On Saturday, 10 October 2020, The American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers (ASMAC) hosted an online event as part of their Master Class Series, featuring a very special guest: the prolific Emmy-winning and Academy Award-nominated composer John Debney.

Moderated by composer, arranger, pianist and ASMAC board member, Sylvester Rivers, the master class was cleverly structured into five main topics:

•  Anatomy of a comedy score

•  Anatomy of a rom-com

•  Anatomy of a big action movie

•  How to get inside a director’s head

•  Surviving post-pandemic Hollywood

Famously charismatic and friendly, Debney began the master class with the cheerful statement, ‘Let’s have fun! Let’s have a look inside my crazy musical brain!’


A musical chameleon, John Debney has composed music for over 100 films and shows in a variety of genres during his career that spans over three decades, including ‘The Passion of the Christ’, ‘Iron Man 2’, ‘The Jungle Book’, ‘The Princess Diaries’, ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’, ‘Sea Quest DSV’, ‘A Pup Named Scooby-Doo’, ‘Inspector Gadget’, and ‘The Ant Bully’, to name but a few.

For this class, the composer chose to analyse in detail three big genres: comedy, rom-com, and action. As such, Debney dissected a few of his memorable cues from films like ‘Liar Liar’, ‘Bruce Almighty’, ‘Isn’t It Romantic’, and ‘Iron Man 2’, providing aspiring film composers with advice on how to go about writing music for these genres and important aspects that need to be taken into consideration in each case.

Over the course of three and a half hours, the composer received a plethora of fantastic questions from ASMAC members and attendees alike, graciously answering each and every one of them and offering invaluable advice, as well as words of encouragement to aspiring film composers. He also elaborated on some of the challenges the industry is facing in the time of COVID-19 and how the musicians are adapting.

ASMAC Executive Board President, Gayle Levant, who is also Debney’s long-time friend and harpist on many of his films, joined the composer in reminiscing about their experience of working together. Among other things, she praised Debney for his professionalism, excellent conducting skills, and ability to keep calm in stressful situations.


There were two notable nuggets of wisdom the composer shared with the attendees that are perhaps the most important pieces of advice he has offered during the class. Firstly, Debney encouraged aspiring composers to ‘become the best composer you can become’ by learning all styles of music (even the ones they dislike), studying everything from how to write a melody, to counterpoint, orchestration, conducting and the ranges of each instrument, to work hard, be a good person, treat people well, and to always remain humble.

And secondly, following a question from an attendee regarding the toll that this profession can take on one’s mental health, Debney urged film composers to be disciplined, take care of themselves, make sure they have a great support system and not ‘take it so seriously that it will eat you alive’.

Needless to say, the hours flew by very quickly. The master class was a great opportunity for aspiring composers to get a sneak peek behind the curtain with one of the most successful composers in Hollywood and to learn a few tips and tricks on how to navigate this increasingly competitive landscape.

Now it is perhaps more important than ever to have access to such events, considering the exceptionally challenging times brought about by the pandemic. Not only do they provide attendees with invaluable and entertaining information, but they also help keep the community together and the conversation going on how industry professionals can adapt to the new normal.

To keep up to date with ASMAC future events, visit www.asmac.org, where you can also become a member, or follow their Eventbrite page.