scores and my career now encompasses all of these areas. There have been lows as well as highs along the way. Some lessons were hard-learned, especially the ones completely out of your control and you got caught in the crossfire. For sure, there is an element of luck being in the right place at the right time and being given opportunities but it’s down to the individual to make the most of those and have the abilities required to capitalise on them.
 
 
How has your study at LCoM aided your career so far?

I’ve used every practical thing I learned on the jazz course - sorry, Light Music course! There were a couple of subjects that were compulsory in order to give the course respectability that I don’t use so much, but apart from those, Leeds gave me not only a good grounding, but confidence in my ability. As I mentioned, the staff were all professionals with decades of experience between them. They instilled in all of us that professional attitude.
 
 
Where would you like to be in five years?

Still writing, recording, playing and earning a living. The industry is in a real state of flux at the moment. No one really knows what the future looks like although the fundamentals will always remain constant. There will always be those who create music and those who listen. The industry has been democratised. Getting material recorded and commercially released on iTunes or Amazon has never been easier. However, with YouTube currently responsible for 40% of music consumption but only 4% of the revenue generated and the miniscule returns from Spotify and Pandora, we just have to figure out the new business model to make that work. Exciting times.
 
 
If you had one piece of advice for a prospective student, what would it be?

Never stop learning. You never know when that piece of experience will save you.

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Read more about Chris's fantastic career on IMDB and on his own website.


 

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"Leeds gave me not only a good grounding, but confidence in my ability... The staff were all professionals with decades of experience between them. They instilled in all of us that professional attitude"

Chris Cozens, Composer

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