Geoff Stradling is a well-journeyed musician whose career has taken him from the stage to the studio. It’s in the studio, though, where he has carved out a niche in the world of film and television music as a top-tier composer, orchestrator, arranger and musical director. Stradling has lent his formidable talents to shows like Mad Men, The Romanoffs, more than 25 years working on the Golden Globe awards broadcast (and MD since 2019), and – he recently mentioned – the 2023 season of Star Trek: Picard.
The most telling thing to me about Geoff’s career in music was finding out he’d played with both the honored jazz-vocalist Ernestine Anderson (both records he worked on were Grammy-nommed) and renowned composer, arranger, orchestrator, educator and band-leader Ladd Mcintosh. Two of the most respected artists in their fields. These are well-known leaders who, in their day, were extremely choosy when it came to who they brought onboard to support their musical visions.
Recently, Geoff joined us for a Q&A session. He shared with us about his beginnings, working with the technology, and his own projects, including two instructional books of piano exercises, Exercises for the Modern Pianist and 13 Etudes for the Modern Pianist. Read on:
Q: What do you do? In the professional world of music where everyone is pretty much a specialist (i.e., composer, instrumentalist, engineer, producer, music supervisor, arranger, etc..), you are a polymath of sorts. At the Globes session this year more than one of the players made a comment to me about you being one of the most extraordinary musicians they knew. But you do a lot more than play. What do you do?
A: I compose, arrange, orchestrate, conduct, play piano and other keyboards, serve as a music director, consult, teach, develop content, program synthesizers, write books on music, engineer, and maybe something else I’m forgetting. Oh – I do a little songwriting and producing too. Everything about music fascinates me, and I want to become fluent in every part of it I can. Besides, the variety keeps it all interesting. You wouldn’t want to eat the same thing everyday, would you?
Q: What compelled you to make music a profession? How did you get here?
A: I started piano at 6. My mom was my first teacher. I just kept bouncing from teacher to teacher learning what they had for me. I grew up in a house where we listened to all kinds of music – pop, jazz, blues, rock, folk, classical, r&b. None of it was compartmentalized. None of it was judged. It was all music and it was all equal. This I think started my interest in all the different kinds of music from around the world. I started playing in rock bands when I was about 14 or 15 I’d guess, and just kept going. I got interested in arranging and composing in my teens as well. When I was in high school pop music “horn bands” arrived and someone had to write out the parts, so I became that person. My curiosity was satisfied by getting under the hood and figuring out how things worked, and I was fulfilled by deepening my understanding. It just kept going from there – I had the talent and the drive. And the curiosity. That’s crucial.
Q: A lot has changed since the 80’s when things were still very analog and very hardware oriented. Everything is in the box now, endless choices in every aspect of music production; is it still vital and fun? Has interfacing with the newest technologies changed your approach?
A: I jumped on technology early. That was a necessity as a young keyboard player. I’ve always embraced it and it’s never scared me. Roughly 35 years ago when I started making music using computers I found that it made me a vastly better musician. My writing and playing improved. It’s somehow easier to be subjective about one’s creations when one listens to it coming back out of speakers. It’s been said that the art of writing is the art of rewriting. I learned to listen to what I made and question every note without judgement. So yes – it is still fun. But that said, I don’t much like playing everything myself on a piece. I always want as many humans to play on my music as I can get and as is appropriate.
Q: Seems like you’re always doing work for others, beautiful work, but works for hire nonetheless. What do you do with your own time?
A: I try to make art! I compose music for the love of it, and hope to get it played. My trumpet concerto was premiered a couple of years ago by Tom Hooten and Joanne Pearce Martin of the LA Phil. I’ve been writing orchestral music I hope to get performed and recorded. I have an 18 piece Jazz band – the StradBand. We’ve taken a little forced Covid hiatus, but I hope to get back out there, and do a CD as well. Maybe several! Speaking of the hiatus, I used the time to write two books on piano – Exercises for the Modern Pianist and 13 Etudes for the Modern Pianist. They’re certainly not big sellers, but no matter. They and all the rest of this “working for myself” music is part of what I consider my legacy project: that which I will be able to leave behind.
Q: You swapped out a pretty well-used pair of AKG mics for the Vanguard Audio V1 Pencil Condensers on your vintage Steinway. What got you interested in checking them out? How has your experience been?
A: We tried out Vanguard mics on the Golden Globes session in 2019. One of my AKG C460B’s died and I was looking for a new solution for home piano recording. I asked to borrow a pair of the Vanguard V1s small diaphragm mics with the full kit – all the different capsules. I started putting them through their paces and found them to be vastly superior to the old AKGs I’d been using. The wide cardioid capsules really solved a problem for me. I have a rather odd mic setup on piano from having the luxury to experiment at home without a deadline. My goal was to capture my piano honestly, limit the damper noise, and with the mic positioning do as much of the EQ work as I could. We tend to have to carve out the midrange on recorded piano often, and put a little extra sparkle on top. I tried to physically do that with the placement. The wide cardioid capsules helped me do that, and reduce the hot spots I was getting. I could still position the mics where I had found a good solution to these problems, but with a far more even response. Everyone likes large diaphragm condensers on piano, but I think small diaphragms capture the mini snare drum that is the attack of every note.
Q: Any advice for young musicians just starting out that are after a career in music?
A: Stay curious, stay hungry for knowledge. There used to be a career path for musicians that became proficient on their instrument. There are vastly less jobs now for musicians who can only play their instrument and/or sing. Today one needs to be completely fluent in the language of music. Fluency being determined by one’s ability to read, write and speak (play). You need to be able to do all of those and have solid technology skills, and people skills. Work ethic and determination are musts as well. Get up every day and work on your game. Never give up, never give up, never give up.
Q: What’s next for you??
A: Onward and upward I hope! I started orchestrating for Stephen Barton last year, and worked on the new season of Star Trek: Picard, and the video game Star Wars Jedi: Survivor. He brought me into the Star Trek and Star Wars worlds in one year. What a trip! Stephen’s scoring the upcoming film Gran Turismo (the first from that game series), and I should be putting thousands of notes on the page for humans to play. Other than that, I don’t know what’s up. That’s the thrill and the terror of the music business. I’m available!