Ryan Stratton: composing in college

The clock sitting in the corner of Ryan Stratton’s desk reads 3:34 a.m. as he sits at his computer, cans of energy drinks and Mountain Dew littering the place. His face is lit up by music tracks, digital knobs and film footage. This, oddly enough, is a normal scoring session for Stratton.

“I pretty much work 24/7.”

This has been true for Stratton, a junior screenwriting major and film music minor, ever since he has started to make money writing film scores while in college. He has managed this by building up his body of work and his reputation, and is now hiring himself out to compose scores for his fellow students’ short films. Stratton first got his work known amongst other film students by writing music for their visual storytelling projects in freshman year. Now he has composed music for multiple Chapman short films, including Murphy’s Law, Icarus, The Remote, and the student-Emmy nominated short documentary Gardeners of the Forest.

Stratton scored his first ever short film, Hunting Blind, at the age of fifteen. He first started trying to compose film scores after learning to use music programs to write songs for his metal band. He then decided to transition that knowledge to his love of movies and movie music.

“For a long time I went back and forth between whether or not I wanted to go be in a band and be a rockstar and try to do that, or go make movies,” said Stratton.

He first got a chance to experiment with film music when he was on set with his father, who works as a director of photography in Stratton’s hometown of Detroit, Michigan.

“I was following my dad around on set, and he told me to go hang out with the sound mixer because I was irritating him. Then the sound mixer was like, ‘Here, write some music kid’.”  

Since then, Stratton has written music for plenty of projects, including his own short films like Infinite and Smile. He had help on these projects from his longtime friend and producer Aaron Keteyian.

Keteyian, a junior creative producing major, first met Stratton when they were both fourteen and he needed someone to write music for a short he was producing at the time. Even though the project never got off the ground, Keteyian and Stratton clicked and decided to work together as they still do today.

“When I first heard his music, I was blown away,” said Keteyian. “This is someone who really knows what he is doing.”  

Jackson Smith, junior film production major and friend of Stratton’s since freshman year, has hired Stratton to write music for some of his projects and shares Keteyian’s opinion.

“Ryan is a joy to work with,” said Smith. “In my mind, the roll of the composer in the filmmaking process has gone from just another gear in the movie machine to a serious creative collaborator, having worked with Ryan and watching him do what he does.”

While Smith and Keteyian had plenty of positive things to say about working with Stratton, he has a different view of himself.

“Abrasive. That’s a word I’d use to describe me when I work,” said Stratton.

Even though Stratton acknowledges this about himself he feels it is justified most of the time. Stratton is at a point where he can make money writing music, so he has less patience with people when he is doing work for them for free.

It is clear when talking to him that Stratton has equal passion for composing film music as he does for writing and directing movies. According to him he tries to split his time evenly amongst both, though he may prioritize a paying film score job over working on his next script. He has recently gotten hired to work on a project with established film and TV composer Paul Haslinger. If these film scoring jobs keep coming there is a chance that Stratton’s screenwriting may fall by the wayside, despite how much he would like to continue writing throughout his career.

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