Mikhael Afanasiev
About the cinema music industry and education
— How did you get into the profession?

— It all started with a music school, then I entered the military music school, where I received a basic education. I studied there as a performer and a teacher, and began composing music only at the end of my studies. Back then, I couldn't even imagine doing this professionally.

After a while, I entered the university as a conductor. I was not satisfied with the musical education I was receiving at all. I took my documents back. However, in the process of studying, I became convinced that I wanted to compose music and began to study the market. Around that time, I started building my music library and continue to work on it to this day.

—What was your first major job and how did you get it?

— If we're talking about the music library and the domain of trailer music, then the first major commission I got was the film «Attraction». My team licensed a large amount of musical material for this project. The Balkan Frontier is my feature film debut. All music for the film was written by me. I was invited to try out for the project by my friends on implemented joint projects.

Speaking of games, this is "Shadow Fight 3" , a popular game with a million users from Banzai Games and Nekki, with whom I still work as a sound designer for this day.

— How did you start working with Western colleagues?

— I just wrote millions of letters. Knocked on every door. It all started with small musical fragments: 5 seconds of a track per TV commercial. Then again, and again. Gradually the demand for our music grew.

Then we wrote an album. One of the tracks was on the trailer for the movie «Godzilla 2». For this track, I received one of the most prestigious Hollywood awards in the field of advertising “Clio Awards”. And it's only now that I've really become someone they recognize and know my music in person.
— Is there a difference in working with the domestic and foreign market?

— Yes, sure. The difference in experience. Here, they are just beginning to develop new areas that they could not afford before due to smaller budgets. Almost for the first time, we are doing computer graphics on a large scale. While abroad, this is already a well-established scheme, and people know the drill.

It's the same with music. If for us every development of something new is a sensation, for them it is a regular job. Everything is brought to a shine there, there is more responsibility, tasks are set more clearly. They know much better what they want. In other words: people there know how to do stuff, and ours are in the process of learning.

— What is happening in your creative life right now?

— I am developing my own library and working on new films. Recently I made part of the music for the film «Ice 2», now I am doing the soundtrack for the film «Us». At the same time, my music library is gaining momentum in the foreign market and is regularly licensed. I'm working on a new game from Banzai Games called “Spine”. A very interesting project. We will see how it unfolds.

I recently decided that I could take on the responsibility as a teacher and pass on my knowledge. And the Institute of Sound Design invited me to become the tutor of the "Music for Visual Media" direction.
— Tell us, how did you come up with the idea of ​​adapting academic music to modern trailers, and how did your colleagues pick up this idea?

— In my library there is a series of albums of personal production. In it, I not only make music, but also test my competence as a trailer composer. I can be a publisher, but to be a good publisher, you have to be "on topic" as a composer.

I have a rule: the album always consists of 9 tracks, one of them must always be a cover of a famous classical piece. This idea appeared spontaneously, as a tribute to the great composers. I love classical music very much. On the second album, I did a cover of Debussy's "Moonlight", which was included in the “Godzilla 2” trailer. Everyone picked up on this idea because it was something new. Before that, classical music was not performed in big Hollywood films and trailers in epic processing. Later, colleagues began to create albums of classical music in their libraries. Arthouse, major Hollywood blockbusters and many others began to use covers of classical music.
Producers are looking for talented composers,
not just craftsmen
— What positive and negative changes do you see in the domestic visual media market over the past 10 years?

— On the positive side, interest in cinema is growing. Budgets are growing, and everything is rising from the "handicraft" level. The domestic market is slowly beginning to turn into an industry that works as a single mechanism. Producers are becoming bolder, starting to make expensive science fiction, which they would have given up before. Shoot experimental series. It's the same in music - producers are looking for talented composers, not just craftsmen.

From the negative: you can come across people who cannot change their outlook on certain things and are afraid to take risks. This greatly delays development. However, in their defense, I will say that their fears are justified: they are risking a lot of money.
— What advice would you give to young composers who are just starting their journey?

Learn to do things properly. Many people start to make inroads into the market before they become professionals. If they succeed, they immediately offer their services to the industry and form a negative opinion about themselves, which they will have to refute later. I would advise you to be honest with yourself. And if you hear that the quality of the tracks does not fit the international standards, then you need to say to yourself: “Yes, my tracks do not pull the bar”, and continue to improve your skills.
— How much does the domestic music education system meet the world's demands?

As a person who left a state university, I can say that our famous educational institutions have a very good performing and theoretical school. However, they do not prepare their students for the realities of the market: they will teach you how to play the violin well. However, they will not explain how to earn money for life. It is not included in our education system. A diploma will not help you survive in any way, and this is the main problem.
— What should our market do to catch up with the Western one?

We need to create an industry. Our market needs to create this uninterrupted mechanism, and everything is slowly moving towards this. New companies are being created. They produce content that is interesting to the audience and makes money. These are no longer those endless series for housewives and old comedy shows. We must learn from Western colleagues, and not pretend that we are the smartest. People can say: “What does Hans Zimmer understand? Schnittke wrote music much better than all your Hans Zimmers” – this certainly does not help to catch up with Western colleagues. When you start thinking about why Hans Zimmer is popular all over the world, and why our contemporary composers are unknown even in your own country, that's when development happens.