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Composer Nick Hutson Discusses Making Theme Park Music

“I’d love to do a big orchestral score for a night time spectacular”

We talk to audio composer Nick Hutson. Nick has composed and designed audio for the likes of Alton Towers, Chessington and Ghostbusters attractions. We talk to Nick about his previous work, his favourite audio and what he has up his sleeve for future projects!

Thanks for taking the time out to chat with us Nick! How did you get into composing music and for theme parks especially?
I was always a theme park and theatre fan and I discovered a love for composing music when the art was introduced to me when I did GCSE music. I took it all the way from there to A Level, then to a bachelors degree and then a masters degree in musical theatre writing.

When I was a teenager I thought the best job in the world would be to be a radio presenter so, through that, I discovered audio production and started to do a podcast called MusicalTalk — which was the UK’s first musical theatre podcast. A few years into doing that I met a fan called Dominic McChesney who worked for a company headed by Lynton V Harris called Sudden Impact Entertainment. They were looking for a composer for some attractions that included the world’s first live action Ghostbusters attraction. As a side note Lynton had also designed the original Terror of the Towers at Alton Towers; The Freezer at Thorpe Park and Ghosts Alive at Warwick Castle. So I did some work for Lynton and through that I now have three Ghostbusters attractions around the world (Mexico City, Kuala Lumpur and Manila) and Nights of Fright is also playing at Sunway Lagoon in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

I also became a regular presenter on the Season Pass Podcast and It was through that, that I became close friends with John Wardley who, upon hearing my work I’d done for Lynton, suggested that Alton Towers use me for music. And they did.

Talk us through how you begin to arrange a piece of music
Well, as with any creative project, your main goal is to respect the creator’s vision — as the composer is very rarely the lead creator (unless it’s a piece of musical theatre). So, it’s a lot of trying to work out what the creative wants and translating their desires into a piece of music. An example that springs to mind is I was working with a cabaret performer and she would say “can the dinosaurs start further away?” which I translated into musician-ese as “can the low tremolo string start pianoforte?”

I tend to start work by laying down a piano part of the track and then adding the instrumental parts to fit the style. An important thing to know is that if you’re doing an attraction piece (like Ghostbusters in Mexico) it’s vastly different to a background piece of music (like Pizza and Pasta Buffet or Mutiny Bay at Alton Towers) because an attraction piece is clearly defined by zones and specific build up moments — but a passive piece of background music needs to have no beginning, middle or end! This is difficult because it goes against everything I was taught about composing!

What is the most challenging piece of music you’ve made and why?
Ghostbusters for Six Flags Mexico had 28 drafts. That’s not to say it was challenging — as writing music for a theme park attraction is never truly challenging but it probably seemed at the time to be time consuming and frustrating — but the end result was perfect and it turned how we all wanted it to be. It’s probably the same for the Molly Crowe Finale — we were still editing that at the last minute but it turned out pretty amazing in the end!

What is your favourite piece of music you’ve made?
I hate them all. Well, I don’t really — but you lose all emotional connection with them. The joy of hearing a piece of music only comes truly from the first time you hear it — as you’ve no idea what comes next. I know every little chord change, key change, tempi change — so I can only ever hear a piece of mine in a critical manner. Ask other people and they’ll probably say the SubSpecies Queue line audio. That personally surprised me when I wrote it as it’s not like anything else I’d ever done before.

If you could compose music for any attraction in the world, what would it be and why?
I’d love to do a big orchestral score for a night time spectacular. It’s something we don’t fully embrace in this country — and if we do, it’s done with existing pop tunes or ride music. Either that or a big modern dark ride. I don’t think audio on coasters works well at all because, unless it’s very carefully thought out, you can’t really hear it… and even if you do, you stop noticing it after a while.

What other composers or sound designers do you admire?
As a child of the 1980s I grew up with Alan Menken’s music — so he will feature on my list. I am lucky enough to say I am friends with him, too! Billy Joel, for me, will always be the most talented songwriter of all time in my mind. For theme park audio — you’ve got to start by admiring The Sherman Brothers along with Buddy Baker and X Atencio — all the way to Graham Smart, Crispin Merrel and Dave Buckley for the UK contributions.

Any exciting projects we can expect to hear from you soon?
Work continues on the Walt Disney Birth Project in Chicago for Super 78 and … yes, there’s other stuff planned.

What are your thoughts on CoasterCrate and what sort of merchandise would you like to see in the boxes?
Great idea! I enjoy Ashens’ YouTube videos of him unboxing Geek Box and stuff like that so it’s nice there’s one for the theme park fans. I’d like to see park maps and merchandise from obscure parks around the world and possibly some things from the past. Some of the more questionable Oblivion merchandise from the past, perhaps?

Thanks for your time Nick, we look forward to hearing more of your excellent music soon!

You can visit Nick’s website at www.nickhutsonmusic.com

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