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July 14, 2010, at 12:28 pm — Audio | audio interview | Blogs | Interviews / / / / / / / / / / / / / / /

An interview with Battlestar Galactica composer Bear McCreary

Listen to the interview.

When you consider all the television channels that are now widely available (over a hundred in the average home) I think the tiny number of truly iconic new programs says a great deal about the nature of the process of creating a television show. One such iconic show was the Sci-Fi Channel’s Battlestar Galactica, widely hailed as a really exceptional series. (Time’s #1 show on TV in 2005, for example.) Happy to be along for the ride from the start was composer Bear McCreary, then in his mid-twenties.

To say that the show was a success would clearly be a big understatement. To say the same for Bear McCreary’s career may be an understatement of the same magnitude. Now thirty-one years old, Bear has scored the entirety of the Battlestar Galactica and Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles series, and is now scoring Eureka, Caprica, and Human Target. I had the great pleasure of an interview with Bear and asked him some questions about success.

One thing I have to say about Bear and success is that he seems to be a lucky, lucky man who has also truly earned his station. This is a man who, through a chance encounter at a Rotary Club lunch in his hometown in Washington state, ended up meeting legendary film composer Elmer Bernstein, entering his tutelage and eventually assisting him in his work. Bear is the first to admit there is no bigger stroke of luck for an aspiring composer than that, and as he tells it there have been numerous other richly fortuitous circumstances that propelled his career forward. But windfalls like the Elmer Bernstein association could have led nowhere—or even to bad places—had Bear not been severly talented, exceptionally passionate about composing, and extraordinarily hard working. He mentioned in our interview that he frequently works 12 to 16 hour days and has had just one day in 2010 when he wasn’t working.

One day off in the last seven months.

In offering his advice on success Bear McCreary references that passion and work ethic, warning that if you are not passionate about what you do, if you do not work very hard, you will still be competing against “guys like me.” He says this without a trace of arrogance or entitlement. He humbly defines success for himself as the point at which he can expect to make a living as a working musician for the forseeable future, a point which he is grateful to say he has now reached. But his assertion about finding success is convincing. He makes a Simon Cowell point without any of the Simon Cowell-ness: if you don’t got the game, don’t come out to play. Only he phrases it in a much more positive light, encouraging those truly interested in career success to pursue that success in a field where their passion will fuel the hard work needed to really make it.

Career achievement may be somewhat simple to quantify, but I’ve always found the reasons behind it are far more complex. I’d like to close by offering that it’s possible Bear’s affability and eloquence played a significant part. With the same skills, the same passion and the same luck, but a grouchy, difficult demeanor, would fewer people have chosen to work with him? Would he have gotten this far?

I encourage you to listen to this fascinating interview, the audio track for which is itself an example of Bear’s good nature. Near the end, and already around the twenty-minute limit I had promised him, my recording setup failed me. I was relieved beyond words to find the audio up to that point had been preserved, but my computer had crashed and was not letting me continue the session.

I was ready to call it a day and just tag on a sad explanation later but instead Bear offered to field my last few questions over the phone, record his answers on his iPhone, and send them to me. It may seem like a small gesture, but it’s one I would not expect from most enormously successful people in the middle of another 16-hour workday. So that will explain the change in audio quality at the end of my recording, and at the same time, it may at least partially explain why Bear McCreary finds himself on his way to becoming one of the most inarguably important television composers of our time.

* * * * * * * * * *

Read Bear’s blog.

Visit Bear’s website.

Buy Bear’s music on iTunes. (As a drummer and a fan of the sci-fi sound, I can’t recommend the Battlestar soundtracks enough. I enjoy season 1 for it’s relative lightness and simplicity and season 3 for its ambitiousness—and both for their excellently written, performed, and recorded percussion parts. I haven’t got season 4 yet, which Bear feels is his best.)

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