Most of us enjoy watching TV or films. We might watch adverts or view trailers. Some of the music from films and adverts stays as an earworm for days. Characters have particular musical motifs (a leitmotif), just think of those two notes every time the shark appears in ‘Jaws’, and products become associated with simple, effective tunes. Commonly termed ‘background music’ the music behind adverts, atmospheres, TV productions, and films is incredibly important in creating images, characters, and atmosphere. But who composes this music?
The answer is musicians like Andy Quin. Quin has contributed background music to hundreds of films, TV productions, and adverts throughout the world. He is also a performer and jazz pianist. His streaming figures are phenomenal as is his support for fellow musicians, yet relatively few people know his name, but they will almost definitely have heard his music (when you see the list of just some of the productions his music has been used for at the end of this piece you will see this is probably correct).
I decided to find out a little more about Quin and how he came to be in such a wonderful position that he clearly enjoys. I asked how he got started in music and he told me, “I started as a gigging musician and got into composing by chance. My family, although encouraging, was very poor, so from the outset, it became apparent if I wanted a life in music, I needed it to earn money!”
Quin began classical piano studies at the age of four and by the time he was eight years old, he had added pop/jazz organ and drums to his repertoire. It was on the organ Quin began performing. His first paid job was accompanying silent films in theatres including the Regent Street Cinema in London. By the time he was a teenager, Quin had his first professional summer season at a local holiday camp. He says, “I did everything, from accompanying singers and dancers to playing in the pit band. I also played for pantomimes and shows at many venues on the East coast of Essex – places like Butlins, pier shows, accompanying Arthur Askey at the Ocean Theatre, and playing on Clacton Pier during the 1970s.” Quin accompanied soloists, duos, and trios, and played in big bands while he was still at school to earn money and fund university.
Quin gained a scholarship to study classical piano at the Royal College of Music but decided not to take this up because he was more interested in improvisation, composition, and music technology. He studied music and electronics at Keele University and worked with Tim Souster, the BAFTA-winning composer. He had an interest in jazz music and worked with Liszt specialist and jazz composer Cecil Lytle.
Composition became Quin’s forte and soon he was a popular choice by anyone wanting incidental or background music (a misnomer if ever there was one) for a production. Quin’s music has been heard by millions of people over the past decades. He crosses and blends genres like a magician so has the freedom to compose and play jazz, classical, rock, pop, or something in between.
But, I wondered, how does this work, composing for a music library? Quin explained, “My ‘bread & butter’ work is Library Music or Production Music. This is music not produced for commercial sale to the public, but specifically for licensing for use in TV, film, adverts, games, videos, trailers, etc. The advantage from my perspective is that I just get to write and record music. I don’t have to deal with directors, or strange ‘unmusical’ timings to follow a narrative, etc. as in the better-known ‘music to picture’ that most people know about. So, I write music, it’s licensed to clients who will then either cut their images to the music or cut the music to the pictures. I have no control over what end users do, and also very rarely get a credit! I have done ‘specially composed’ music but did not really enjoy it much because there are too many external constraints.”
Andy’s music has accompanied films including Victoria and Abdul (2017 with Judy Dench), Under Suspicion (1991, Trumbo (2015), and Ab Fab The Movie (2016) and productions including Lucifer, Parks and Recreation, Mary Berry’s Country House Secrets, Location, Location and many more (see lists at the end of this piece).
A surprising facet is, Andy says, “Despite all the films and TV productions it is the adverts that people often remember – such as the After Eight Perfect Dinner Party and The OXO family”. Many firms return to Andy’s music for their campaigns including Nike, VW, Barclays Bank, and BA. His ad for Space Mountain proved successful for Euro-Disney and his music has been behind campaigns for perfume, toiletries, cars, and drinks. His track Awakening which first came to prominence in the To The Wonder (2012) film trailer got taken up by Birds Eye Peas and was then licensed exclusively by Guerlain to launch their new perfume with Angelina Jolie.
Andy says one of the joys of this sort of composing is that the same piece of music can be used for many different productions, at different times in different places around the world. The music he wrote decades ago can turn up in the latest productions. Nowadays, Quin performs live and also continues composing music.
I asked how he went from regular live work as a youngster, to largely composing and then more recently back to live work. He explained,
“Performing was in my blood. It took a back seat when composing took over. I still gigged but nothing like so often for 30 yrs. Then I thought I’d still love to do more live playing, so I am having a bit of a renaissance over the last decade and absolutely loving it! There is nothing quite like playing live! But in 50 years of gigs, I doubt I’ve played to a million people live. But 2 billion streams in the past couple of years on YouTube is just incredible. The numbers are mind-boggling! So, from an earning perspective, composing has been vital. It is also immensely enjoyable and different from performing. I also improvised and composed from a very young age and always loved it. The two strands now co-exist with a lovely balance.”
Quin composes often in his studio, but his inspiration comes from a special place – he walks regularly with his beloved dogs and there is a certain bench that holds a place in his heart. He often posts that his ideas come from his time spent at that bench and has called it his ‘composing bench’. While ideas may come from a bench by a wood where Quin is immersed in Nature, he is always ready to embrace new ideas and technology and now works with AI as well as more traditional recording methods and live music, to create his distinctive sounds.
Quin has worked for several music production companies but now records largely for De Wolfe Music- a British music production company recognised as the originator of what is not known as library music. The company was established by Dutch musician Meyer De Wolfe in 1909 and began recording music to use in talking movies. Working out of their Angel studio in Islington, London, De Wolfe remains a powerful force in music. Quin has recorded over 90 albums for them so far and his album ‘Mirage’ was the first CD of the world’s first digital music library.
So, not so much a man of mystery. For all those tunes, motifs, and earworms, the name is Quin, Andy Quin.
Here are just some of the places Andy’s music has played a major role. Just the tip of the iceberg.
The Maid (1990)
Dark Half (1993)
A Father’s Betrayal (1997)
Wolves (1999) (Title music was a track called Navajo Dawn
Corazon de Bombon (2001)
My Architect (2003) (Oscar Nominee Documentary about Louis Kahn)
Nancy Drew (2007)
Definitely Maybe (2008)
A Flash of Genius (2008)
Confessions 2009 (Full score)
Dark Horse (2011)
Say When (2014)
The Two Faces of January (2014)
Dollar Night (2014) (Full score)
After We Collided (2020)
To The Wonder (2012)
Air Ambulance ER
Auf Wiedersehen Pet
Babies: Their Wonderful World
Birds of A Feather
Call The Midwife
Cold Case Files
Countdown to Murder
Harry Enfield Show
Jack Dee’s Happy Hour
Late Show with David Letterman
Life In The Snow
Oprah Winfrey Show
Parks and Recreation
Paul O’Grady’s For The Love of Dogs
Penelope Keith’s Coastal Villages
Really Wild Show
Rip Off Britain
Smack The Pony
Songs of Praise
The Darling Buds of May
The League of Gentlemen
Wild About Animals
Wish You Were Here
You’ve Been Framed
To hear more of Andy Quin, go to the De Wolfe sites here