Music By Octavia, an active member of our forums and composer of our theme song, is well known for his rearrangements of pony music. But there’s a lot to being a professional musician, and creating music is no easy feat. Octavia sat down with me to talk about ponies, his career in music, and more. Read on to see!
How did you get into music?
I’ve been playing piano since I was 4 years old, then I added drums and percussion once my school offered band as a course in the 5th grade.
What would you say your favorite instrument to play is, and why?
If you threw me in with a band and told me to start playing, I’d feel most comfortable behind a drumset, but lately my favorite instrument to play has been guitar. It’s really easy to just pick up and play at any time and it doesn’t bug the neighbors.
How did you get into Friendship is Magic?
I’ve been a member of the Something Awful forums since 2001 and I’ve always enjoyed reading and posting there. Back in March of 2011, I noticed a huge influx of user avatars with colorful ponies in them. I decided to check out the show and watched all 19 episodes that existed back then in a weekend. The song in Winter Wrap Up is what officially hooked me into the show for good.
What made you decide to make arrangements of the show’s songs?
I’m always looking for more opportunities to write music, since it’s what I’ve been doing for a living since 2007. When I write music for producers though, it’s always what they want to hear, not necessarily what I want to write. With pony music, I get to use songs I already really enjoy from a show that I love, and I get to pick whatever style I want. I had the idea for a percussion ensemble version of Winter Wrap Up pretty much as soon as I watched the episode, but it wasn’t until after the season 2 finale with This Day Aria when I decided to actually start writing them.
Your arrangements vary widely in style, including Jazz, Surf Rock, Blues, and Chiptune, among others. Which style is your favorite, if any?
In my line of work, I’m asked to compose music in any and every style. I don’t really have a favorite to play or to listen to. I find enjoyment in just about every musical style. If you looked through my music collection, you’d find just about every style imaginable. I tend to listen to them in streaks, so like one week I’ll be really into progressive rock, then the next week I’ll be really into classical music, and my taste bounces around through every style I can think of. There’s nothing I’d refuse to give a listen to.
Which arrangement do you feel most proud of?
That’s a tough one, since there are different aspects to each song I’m most proud of. My favorite one to listen to is the blues version of Cutie Mark Crusaders Go Crusading, but I’m also really proud of my chiptune version of At the Gala, because that song is so incredibly heavily orchestrated. I’m also proud that my orchestral version of Smile was used for the end credits of Anthology II, so it was nice being a part of such a huge video in pony culture.
You also composed the official GalaCon theme. What is it like to be contacted by a large pony convention in Europe to create such a piece?
I had a lot of fun with that one and the folks at GalaCon were a pleasure to work with. I have Perrydotto and the people at The Round Stable to thank for getting that gig. As far as I know, they’re the first pony con to have an official theme. I think more cons should follow in their footsteps.
Normally when you compose music, it’s as a work for hire. For your pony arrangements, however, you need to license the music. How do you feel about the process for licensing the show’s music?
It’s actually quite easy to get a license. As long as the recording is 100% original, meaning it doesn’t contain any samples from the show, then getting permission and the amount of royalties needed to pay is already set in stone, so no negotiations are required. All you need to do is write a letter to the publisher of the original song declaring your intent to sell a version of it, then send out a royalties check once a month based on how many of each song was sold.
How much profit have you been making off these remixes? Or have you been making any profit, taking into account licensing costs?
After iTunes, Bandcamp, PayPal, licensing fees, and royalties take a nice bite out of every 99 cents someone pays, I’m not really left with that much per sale. It’s definitely not something I could quit my day job over, but on some months it’s enough to cover the cost of groceries.
All of your arrangements are available from multiple sites. Which site do you prefer your fans to purchase your songs from?
Bandcamp is the one that leaves me with the most money left over and it’s also the only option for buyers outside the USA, but not everyone has a PayPal account required to use Bandcamp. iTunes is by far the most popular choice for people who buy my music.
Outside of your pony arrangements, what other songs have you composed that you feel particularly proud of?
My non-pony music gets played on television regularly, so it’s always nice to turn on the TV and hear something I wrote. One time, I was in my apartment and heard my upstairs neighbor’s TV blaring through the ceiling. The bass line was unmistakably from a piece I wrote for a TV show. I turned on my own TV and lo and behold, my neighbor was listening to something I composed without even realizing it.
How do you get the word out whenever you release a new arrangement?
Equestria Daily played a huge part in getting my music noticed by the MLP community. Almost all of my pony arrangements have been featured on their site. I also have my own thread in The Round Stable forums where I regularly make updates and interact directly with many of my fans. Both places have helped me get a ton of Youtube subscribers. I also have accounts on Twitter and Tumblr to help spread the word.
Are you interested in arranging any of the music from Equestria Girls?
I was kind of disappointed by the songs in Equestria Girls. I liked the cafeteria song, so if I were to do any songs from EQG, it would be that one. The other songs kind of blended together in a mishmash of generic pop. It felt like I was listening to music from Strawberry Shortcake and not My Little Pony. I think all the extra poppiness in EQG is due to Hasbro trying to target the tween audience as opposed to the TV show’s targeting of kids.
Have you made arrangements of songs from any other franchise besides Friendship is Magic?
I did an orchestral version of the theme from Gravity Falls, but was quickly informed by Disney that they didn’t want me to do that. They still happily cashed my royalties checks while it was up, though.
I’d like to thank you for granting us an interview. It was a pleasure talking with you. Do you have any closing thoughts or anything that you wanted to say before I end the interview?
Thanks for having me! If I could, I’d like to shamelessly plug my channels. My official YouTube channel is MusicByOctavia, my Tumblr is Music By Octavia, my Twitter handle is @musicbyoctavia, and you can find me posting like crazy on The Round Stable forums with the user name Octavia. ■