Taking Off - Jamie Bird on how dBs has opened a world of opportunities

Music Composition for Film & TV graduate Jamie Bird has been keeping busy since he finished his studies last May. We caught up with him to discuss guest lecturing, his latest composition work and how the approach to teaching at dBs helped develop him as an artist.

Jamie Bird’s CV as a composer and musician is a varied one, to say the least. Before studying at dBs, his music with Bird Noire was played by Huw Stevens on Radio One and covered as part of the BBC’s Introducing The West series, which also introduced George Ezra and Bristol’s Idles in their early ascendencies. 

His solo music work has been played on US TV shows including Search Party, he’s a resident composer for Ninja Tune Production Music - the library arm of legendary London label Ninja Tune - and he now composes scores for films, working with the likes of Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, film director Miles Ahmad and others.

Armed with a significant body of work before joining dBs, a life-long love of film and film scores inspired him to apply to the Music Composition for Film & TV undergraduate degree, which he graduated last May. Studying at dBs helped Jamie’s artistic progression to film composition, but it also opened up a new world of unexpected opportunity: teaching.Jamie Bird Portrait Image Press Shot

Just a few months after he graduated, Jamie gave five guest lectures over five weeks to students on the course he had just completed. To him, teaching had a sense of inevitability to it.

“All my family are teachers, so I feel like it's kind of like the destiny I've been fighting my whole life. It felt like quite a natural progression for me and one which I'm really quite happy that I've managed to do.”

The fact that Jamie had only just graduated gave him close experiential proximity to the students that many traditional programme and module leaders may not necessarily have. “The premise of my master classes, in general, was to present a lecture that was tailored through the eyes of a past student,” says Jamie, “That allowed me to hit certain key points and brief points that I know will help students progress through their creative and technical work at dBs. I feel that, on a personal level, there wasn't so much separation between me, the lecturer, and them, the students. It was quite clear that I'm here just kind of trying to help them get to the next stage. I tried to help them without necessarily the trappings of being an officiated lecturer.”

The experience Jamie had while studying at dBs, of facing “good stress” by working to tight deadlines and being encouraged to collaborate with students with differing specialities, seeped into the formula for his master classes. “I set up an in-session task, where I'd use a scene from one of my previous films,” says Jamie, “We’d go through the scene, talk through potential possibilities for creative work, whether it's sound design or composition and utilise a few different techniques per week. Then I would encourage them to implement these techniques in the in-session practical. My whole mantra was to really put the pressure on them in terms of producing work in a really short space of time. It’s like a hyper-evolved sense of what dBs already do. I was trying to do it in a shorter space of time.

“The final content that came out was amazing. It inspired me as a creative person to see what's possible in an extremely short space of time. They had to factor in the time it takes to mix and balance their projects in their hour and a-half allocation. I was teaching the composers and the sound designers and I’d ask them to team up and mix their work into one project to encourage the marriage between sound design and composition.”

Jamie’s own experience of this teaching ethos - that study should reflect the environment of the industry and collaboration and networking should be encouraged - has benefited his career post-dBs. During his studies, Jamie met sound designer George Ramsden who he still regularly works on film projects with and is still using all of the techniques he learnt at dBs on every project.

“The project-based, fast turnaround nature of the module absolutely sets you up for reality in the industry,” says Jamie, “You don't really have time to rest on your laurels and I think dBs is really great for that. The teaching implements the blueprint of a high-pressure situation. There’s a great focus on collaboration and a sense of critique from your peers as well as your lectures on where you are in your projects. There's also a great sense of camaraderie within the student setup which creates really great bonds and you get to see people's progression and evolution through the years, which was rewarding to be part of… And without a doubt, 100% unequivocally, I'm using everything I've learned, and implementing the techniques and processes into my projects with industry professionals now. I think the fact that there's a real encouragement for the individual to go and source collaborative projects with directors and filmmakers is really great. dBs gives you a platform in which to go and find these networks, but, fundamentally, it's down to you. I really get down with that, because I've taken the self-promotion aspect of it when I’m networking in person to gauge potential work. It has definitely informed the way I work now.”

Although the fast-paced nature of the Music Composition for Film & TV degree Jamie studied is “completely demanding”, it helped prepare him for a hectic schedule of work post-dBs. “The benefit of having the set up that a university like dBs has, is that you do have a support system in place,” says Jamie, “You have the confidence of your lecturers and your colleagues that are going through the same experiences, as well as the holistic mental health care aspects which are there for you if you're struggling. As soon as you enter into the real world, all those other things are gone, so it really serves to be proactive and productive and let it consume you while you study. Let it be something that you really utilise moving forward. Since finishing my studies, I've been in situations where I've got multiple drafts and directorial edits and re-edits and rescoring sections, as well as Ninja Tune, saying, ‘I need this in two days’ and there are three tracks in my brief. No one's really going to give you that time. If you don't hit the deadlines, you don't get the job. That's the real-life situation.”

Jamie has just finished scoring a new film that’s “loosely based on Alice in Wonderland but through the guise of conjoined twins,” in which he’s had to produce work much further away from his preferred “big synth-based Vangelis-style stuff” and create compositions that span multiple genres and are the main driver of the narrative of the story. What’s most important to him when writing and creating a score is that he can “manage to make the film elevate somehow through the composition.” He’s completing the project with his dBs collaborator George Rampton, which gives further credence to our ethos of delivering degrees in a way that echoes the fast-paced nature, pressures and emphasis on collaboration of the creative industries.

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If you share Jamie's passion for film and music, check out our Music Composition for Film & TV and Sound Design undergraduate degrees!
A photo collage including a eurorack synth, a female student wearing a Playstation virtual reality headset, two students using a Ableton Push 2 controller, a tutor and students using a mixing console and a student behind a Korg MS-20 synth