Esmeralda Conde Ruiz: Contemporary Musical Direction and creating your own job in the music industry
Earlier this year we had a chance to host Esmeralda Conde Ruiz, internationally acclaimed composer, musical director and choir leader. In a lengthy interview that covered different aspect of being an MD we discussed her career, vision of creative artistry and recent commitments including The Bridge-Choral Piece for Tate Modern that was premiered in June 2016 at the opening of the new Tate Modern with participation from LCCM students. Esmeralda took us back to her childhood, a time when she preferred art over music. An important turning point was accidentally joining a choir led by Stephan Berg, who became her life long mentor and inspiration. Later she continued her music education and specialised in voice studies. Despite of being a successful session singers she didn’t really fit anywhere, her passion laid in creating, writing, managing. Without knowing what it meant at the time she went on to becoming an enthusiastic choir leader herself.
“In music our paths are never really clear, which is, when you’re young, horrible. I want something to hold on too but actually you’ll never have. I felt the happiest in my thirties so it took forever, sorry guys! My nature forces me to grow, I want to learn more and I want to do more. I need challenges and I’m hungry for that. It took me a long time to understand what I need to be happy.”
How did you cope in those years when you were still feeling underwhelmed with your professional progress, how do you keep saying to yourself: No, I’ve got to stick with it? Well you don’t. You’re young, have no idea and you suffer. I was really lucky to have older friends that knew where I was coming from as they’ve been there before. They gave me advice on which book to read, movie to watch or event to attend. They also insisted that it was extremely important for me to always have a project to work on. The best thing to have is good, creative environment even if you have no idea what you’re doing and where’re you going to. Don’t push too much, just follow the flow and listen.
How do you first approach an artist while working on a collaborative project? I always start with finding a language. Artists sometimes have strong ideas but no idea of music, that’s where I come in. I always try to make them feel comfortable and not to get involved too much as a musician. You can completely forget about your ego in this field of work! The best thing to start with is a mood board with songs that are close to the sound that the artist wants. This requires a lot of communication but it pays of as the music normally tells me much more than the client does. After that I compose so called skeletons or short compositions that appeal to the artist as they give them the control and option to add all the necessary colours afterwards.
Recently you won several awards for your soundtrack on the short film Cusp, how did your first get interested in composition for film? I remember sitting in a composing masterclass by Gabriel Yared in which he expressed the need to talk first, rather than start with the music. I always try to organise an initial meeting before the shooting begins where I ask loads of questions. In the process some things might change but you always need some kind of an anchor to cling on to. Remember to stay open to whatever the piece or client want!
Which aspects of your work do you find challenging? When I meet someone and tell them what I do they might think I spend my days smoking cigarettes on a balcony and being creative but actually, 50% of my work is spent in an office. That means sitting down, doing Excel sheets, calls, notes,… No one ever told me I was going to be like that! All you have to do in the market is find your niche, make yourself visible and go for it. There’s no right or wrong, you just have to find your corner and keep in touch with people all the time. It’s not a copy paste thing or something like a Tesco newsletter, there has to be a genuine relationship between you and your client. Every email is personal and that’s how the projects get bigger-It all about building trust.
What is the key to taking command as an MD? Preparation, rehearsal goes as well as you prepare it, it’s down to knowing exactly what you want. And remember, if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing you shouldn’t do it in the first place.
I encourage you all to listen to the full interview as it really give a great look into Esmeralda’s simple yet effective way of understanding musical direction and management. You can also visit her website or follow her on social media for more updates and info about current projects.