Breaking into television and movies as a composer in Los Angeles is incredibly hard, akin to getting a publishing deal or a major cut in Nashville. And it’s always been even harder, practically impossible, for someone who doesn’t live there. Which makes the success of Aaron Fullan so far pretty amazing.
Fullan lives in Clinton, Iowa, a small town whose claim to fame music-wise has been the fact that Public Enemy hype man Flavor Flav once owned a chicken joint there. But Fullan, through hard work, talent, and not being afraid to bother people he knows will probably ignore him, has become a known quantity in the instrumental composing business, with people at Disney, Lionsgate, Marvel and more singing his praises.
Fullan is a trained pianist who is a huge fan of film composers like John Williams and James Newton Howard. He doesn’t intend to leave his hometown, with today’s technology making it possible for him to score films (A Cup of Beauty, The Lost Secrets of Christmas), apps, custom music libraries (including for Universal’s ELIAS), albums for Telepictures Music (a Warner Bros. Entertainment company), and more, from his Corn Belt studio.
“Music for film is both invigorating and stress-inducing,” he says. “Composing the original score is one of the final elements added [to a film], along with sound design. Depending on budget and length of a feature, scoring usually takes anywhere from four to eight weeks, eight being a luxury.”
“To begin the process, I sit down with the director for what is called a ‘spotting session.’ We watch the edited film together and decide where to include music, how long each cue should be, when cues should start and end, etc. Ideally, I receive a ‘locked picture,’ meaning, the timing of everything is fixed – no further edits required – that I can then score. Sometimes, unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Due to my location, I can’t always sit down with the director face-to-face, so phone calls and email exchanges have to suffice. But thanks to advances in technology, pursuing film music from Iowa is now possible. Living in Hollywood is becoming a non-issue in many ways. Although it’s definitely helpful to be there, building relationships, rubbing elbows, it’s not necessary.”
Fullan also doesn’t need a big studio to work in since he isn’t recording things like live drums, for instance, that involve large room ambience. Not unlike Billie Eilish’s now-Grammy-winning engineer brother, he’s figured out how to do everything within just a few square feet. “I do all of my work from a makeshift studio in my hometown, with a simple setup of a blazing-fast Mac Pro, an Alesis Q88 keyboard controller, Yamaha studio monitors, Sony MDR-V6 headphones, a Roland Octa-Capture audio interface, a Boss FV-500 expression pedal, and samples from EastWest, Native Instruments, and 8Dio.”
In terms of approaching people who might ignore him, Fullan has been shooting a daily Facebook and YouTube video appealing to actor Chris Pratt (Moneyball, Zero Dark Thirty), trying to get Pratt to hire him to compose for Pratt’s new production company, Indivisible Productions.
“Chris wants to do patriotic-themed stories, maybe faith-based … because I feel like I might align with the worldview behind his films, I decided to do this crazy daily video campaign. It’s gained more traction than I thought it would. People are kind of intrigued, and are like, ‘How long can this guy go on with this?’ But when you’re self-marketing, I’m always thinking about what would make a good story, what people would find interesting. So we’ll see where it goes, hopefully he’ll pay attention to me.”
The amount of work Fullan has done the past few years is almost mind-boggling, with a long list of credits on his website. But he still finds time to get out of the house and play to live audiences.
“My ‘first love’ was/is piano, so I still do piano gigs every now and then,” he says. “Shows, weddings, receptions, funerals, etc. I also lead music at my church every Sunday. I’m definitely in the minority in this part of the country, pu rsuing a career in film music. But as Bach so purposefully and humbly added to the end of each of his incredible works, ‘Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone).’ He’s the Source of all my success and creativity.”