Chris Blackwell used to be a drummer and co-writer with ex-Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant before entering the world of composing. His work has been used in a plethora of campaigns for high-profile brands such as Reebok and Levi’s, TV themes for programmes such as Tomorrow’s World, and has composed hundreds of tracks for established library collections such as Audio Network.

Speaking to The Knowledge, Chris tells us how making music for ads has changed since the 90s and that to survive in this business, you need a very thick skin…

How did you become a composer

It was never really my plan to be a composer, it just sort of happened. Although primarily a drummer, I’ve always been fascinated by musical instruments. I had an acoustic guitar from the age of about 14 and I used to record bits and pieces on to a cassette recorder, then I’d play them back while playing along and recording on a second cassette player, building up tracks as I went along.

I guess this was the start of my fascination with song construction and production. As soon as the Portastudio [the world’s first four-track recorder] came out I was first in line to get hold of one.

While drumming with Robert Plant I wrote a few songs to which he added the lyrics and topline / melody. The success of those tracks and albums really paved the way for me to quit touring and compose full time. I’m a firm believer in going through doors to see what’s on the other side so I just sort of followed every opportunity that came along.

What are the main challenges of your role

Working out what it is that the client really wants; in other words, the ability to decipher a brief correctly. This quite often entails composing two tracks; the one the client has asked for and the one I think they actually meant but they couldn’t describe. It’s a tricky one but really important to get right.

Constantly being creative is quite challenging too, not least because sometimes you find that you are repeating yourself or that you have settled into a comfortable rut. It’s very important to give yourself a hard time when this happens because if you don’t then it’s very easy to become complacent and to take the easy route.

What’s the most challenging thing you’ve ever worked on

Without a doubt the talks I gave in February 2013 at ExCeL London [the BVE broadcast and tech event]. Actually having to stand in front of a crowd of people and explain what I do and how I do it was very challenging because half the time I’m not sure I know how I do what I do! It was an enlightening experience though.

What’s the most enjoyable job you’ve worked on

Recording with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at Abbey Road in Studio One. Hearing all those musicians warming up, then snippets of my music coming from across the room, a flute part there, a cello here, and then hearing them play it through as a whole for the recording. Easily as big a buzz for me as playing at Madison Square Garden.

How is your job changing

When I used to do loads of TV ads back in the mid-90s I was up against just one or two composers, with proper demo fees on offer (£1000 was normal) and a 90% chance I’d get the job. Now when I pitch for a commercial I’m up against 10 or 15 other composers with little or no mention of any demo fee and a very slim chance of getting the job.

Music budgets are also nothing like they were. There is a misconception that music is quick, easy and

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