Headshot of Nicholas Escobar

Finding my musical key

Our final guest blog in our 2023 #EdCreativeCareers series is an inspiring read from Nicholas Escobar, who graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 2020, with a masters degree in Music Composition for Screen. Nicholas is now based in the United States working full-time as a Music Composer for Film and Theatre.

A huge thanks to Nicholas for sharing some lovely reflections on his time at Edinburgh and for highlighting the different aspects, which helped him to pursue a rewarding career in Music.

Nicholas, how did you end up pursuing a career in Music?

Well, I started piano lessons when I was seven years old, began playing flute at 11 years old and composed my first piano composition at 12. When I was 16, I wrote my first film score for a short film that I helped make with my brothers and our friends. I majored in English and minored in Music and Global Medieval Studies at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn). I made the choice not to go to a conservatory programme during my undergraduate years. Given my interest in a wide variety of subjects outside of just music, I felt that a liberal arts education would work better for me. And, I was most certainly right!

Following graduation in 2018, I had a gap year filled with job applications for positions in the entertainment industry and a ton of rejections. I decided to look for jobs outside of my specific field and applied for a part-time job at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. I got the job and ended up having a fantastic experience there. I got promoted to the position of Art Team Associate and gave Pop-Up Talks about works in the collection to guests. I also applied for and won a Thouron Award from UPenn. It was with that generous award that I was able to attend the University of Edinburgh for my masters degree.

What made you choose the University of Edinburgh to do your masters?

I had been to the city once before. In 2016, when I was studying abroad in London, I took a brief trip up to Edinburgh to visit. The city took my breath away and I told myself I would return at some point. When looking for schools to apply to for my masters degree, Edinburgh stood out because it has a specific film scoring masters programme. It ended up being the perfect fit for me.

What do you think was the most valuable aspect of your time at the University of Edinburgh in preparation for your career?

One of my favourite courses that I took was about recording sounds. In the course, we created custom sound-kits. A sound-kit is a collection of recorded sounds that can be used like Lego bricks to create larger sound textures. I was really inspired by this creative process and have since used sound-kits to create unique soundscapes in a number of scores. For example, I recently recorded crowd noises at a basketball game and the sounds of horses on a farm. One of the main things that I learned from that course was that every recorded sound is unique. You can never drop a coin the same way; you can never breathe in exactly the same fashion. There will be minute differences between every recording; that’s why sound-kits are so important. You can have dozens of recordings of the same action and vary the use of them in a piece so it sounds like that action is happening live. I ended up using this technique in my masters thesis which involved writing an original score for the 1917 Charlie Chaplin film “The Immigrant”.

Another highlight from my time in Edinburgh was recording my music in the Reid Concert Hall. I invited friends of mine from the University of Edinburgh Composers’ Orchestra to play in the sessions. People in the music department were incredibly helpful and assisted in the recording booth. We even had a monitor set up so I could see the film as I was conducting the live musicians. It was a truly unforgettable experience.

It’s great to hear that you were a member of several student societies during your time at Edinburgh – can you tell us the benefits you gained from being a member?

  • While attending the University of Edinburgh, I set out to join a number of student groups. I went to the club fair and joined a number of groups that were all music-related. I met the president of the Composers’ Orchestra and learned about their wonderful community. In addition to playing in my recording sessions, I also composed a piece for them in the spring semester.
  • I went to an Argentine tango class that was taught by the Argentine Tango Society. I took to it immediately and joined the group. I made great friends, learned how to tango and became very familiar with the style of tango music. I also went on a tango retreat to the Highlands which was incredible.
  • Finally, I joined the Folk and Traditional Music Society. I met incredibly talented musicians in this group, learned to play the tin whistle (which I still play in scores to this day) and became exposed to traditional folk tunes from Ireland, Scotland and England.

All three of these groups really shaped my time in Edinburgh and broadened my knowledge of music as a whole.

What is your current role and what does your work involve?

I am now based in the United States, working full time as a Music Composer for Film and Theatre. My days consist of working on a number of different projects. I am currently composing music for an action short film, a horror short film that was shot in Utah, a USC graduate student’s short film and a hand-animated short film by an animator based in South Korea. I also dedicate a lot of time to networking and adding content to my website. For example, I write blog entries about my composing process for specific projects and also recently about art that appears in the backgrounds of films. I am getting ready to go to Europe for three months this year to meet filmmakers in the European film scene. I will be in Berlin, Nice/Cannes and Copenhagen for a month each; I am currently in the process of planning that trip. This consists of reaching out to filmmakers and production companies in each place and building my connections before I arrive. I’m hoping that the end result of this trip will be that I have new connections who will bring me on to score their next projects.

What advice can you give to students looking to pursue a career in Music?

  • One major thing is to network. Meet people. Make connections. Collaborate. Most of the people I’m currently collaborating with are friends of mine from my undergraduate years at UPenn.
  • Secondly, if you are working freelance, make sure you get paid enough for your work. Figure out a formula to determine how much you should be paid for a specific job.
  • Thirdly, continue to learn. I have taught myself a number of instruments since graduating from the University of Edinburgh. These include the banjo, guitar, mandolin, harmonica and autoharp. All these instruments have made appearances in my scores. The process of learning new instruments also makes me a more well-rounded musician.

So, there you have it. If you have any questions, Nicholas can be contacted via his website.

Nicholas’ SoundCloud is https://soundcloud.com/nicholasescobar

Nicholas highlighted the importance of making connections. Did you know that another way to make connections is through Platform One, the University’s online community? You can find friendly people on Platform One who share a connection with the University and are open to supporting each other. You can join here.

Make sure you don’t miss out on future inspiring guest blogs from alumni…sign up today to get email alerts sent straight to your inbox at: https://blogs.ed.ac.uk/careersinformed/

(Image credit: Eric Sucar)


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