Smithfield movie music maker mines computer for tunes

By Kendra Gravelle

A series of string instruments plays slowly as a synthesizer hums a gentle rhythm beneath. The sound builds slowly at first, and begins to quickly pick up as violins move at a faster and faster tempo. The music reaches a dramatic crescendo as a bass drum slowly chimes in. The dramatic orchestral music crashes with intensity before it is abruptly paused.

“That’s what I listen to when I get up in the morning.”

In a bright room with a small fireplace in the corner and large windows overlooking the Stillwater Reservoir, Tom Costantino, a cinematic film music producer and founder of Tomazo Sounds, spends several hours each day at his computer. With a keyboard in front of him and speakers towering over him on either side, he takes his time adjusting volumes and fading various instrumental sounds in and out to create a composition reminiscent of a visit to the cinema.

Costantino, however, hasn’t always had such an interest in music. He began to dabble in making his own music as a sophomore at the University of Rhode Island around six years ago, when a friend introduced him to the concept of producing music on a computer. Despite the passion he has developed for producing music, he said that until that point, he had had no experience making music.

“I had never picked up an instrument in my life,” he admitted, “so when I saw what the capabilities of making music on a computer were—just one person, in front of one computer, being able to create entire compositions by themselves, almost like a one-man band—just the idea of that, I was instantly hooked.”

Costantino’s initial focus was on producing hip-hop music.

“That’s where I first started making beats.”

His progression into cinematic music began about three years ago, after he submitted some hip-hop projects he’d been working on to !ll Mind, a favorite producer of his.

“He got back to me, which was cool,” he said. “He was one of the guys that was first like, ‘Your stuff’s decent, you should keep pursuing it.’”

However, !ll Mind suggested that Costantino’s style, which incorporated more orchestral sound than is traditionally present in hip-hop, may be more conducive to cinematic film music. At that recommendation, Costantino began to explore the possibilities of producing scores for film and video games, and what had begun as a hobby soon became his career focus.

“My main goal is to have a serious impact on what cinematic music is, and I’m forever going to have a mark of hip hop in every single one of my compositions,” Costantino said. “I want to bridge the gap between those two worlds.”

Costantino said his friend Kory Pacheco had also had an influence on his music style. Having been friends since preschool, they both started listening to hip-hop while in middle school, Pacheco said.

Pacheco became interested in Yanni, a composer, pianist and music producer, through his father. Costantino and Pacheco would listen to the Yanni station on Pandora Radio. Costantino said this was one of his first experiences with orchestral music.

“His music would not have any words but, for me, it was as if he was telling a story,” Pacheco said. “Over the past couple years, Tom’s palette has changed and there’s an emotional roller coaster that his music brings out, similar to Yanni. He’s telling a story without words.”

Costantino said that cinematic film music combines the love that he has always had for movies with his tendency to want to pack as many ideas as possible into a single composition. With cinematic film music, production possibilities are infinite, he said, adding that film music offers composers the opportunity to put together a unique piece.

He added that a cinematic score has the ability to completely alter the way an audience views a movie. Although a viewer often doesn’t realize the effect the music score of a film has on his or her emotions, without that music the film would make far less of an impact.

Costantino said when he introduces people to cinematic film music on its own, they are often shocked by its intensity.

“Something clicks in their heads, like, ‘I didn’t know I could hear film music like that—that it could do that for me.’”

He explained that, with the acting and dialogue taken away, what’s left is a dramatic, beautiful piece of work.

“Everyone on the planet Earth loves cinematic music,” he said. “They just don’t know it yet.”

Costantino said it took a few years to become comfortable letting others listen to his music. He still tends to keep his new music “under wraps,” said Nolan Quartaroli, a recording engineer and owner of True Music Studios in Smithfield with whom Costantino has collaborated on various projects.

“It’s quite a fear that any creative person has to try to get over, just to let people hear it,” Costantino explained. “That took a long time. There are various stages of development for anybody and a lot of times, especially in the music world, you don’t know where you stand.”

To put a single piece together takes about six hours, Constantino said. However, editing, or “mastering,” the piece may take him days. Using a digital audio workstation (DAW) called Logic Pro X, Costantino layers as many as 80 tracks to produce a single composition.

Costantino and Quartaroli have worked together for around two years. Past projects include a hip-hop song and the score for a TV commercial for North Shore Bank, a bank based out of the Boston area. Costantino has also taught production lessons at True Music Studios.

If Costantino weren’t pursuing a career in music production, he said he’d probably go into web design. He’s currently working on designing a new website for his music, which includes a blog and sound kits—virtual instruments he custom makes to be sold to other producers.

“That pretty much streamlines the process for them,” he said.

Costantino’s website also contains a section honoring those music composers who have had a significant impact on him, including Lorne Balfe, a composer who has produced music for various movies and video games and who Costantino said has greatly influenced his work. Costantino added that composer and record producer Hans Zimmer has also seriously influenced his work.

Costantino hopes to make a local impact with his music. He said he hopes to sell his sound kits to local producers to see what they can do with it.

“There’s a lot of talent here in Rhode Island,” he said. “Unfortunately, I feel like the scene just isn’t as predominant as it could be.”

Costantino also hopes to eventually sell his compositions to be soundtracks to films. Pacheco said he has witnessed Costantino’s dedication to his work, and he’s confident that Costantino will have his work featured in movies and video games soon.

“The future of music is digital,” Costantino said. “Film music is just the evolution of classical music. Film music is that, taken to a whole new level. There’s a reason why it’s present in the gigantic forum of film and video games, and that’s that it does so much to the human psyche. We may not realize it, but it’s pretty much the most impactful music.”

Quartaroli said he is also excited to see whereCostantino’s music career takes him.

“He’s been through quite a journey with his music,” he said. “He is an extremely hard working guy.”