Michael Denny

Michael Denny.jpg

Course Studied: BA (Hons) Music Production

Year of Graduation: 2008

Top Career Highlights:

Hailing from Kendal, Michael Denny is a highly versatile composer, music producer, sound designer and multi-instrumentalist with over 10 years of industry experience. His recent work has included extensive compositional activity for award-winning and #1 mindfulness app - Calm. Elsewhere, he has composed for clients including Red Bull, the Science Museum (London) and Salomon Sports. A keen writer and educator, Michael regularly shares his own insights into the world of songwriting and composition through The Audio Tapes and the Red Dog Music Blog.

Below, we spoke to Michael to find out a little bit more about his industry experience and time spent studying at Leeds College of Music.

What attracted you to studying in Leeds?

I was very lucky to grow up in Kendal in a thriving music scene alongside musicians who went on to be in bands including British Sea Power, Wild Beasts and the founders of Kendal Calling. When deciding on a University location I wanted to be somewhere with a strong music scene, and the indie scene in Leeds at the time was alive with bands like the Kaiser Chiefs and venues such as The Cockpit. With regards to LCoM I was impressed by the facilities and the Music Production degree offered a unique mix of production, songwriting, composition and performance alongside academic and theoretical study.

How did studying Music Production at LCoM prepare you for a career in the wider industry?

There are a number of things here - the important aspects for me were:

1 - Being taught industry standard software including ProTools and Logic Pro

2 - Learning established recording techniques to be able to record a range of instruments

3 - Communication skills - particularly learning to share creative ideas

4 - The value of the student community at Leeds was key to my development - I learnt lots from being around and working with likeminded and talented musicians and producers

Your career has managed to combine teaching, composition and performance work. How do you decide how much time to commit to each and the split between commercial and artistic work?

The majority of my time currently is spent composing and producing new music and samples for clients. I have previously taught in FE colleges but the tuition I offer now is much more specific on a one-to-one basis. The performance side of things for me has tended to be more on a social basis and a way to jam with others. Despite an increasing workload I think it is important for me to continue to develop my own artistic output and I am currently working on a new collection of instrumental tracks.

Tell us a little bit more about your work with the app for meditation, mindfulness and sleep – Calm. How did this opportunity come about? How do you approach this when compared to your other compositional activity, such as library music?

I met Calm co-founders Michael Acton-Smith and Alex Tew shortly after university when I performed at an event they were hosting. We had always kept in touch and when Calm were looking to expand into music I reached out to Michael and I put together a successful pitch to compose and produce for the platform. With regards to approach, I have composed for 3 main purposes, Sleep, Relaxation and Focus. The obvious difference is that tracks tend to be much longer for mindfulness usually between 30 minutes and 3 hours. While each area is very different the commonality is that this music needs to have a continuous flow with subtle development over an extended period of time - in these scenarios the music is there as a tool to support an individual undertaking activity such as meditation or concentration.

There is an ever expanding variety of content available online for consumers today – are you finding that this opens up more potential avenues of work for you as a producer and composer?

I think the Internet has given the opportunity for increased exposure and access to what could be labelled as ‘niche’ markets - increasing demand for audio in these areas. From my own experience this has included the previously discussed music for mindfulness practices but also an online video series I collaborated on with Salomon Sports following the career of long distance runner Kilian Jornet. I think the increase in video media and streaming services has increased the demand for music - while sites such as YouTube give new composers a chance to share music and gain exposure with videos they have themselves produced.

You explore a range of songwriting and composition techniques through your blog The Audio Tapes. What prompted you to set this up? When did you passion begin for helping others to learn music?

I have always enjoyed writing about and sharing my enthusiasm for music and having spent time teaching I had built up resources that I felt would be of benefit to others. I hope to one day write a book of songwriting and composition techniques and that was the inspiration for the first set of articles on The Audio Tapes site. I have also had the pleasure of creating summary articles which have been shared on Red Dog Music Blog. I have lots more articles planned for the site and hope to expand on my writing collaborations.

Do songwriting and music production naturally overlap?

For the kind of projects I am working on I think there is a huge overlap with composition and production equally important to the quality of the finished product and I am often doing both simultaneously in my workflow. The exception to this is when I am writing more traditional rock/indie tracks when the computer becomes a tool to record and produce as opposed to write.

Who are your biggest influences?

As cliché as it sounds, hearing Oasis growing up was a big influence for me wanting to play the guitar and I still have a nostalgic love of 90/00s indie with bands like Feeder and Idlewild. Currently my influences including Mogwai, Olafur Arnalds, Kiasmos, Balmorhea, Nils Frahm and Jeremy Holland-Smith.

Aside from a brief period of working in London, you’ve settled in the North of England. What do you think of the musical scene in the North West and do you think it is possible to have a career in music outside of the capital? 

I briefly lived in London for 2 years and combined teaching with freelance composition, but having returned to Kendal 5 years ago I have found many benefits from being based in the North West. Crucially, living costs are substantially lower allowing me to invest in equipment and a space dedicated to work. None of my clients and collaborators have directly come from my time living in London, I have spent time building an online presence and this has led to collaborators in San Francisco, China, Switzerland, LA, France and closer to home, London and Lancashire but where I am based has never been a factor. That said, if you choose to live in a smaller community it is important to attend industry events, network online and attend meet ups with people doing similar work to you, for example there is a community of Northern based composers on Facebook that arrange social events.

What’s coming up next for you in terms of projects?

I am currently working on a large number of tracks for new mindfulness projects due for release later this year and am nearing completion of a new library music commission for TV with a major production company. I am also an approved supplier to Native Instruments Sounds website and will be producing a number of new sample packs for the site.  The Audio Tapes blog website I run is also continuing to develop with weekly articles mapped out for the rest of 2018 and I hope to see this continue to grow after a positive start. With regards to my own musical output I am working on a new batch of tracks which will most likely take the form of a new EP for release later this year and will be showcased as part of a new collaboration with fellow LCoM graduate Tom Hunt called Emotive Soundtracks.

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Visit Michael's website.  

Or alternatively read his blog here.   

Learn more about our BA (Hons) Music (Production) – here.

To learn about his new collaboration with fellow LCoM graduate Tom Hunt, Emotive Soundtracks - click here

Follow Michael on Twitter @mdennymusic.

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