Owl City's Adam Young Is Creating a Film Score a Month For One Year

Brian Bradley
Adam Young

Ever since he was 16, Adam Young, a.k.a. Owl City, has heard a voice in his head. Even as he achieved pop stardom with his ubiquitous 2009 Billboard Hot 100 chart topper “Fireflies” and 2012’s duet with Carly Rae Jepsen, “Good Time,” it grew louder.

The voice was telling him to pursue his love of film music, the first music that he remembers inspiring him to create. “Before anything on the radio or friends’ music, it was film music,” he says. Originally it was the music from Disney movies like Aladdin, The Lion King and Beauty And The Beast. That led to digging into scores by composers like John Williams, Thomas Newman, James Newton Howard and James Horner. 

Now, he’s following in their esteemed footsteps by creating a score a month based on a historical event. The first score, released in February, centered around Apollo 11.

Though Young, 29, wasn’t yet born when the 1969 moon landing took place, he says the space flight has “grabbed my imagination. Everything I’ve known has been based here on earth and here are these three other people that got in space suits and explored [the moon].” 

The theme for March’s score is the RMS Titanic. “I tried to make sure that whatever I was doing would stand alone and not be too influenced by Horner’s amazing score” to the 1997 blockbuster of the same name. 

Nine more scores will follow on the first of each month in 2016. The time was right for such an ambitious project for Young, who parted ways with Republic Records after releasing Mobile Orchestra last July. “Part of the reason for this endeavor is to give me a little bit of space and distance from the pop music space,” he says. “I can switch gears and test my muscles in this instrumental world and I hope when I come back to pop music have all these new ideas.”

Young has mapped out a list of possibilities for future scores including Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight, the California Gold Rush, the first ascent of Mt. Everest and the assassination of Lincoln. “That one would be dark," he states. “One of the things I enjoy most is on a piece of paper writing one through 10 and making a draft of these main points of the story.”

His scores range from lushly orchestral to sparsely electronic, created by Young solely on computer from his home in Minnesota. “All the actual sounds are sample based,” he says. “I wish I could book a 100-piece orchestra in Los Angeles. It’s all tricks in the computer.”

Just as he taught himself how to make his electronic pop music, he learned how to score from listening to composers and “putting notes in the computer and experimenting.”

Each 25-to-30 minute score, complete with individual cues, take around three weeks to complete. “That’s a lot faster for me than music with lyrics,” he says. “This is kind of a load off my shoulders to not worry about rhyming.”

Every score is available for streaming via http://www.ayoungscores.com, Spotify and Apple Music and for purchase via iTunes. Additionally, a limited edition movie poster, created by James R. Eads for each month's score, is available for purchase through Young’s website.

Not surprisingly, Young, who has a devoted fan base, has received encouraging feedback from his followers, some of whom have sent him films or visuals they’ve created set to his scores. “That’s so fulfilling to see other people inspired by what I do,” he says.

For now, the scores are a labor of love, but Young hopes to follow in the footsteps of artists like Trent Reznor and Mark Mothersbaugh, who have gone from pop and rock careers to thriving composing gigs. He’s no stranger to the film world, having written the theme song for Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole and a song for Wreck-It Ralph. 

Young stresses that Owl City may be dormant right now, but his alter ego will be back. “I’m definitely thinking ahead to a new Owl City album,” he says. Preliminary discussions with a few new potential label homes have taken place and will continue later in the year “when I decide what I want to do,” Young says, adding that he is also “debating doing my own thing.”