How I Got Here: Andrew Edwards, Film and Media Composer

Posted on: Dec 07, 2022

Composer Andrew Edwards scoring a soundtrack.Photo Credit: Joel Henderson, provided by Andrew Edwards

By Rebecca Lehmann

Andrew Edwards may have taken an unconventional career path to becoming a film and media composer, but the experience of being a music teacher proved to be an invaluable contribution to his musical toolkit. 


Today, he composes music for everything from podcasts to full-length movie features from his home studio in Los Angeles. In this instalment of ‘How I Got Here’, we’re taking a deep dive into Edwards’ resume to explore the education, professional experience and advice that got him to where he is today. 


Tell us a bit about yourself and your work as a composer.


I’ve been an arts professional for most of my life. I’m currently a film and media composer in Los Angeles. A lot of composers start out just composing and doing all the hard work, and then after they’ve got a career, they take some time off and maybe do some teaching. I did it backwards. I started out teaching a lot, everything from music theory to Shakespeare and performance at the high school level to mommy-and-me music classes with toddlers and voice lessons to 90-year-olds. I went to graduate school for film scoring and was then hired back at the school where I got my degree to teach for another nine years.


After that I [thought], “I’ve been training composers to come out to LA and do this crazy career and at some point, I need to go do that myself. Otherwise, I’ll just be kicking myself forever and I’m not getting any younger.” My husband and I moved out to Los Angeles just in time for the pandemic to bring the garage door down on my get-started year. 


So I’m now having my get-started year mark two or three at this point out here. Over the course of my career, I’ve been scoring films and television shows and video games, mixed reality and virtual reality experiences, podcasts and webisodes for about 20 years now. I scored my first film in 2002/2003. 


Did you want to be a composer when you grew up? 


I saw Star Wars in the movie theater when I was seven, that was a big thing. Then growing up in the eighties, it was hard to escape John Williams. I usually trace my route back to getting the Empire Strikes Back soundtrack and Flash Gordon – the Queen soundtrack – on cassette tape for my eighth birthday. I remember listening to the Empire Strikes back and being like, “Man, I can tell exactly what’s happening in the movie from this music. That’s so wild.” You can still listen to it [and know] this one is when the X-Wing starts coming out of the swamp. You can just hear it when you’re listening to it. I think that got me early.


Then I had really good music teachers growing up. A really great piano teacher. I had great high school band teachers and madrigals in band and theater – I just loved the energy from being in that group. I still work with the people I did high school theater with.

I thought I was going to be a music teacher because these people are super cool and I like that energy and I want to do that. It took a year of college for me to change my mind about that. I started out as a music education major and I was like, “This is not my scene.” I love music teachers and we need more of them, but going through an education program was not my path to becoming a music teacher. 


At the end of my freshman year, I heard a piece called Music for 18 Musicians for the first time, and it blew my brain open. Between my freshman and sophomore years, I took two composition classes over that summer, private lessons, and changed my major to composition [in] my sophomore year. From then on I definitely wanted to do theater music or film music. 


The [University of Illinois] music department was very much into super avant-garde, very sonically challenging music that did nothing to meet the audience. In the meantime, I’m writing a musical about vampires. I was writing musicals and doing Depeche Mode stuff as concert music and the professors didn’t know what to make of me, and I was like, “Okay, this is just who you know I’m going to be now.” 


Then ironically, I graduated from college and immediately started teaching. I taught for the next 15 years. But like I said, I just needed my own path to get there; going through an education department program didn’t resonate with me at all. I hated the ed psych classes, I hated all the IMEA meetings, and I hated having to take 21 credit hours a semester. 


I also had a bad habit of dropping classes so that I could do work on more shows. I was with Penny Dreadful [Players] and the Armory Free [Theatre]. I was doing shows all the time. I’d mark when the withdrawal date was so I could withdraw from classes so I could do more shows. Which is why it took me six years to get my undergraduate degree.

Photo credit: Andrew Gunnerson, provided by Andrew Edwards


What are some of the key skills needed to work as a composer?


Negotiating skills are really good. I highly recommend Never Split the Difference by Chris Boss. It’s a really good negotiating book if anyone needs one. Also his Masterclass is very good. 


Being well versed in the language and technical stuff behind movies, cinema history. If someone is referencing Stanley Kubrick, you have to know what that means. If someone is referencing Tarantino or Hitchcock, you have to be able to understand what they’re putting out at you. Being able to speak ‘filmmaker’ is a big skill set. 


Having a tried and true bag of tricks is probably a better way of saying it. I know how to do ‘sad’ about ten different ways in a movie. And I know that because I’ve tried it fifty times and those are the ten that worked the best. It’s a lot of learning from failure and being able to have [it] at your fingertips. 


One thing that’s really tough these days is there’s so much entertainment coming at you [that] it’s really easy to copy what other people do. Especially in filmmaking and television, we often get [what’s] called a temporary score that the editor puts in when they’re editing and it’s preexisting music. The director will fall in love with whatever the temp score is and so you end up trying to do a legally distinct copy of the thing. It’s a terrible head space to be in, but it happens.


Being able to navigate through that kind of stuff and be like, “Okay, let’s try this. Okay, let’s try this. Have you considered… Maybe we’ll do something a little different.” You kind of have to be a psychologist, a musician, a bit of a therapist and a filmmaker all at the same time when you’re scoring a film.


How did you make the transition from teaching to composing as a career? 


I like to write and work on my projects in the morning. Then the afternoon is usually when I do more admin or editing. That’s when I used to teach. I’d write in the morning and then I’d come in and teach in the afternoon. 


The first really big gig that I got was a documentary called Alex and Ali that I scored in 2000. It was a six-year process because, in documentaries, reality tends not to follow the script, so you never know where a documentary’s going to go. This one ended up being very tragic and sad. 


I got that because I sat next to the director at a screening and talked to him, and then he hired me to do a commercial, and then he hired me to do another commercial, and then a short film, then another short film, and then he hired me to do a big feature-length documentary. That kind of ramp-up has happened a lot in my career, where I had a chance to meet with someone who hired me to do a short thing. 


I recently scored a comedy horror film called Camp Wedding. I met that director on Kickstarter. [He was working on] a short film about a fancy New England boarding school that prepares closeted gay guys to be conservative politicians. And [I thought] this is awesome, I want to work with this guy. So I hit him up and [said], “Let’s work together.” And he’s like, “We already have a composer, but I’ll keep your name.” [Then] three months later, “Our original composer flaked out, are you still available?” I scored that short film with him, and then three more short films, and then we did the feature. You never know where anything’s going to lead. 


My business coach always talks about how there’s a sales cycle. You have to establish a rapport with someone, assess their needs, figure out if you are the solution to a problem that they actually have, and then pitching yourself is, like, stage four. But so many people skip the first one and go straight to, “Do you need a composer?”


What is next for you?


During the pandemic, I started an industrial band [Septishæd] with a metalhead friend of mine. We put out an EP, just because we didn’t have anything else to do and it ended up being incredibly fun. We’re working on a second EP and we just got asked to perform live for the first time, which we never thought we would be doing. 


I’m also doing a stoner-noir-detective feature film that’s coming up. It’s sort of Mel Brooks crossed with Cheech and Chong, and it’s all shot in black and white with the voiceover like a noir film. I’m scoring it [like a] classic noir film with a lot of weird sixties shit thrown in because it’s me.


What advice would you give to aspiring composers who are just starting out on this journey?


Do your homework. Research film history and film music history, but don’t listen to too many current film composers. Find your own voice. Find what it is that makes you distinctive as a composer. Right now there are production music libraries everywhere. If they [say], “I need something that sounds almost, but not quite like Hans Zimmer,” believe me, there is no shortage of that. 


These days, the way to really stick out in a crowded field is to have a distinctive viewpoint, a unique voice as a composer, and [to be] someone who can be relied upon and who’s just nice to work with. Be collegial. It’s really an underrated thing, especially in high-pressure businesses where people tend to make snap decisions.


One last thing: You’re going to get rejected. You’re going to be told “no” a lot, and that’s okay. You have to pull the positive takeaways out of that wreckage and get on with it. Roll with it and thicken that skin up a little bit. 


Where can we hear your work?


I’m on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, you name it, I’m there. I’m also on Bandcamp and YouTube and my website is

Ready to take the next step in your music composition career? Find your next music department job on Staff Me Up.

Andrew’s Career Timeline:

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

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