Words

Meet Shaped by Water’s Composer, the Grammy Award Winning Musician Todd Hannigan

published
4.18.23
category
Ambassadors
Meet Shaped by Water’s Composer, the Grammy Award Winning Musician Todd Hannigan
Words

Meet Shaped by Water’s Composer, the Grammy Award Winning Musician Todd Hannigan

5 mins
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Meet Shaped by Water’s Composer, the Grammy Award Winning Musician Todd Hannigan

5 mins
Meet Shaped by Water’s Composer, the Grammy Award Winning Musician Todd Hannigan
published
4.18.23
category
Ambassadors
Growing up in Ventura, California the young Todd Hannigan had two huge passions; riding the waves of the Pacific Ocean on his surfboard and playing his guitar until his fingers hurt.

Alongside being one of the most respected musicians and sound designers around, as you’ll read below, Todd’s own life has been shaped by water, which made him the perfect fit to compose the score for the film.

Todd’s aim was to help bring the key characters to life through sound and build an emotional and meaningful connection with the audience. We can’t wait for you to experience it!

After recording had ended, we caught up with Todd to learn more about his musical journey, approach to composing, love of the ocean, and much much more.

Meet Shaped by Water’s Composer, the Grammy Award Winning Musician Todd Hannigan
How did your music journey begin?

I started playing the guitar around age 14 and I just couldn’t put it down. I just played until my fingers hurt every single day. I then started traveling around quite a bit at the age of 16 to all the local surf spots. I’d always bring my guitar and a surfboard and just practice, practice, practice.

When did you decide to make a career out of your passion?

At about age 22, it was time to get serious and pick a profession. That’s when my mom told me that my cousin taught sound engineering at New York University. I asked if I could go stay with him on the couch and go to his classes and read his books. She gave me the greenlight and I went out to New York to do an internship, and just fell in love with sound, music and engineering. I bought my first sound mixer system and have never stopped. It’s what I’ve done my entire life.

Can you tell us about your experiences at the Grammy Awards?

I was nominated twice, once for the film ‘Big Easy Express’ and once for a film about Green Day called ‘¡Cuatro!’. Both films were produced by Farm League. The Green Day film was beat out by a Paul McCartney documentary, but Big Easy Express won a Grammy in 2013! Big Easy Express was directed by Emmett Malloy, and an awesome film to work on with Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros, and Old Crow Medicine Show, we mixed it at Brotheryn Studios in California with Jason Mariani, my long-time music partner at the time.

What is your personal relationship with the ocean and did this guide you on this project?

I started surfing even before I started the guitar, at around 10-years-old. It’s always been there for me as a therapy outlet and a way to connect with nature. My entire life, if things were upside down, I could always count on the ocean to set me straight. In relation to the film, it felt like a very natural extension of how I already felt about the ocean, so I was very happy to be asked to work on Shaped by Water!

Todd Hannigan

“My entire life, if things were upside down, I could always count on the ocean to set me straight.”

Meet Shaped by Water’s Composer, the Grammy Award Winning Musician Todd Hannigan
Meet Shaped by Water’s Composer, the Grammy Award Winning Musician Todd Hannigan
Can you explain to us what your usual process is when composing music for pictures?

Usually, you write the music to the picture. What I like to do is get some rough-cut footage and watch it, and play along with it. I try a bunch of different styles and feels until something feels like it matches the picture. I then try to remember what I did that was right and start recording and building it out from there.

Where does your musical inspiration come from when working on a film like Shaped by Water?

The inspiration comes from the footage, the images and the story. In most cases you’d be hearing narration or a voiceover and watching images and deriving a meaning or a message. In this case it was all images, so the inspiration was all coming from the pictures and what I thought it meant, what I thought was going through the mind of each character being featured, and also considering the ocean and water as a character as well. We let it rip on that!

One overarching theme, three different disciplines and athletes, how much creative license did this give you?

It’s a really good variety to have the freediving, skiing and sailing all being very different. I think it allowed us more range musically.  But I guess it’s the normal thing in a movie, to have different characters. In this case the footage was so beautiful and Dean Leslie  did such a great job editing, it made me really want to create something special.

Todd Hannigan

"The inspiration comes from the footage, the images and the story."

Meet Shaped by Water’s Composer, the Grammy Award Winning Musician Todd Hannigan
What was the biggest challenge you had?

The lyrics I think because normally I write more instrumental music for movies and I write songs for albums. In this film we wrote songs for movies. There are lyrics in all three songs and each word needed to be right. It was actual singing of words and not just instrumental melodies, so that was the toughest part.

Can you explain the relationship between music and the pictures?

I’m hoping it really adds to the experience and enhances it. I don’t have control over how people hear it, but I just really hope it feels like one cohesive piece of art, that’s my goal. Hopefully it ages well and becomes a legacy piece so when my daughter is grown up and she’s maybe playing music she and everyone else can still look at Shaped by Water and think it was well done.

How does the music blend in with the natural sounds from the ocean and mountains?

We definitely made specific areas where we wanted to hear nature more than the music. We played around with the ebb and flow of this and how they work together. I could hear the crashing of the ocean, the swoosh of the skis, and the wind across the sailboat so I knew when to leave space for it all.

Todd Hannigan

“The film made me want to get outside. It made me want to care about the ocean and the environment.”

Meet Shaped by Water’s Composer, the Grammy Award Winning Musician Todd Hannigan
Meet Shaped by Water’s Composer, the Grammy Award Winning Musician Todd Hannigan
Can you remember your emotion the first time you saw the first edit of Shaped by Water?

The film made me want to get outside. It made me want to care about the ocean and the environment. And it reminded me how much I miss the ocean as I grew up in California and we’re now pretty far from the ocean, around four hours away in Texas, all of those emotions were hitting me. I was also so impressed with how good the first draft was, I don’t usually see rough cuts that good!

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Jamie Haines, sailor “I grew up on the ocean, and in order to protect it, we need to solve the climate crisis. It all goes hand in hand.”

our story image

Ian Walsh, big wave surfer “As athletes, ocean health and sustainability are at the heart of what we do – without the ocean, we wouldn’t be here.”

our story image

Steve Benjamin, filmmaker “I really want people to fall in love with the ocean, to appreciate it more, and to try to alter their behavior around it. Everything ends up in the ocean, and it’s such a dumping ground for humanity. My hope is that people see the ocean as a living entity that needs to be protected.”

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Amory Ross, storyteller “How can I describe the ocean? The ocean is impossible to describe because it is endless; it is full of life, wonder, and mystery.”

our story image

Todd Hannigan, surfer, composer, filmmaker “For my entire life, if things were upside down, I could always count on the ocean to set me straight.”

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