RBL Spotlight: Composer Jocelyn Chambers

(Courtesy Butter Music and Sound)

Editor’s Note: “The Reel Black List” is our annual spotlight of brothers and sisters in the worlds of advertising, film, TV, music, radio and media who are making a difference through their contributions and creativity on a daily basis. For the next 29 days, you will be able to celebrate wonderful human beings, like, Butter composer, Jocelyn Chambers.

Chambers has always been a creative entrepreneur, learning how to play piano while running Sweets by Jocelyn at age 9. Music and film deeply resonated with her as a young child and once she discovered film scoring as a career option, it was a no-brainer that she would pursue it.

She began studying composition at the Armstrong Community Music School, winning the Texas Young Composer’s competition twice in 2011 and 2013. She attended the American Festival of the Arts, where she wrote the string quartet Enigma for the Night in collaboration with the Houston Ballet.

Jocelyn went on to study at The University of Texas at Austin, receiving a Bachelor of Music in Music Theory and was honored by the College of Fine Arts for her advocacy and activism. 

She moved to California, pursuing a graduate certificate in Film Scoring from the University of California at Los Angeles. While studying, she began working as a post-production assistant on Netflix’s Grand Army and Designated Survivor, eventually scoring music for both projects.

She also scored Mama Gloria, a feature documentary highlighting the life of black trans elder Gloria Allen and “In Favor of Fetus,” a short documentary detailing the experiences of women affected by Wisconsin’s Cocaine Mom law. Last summer, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, she revived Sweets by Jocelyn, which she had previously put on hold to focus on composing.

Let’s meet Jocelyn!

What’s your origin story?

It’s synonymous with my origin story—I found myself strongly resonating with film music as a child. As early as 8yrs old, I would cry at films (see: The Parent Trap, 1998, scored by Alan Silvestri) even though I was too young to fully understand their emotional context. At 13, when I learned it was film music that drove my emotional connection, I knew that was what I was made for.

My mom and I made a 10-year plan in which I would study composition and piano through high school, earn a bachelor’s in classical composition, move to LA and earn a graduate degree in film scoring, and finally launch my industry career. That 10-year plan was complete 2 years ago, when at 23, I transitioned to full-time film composition work.

Who were your mentors?

Rachel McInturff, my high school composition teacher at the Armstrong Community Music School. She taught me the foundation of everything I know—from proper music notation to orchestral reductions. Yevgeniy Sharlat, my college composition professor at UT Austin. He encouraged me to score film during college even though the music school was classically focused. Nikki Walsh, the VP of Soundtracks and Marketing at NBCUniversal. When I was approached by multiple different agents, we sat down together and she gave me her insight on every single one.

Through her counsel, I chose the agent that was best for me (s/o to Brent Briggs at Evolution Music Partners!). I can’t thank her enough for that.

While there will be others, what do you consider your biggest achievement to date?

In summer 2021m I was selected to participate in the 2021-2023 NBCUniversal Composer Initiative.

This initiative, spearheaded by NBCUniversal’s Global Talent Development and Inclusion team, serves to mentor and bring diverse composers to the forefront, right where we belong. I am one of 8 composers selected, out of 700 applicants. But really, my biggest achievement is getting 7hrs of nightly sleep and having health insurance.

What drives you to create? Color and emotion. I’m synesthetic, so I see color when I hear music. Every musical key and every note on the piano is assigned a color. The colors I see directly correlate with the emotions I feel, which influences the tone and character of the music I write.

What TV series or movies do you feel portrayed powerful, inspirational Black images in 2021?

Insecure, 100%. Issa Rae is one of the greatest creative minds of the 21st century. Everything she touches turns to gold. I chose to start watching Insecure when I knew I would understand the characters’ experiences (the show first aired when I was 19; I’m now 25). The characters feel like siblings to me, the way I imagine my parents felt when

their generation watched A Different World. It’s invigorating to see each characters’ growth, and the positive trajectory of Issa’s career. Seeing Black women have options that speak to their worth is one of the greatest things in the world. I can’t wait to see more of that in new media to come.

What is the biggest challenge to Black people in your industry?

There’s significant pressure to have all the answers about how to solve the industry’s (and world’s) centuries-long diversity problem in 150 words. As a composer, all I really want to do is write music. I feel the focus is being taken away from our music because people often look to us as the catch-all representatives of the Black community. Cis/het white male composers don’t have to deal with this, only marginalized groups do.

I understand and applaud the long-overdue practice of diversity and inclusion in our industry. It’s the least that can be done. The last thing, however, that Black composers want to do is constantly explain ourselves when it’s our music that should do the explaining for us.

Hire us for projects that don’t only focus on “urban issues” or Black trauma. We are excellent composers of every genre, from rom-com (Dara Taylor) to fantasy (Amanda Jones) to horror (Michael Abels). Justice is not just giving us a seat at the table, it’s also acknowledging and trusting that we are inherently capable of doing the same work to the same degree of excellence. Acknowledge that by hiring us for everything.

REELated: Read about others on The Reel Black List

When you’re not creating, what do you do in your off time?

100% of the time I write music for film, TV, and ads. The other 100% of the time I’m running my home bakery, Sweets by Jocelyn, where I specialize in gourmet pies. You can find them on my website or at Aroma Coffee and Tea if you’re located in Los Angeles! I’m also brainstorming the resurrection of my podcast, The I Am Loved Podcast, which focuses on self-healing and growth for those who have experienced heartbreak.

Predict your future! Where are you in 5 years?

I’m living in Los Angeles, poised to win my first Academy Award for Best Original Score. My pies are featured in multiple “must eat” guides, my podcast is a blueprint for healthy self-partnered and partnered relationships, and I have finally found LA’s greatest burger.

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