University of Surrey 

For Alumni and Supporters

Michael Price

Michael Price is a graduate of the music and sound recording Tonmeister course (1990) and has gone on to enjoy a very successful composing career in film, TV, classical music and contemporary dance. One of Michael's latest projects has been writing the music, with David Arnold, for the BBC series Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, for which they won a Royal Television Award and received BAFTA and EMMY nominations.

Why did you choose to study at Surrey?

Surrey was the only place that did the Tonmeister course. At the time I had to decide between music and studying physics at Cambridge. Surrey was the only place that offered high quality music and high quality subjects. I wanted to find a way of combining the two and Surrey did that for me.

How has your degree helped in your career?

One of the things that I learnt early on at Surrey that has helped with pretty much all aspects of my career has been about professionalism and attitude. From the minute I walked through the door as a 17-year-old we staff reminded us and taught us that hopefully we were going to be the professionals of the future. That was the attitude instilled in us – sometimes there were a few rough edges to smooth, but that happened and I'll be infinitely grateful forever.

Where did you spend your placement year?

I was fired twice during that year! I first worked at PolyGram remastering records for Nana Mouskouri but I was let go, followed by three months in a pop studio, which ended after an argument about my salary. However, I then had the good fortune to meet Nick Bicat, who has written more than 150 scores and soundtracks for film, TV and theatre. I worked as an assistant for him and he was incredibly generous and supportive. He was the first proper composer I met and I wanted to be a composer from that moment.

You wrote the soundtrack for Sherlock with David Arnold. Does composing with someone else make the process easier or harder?

David and I have worked together for 10 years and we are like dysfunctional brothers! We don't work together all the time but when we do get back together it's like being in a band. Neither of us mind where the ideas start or stop – we just monkey around and have a good time. As with any decent relationship, ours is built on mutual respect. We do argue, but we can always see the other's point of view, although we each will have our secret favourite bits.

How do you start work on a score?

For film or TV, it's when I get the first bits of picture, which I watch obsessively round and round and try and find the music inside the film rather than sticking music on top of it. If I'm writing a tune, I start with pen, paper and a piano – technology sometimes gets in the way.

What's your career highlight so far?

It's probably the BBC series Sherlock. Writing the music for that with David Arnold has opened up a world of enthusiastic supporters that I didn't think I would ever be part of. When I was a kid I was a fan of Dr Who and many different shows that became part of my culture as a young person and musician. To be part of an amazing show that is so important to so many other people, who will play our tunes on the internet and record themselves doing it, will turn out to all kinds of events and be incredibly supportive, is wonderful. Being recognised for the music with various awards and nominations has been a highlight. On the other hand, the biggest highlight is always the one you're doing next!

What's piece of music would you have liked to have composed?

I'm surprised on a daily basis how many wonderful compositions are out there and the list of the ones I wish I had composed is vast, but in film there's a tune by Thomas Newman called Walkaway for Meet Joe Black which is gorgeous.

What's your favourite Beatles song?

Blackbird. The recording has a rawness to it that you don't always get today, where everything is cleaned up. You can hear it was recorded in a real environment – you can even hear Paul McCartney tapping his foot.

Do you have a favourite university memory?

Sharing a duplex room on Stag Hill with a lovely singing hockey player. My first year was fun.

What advice would you give to students?

Trying to find a way into the industry is a long ball game. It's about being able to sustain yourself for a long period of time until you get a break. To do that you have to keep yourself emotionally and physically well and have adequate finances so you can keep on going. If you can manage to sustain a passion for what you do, music in this case, and you can keep all those things in balance, you won't always be looking for the next thing but enjoying the process of what you're doing at the moment. Having that positive attitude means other people are more likely to hire you. So my message is: keep positive.

Is remaining connected with the alumni network important to you?

I'd like to stay involved with Surrey by doing guest talks, mentoring or fundraising because the older I get, the more I appreciate what Surrey gave me.

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