Sterling Forrester is a composer and musician. In this week’s creator spotlight, he discusses his influences, creative process, and more.
What was the inspiration behind becoming a creator? What do you enjoy most about the creative process?
Music has always been in my head since I was about three years old. I would create grand imaginings of music, but was constantly frustrated with my lack of ability to get it out of my head and onto paper. So, I studied music in school and after years of being self-taught, I succeeded in being able to get my music on paper. What do I enjoy most? Certainly the thrill of completing a work or recording, but my most satisfying enjoyment is when other people perform my music.
Can you take us through your creative process? How long does it take? Does everything you produce make money?
There was a time in my early teens where I tried to compose classical music, but I failed miserably at it because I didn’t understand form. At that time, I was a singer, played some piano and played trumpet in band. With the urging of friends, I took up the guitar and was introduced to song writing. Song writing required lyrics, so I began to write lyrics and used song forms to create music.
Writing a lyric for me takes about an hour once I have a good subject. Composing the song also takes about an hour with me making simple chord notations. Writing a rough draft of the song on paper is another hour and then putting it into print form can take up to ten hours, depending on the complexity of the music. Then producing and recording the song in my studio can take another 10 hours over several days. Mixing and mastering the recording takes about two hours depending on the complexity of the arrangement. So, in total, the average time from beginning to end is approximately 20 hours for a song.
Writing classical music requires a different mind-set. I find it is best to just go with what comes to you naturally. It also helps to create an instrumental framework first. For instance, I pick out four instruments I like, violin, oboe, bassoon and guitar and, over the course of the movements, try to bring out the best of the four instruments. Since writing classical music can be a more drawn out affair, it is best to power through until you have a good rough of a movement in one writing session otherwise, when you come back to it, the inspiration and the flow may be lost.
Does everything you produce make money? I would say that only my “works for hire,” which have included jingles and film scores, have earned me any substantial money. My classical music and my Pop, Jazz, Rock and Country music have had the most difficulty making it into the marketplace and earning substantial royalties.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about your line of work?
I think the biggest misconception regarding a music creator is the difference between a song writer and a composer. In my experience, a song writer uses a simpler palette of tools to create music whereas a composer must have a deeper understanding of counterpoint, form and orchestration. Some music creators have a natural ability to improvise and play by ear while others must study and struggle with the creative process. Both can create beautiful music, but I admire those who have both of these musical skills.
When did you first become aware of copyright, and why?
When I began producing records and recordings, I noticed that all sound recordings had a copyright notice, so I got the appropriate forms from the U.S. Copyright Office and copyrighted my recordings. Later, when I wanted to publish my classical music and songs, I realized that they also needed copyright protection. So I began registering them with the Copyright Office too.
What is your biggest copyright-related challenge?
The cost of registering copyrights has gone up. If I registered every single piece of my music individually, it would cost me roughly $27,500. I have spent a lot of money on protecting my works with copyright. But one way I have been able to save money is to create opuses of similar works and then copyright them as a whole, much like an album sound recording.
Another copyright challenge is deciding on how I should manage and archive my recorded music and copyrights after I am gone. For example, who should own the copyrights, how should I archive and protect my musical masters, and how should my music be used and managed in the future after I’m gone.
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