Paul Tyan Source: Paul Tyan

Paul Tyan, a French-Lebanese musician and film composer, is currently making waves internationally. 

After just a few years in the field, the artist has already worked on numerous critically acclaimed projects, producing tracks for films, TV ads and live productions. 

His most recent work on Tickling Giants, a documentary about Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef, directed by Sara Taksler, has been shortlisted for two Academy Awards. 

Speaking to StepFeed, the successful film composer, told us more about his career path, what influences his work, and how he feels about being on the Academy Awards' shortlist.

On early beginnings

Tyan, who grew up between France and Lebanon, was drawn to music at a very young age and studied orchestration, harmony and counterpoint at the École Normale de Musique de Paris.

When asked to tell us more about what drew him to the field and to film composing in specific, he said: 

"Since I was young, music spoke to me much more than anything else. There was always music at home, my brother played guitar and my mother who is an opera lecturer introduced me to classical music. As soon as I started playing, it became a passion that hasn’t left me to this day. We would also watch a lot of movies at home, so cinema quickly became part of my life."

"I felt like the right time had come for me to quit my job and launch my career as a full time film composer..."

The film composer, who graduated with a college degree in Engineering and a Masters in Business, initially started a career at Google, but later left to pursue his passion for music full time. 

"After high school I studied engineering then did a Masters in Business, but music was with me all along. I wrote my first songs as part of bands and I learned how to record and self-produce tracks, especially through a duo I was part of called OHO. I then worked for Google for two years, during which I had started to write for films as a freelancer. After a few projects including TV series, ads and short films, I felt like the right time had come for me to quit my job and launch my career as a full time film composer," he explained. 

On purpose, heritage, and influences

Tyan's passion for his field is fueled by vision, determination, and purpose. He hopes that through his career in film composition he can touch people, even if it's just for a few seconds at a time. 

"I hope I can make people feel what I feel when I watch a film that speaks to me or when I listen to music I love. I’m thinking about these moments where we disconnect entirely and dream a little bit before we return to our busy lives."

"When I used to live in Beirut, I listened to a lot of Arabic music, particularly Om Kalthoum and Asmahan..."

An avid music listener, Tyan's work is influenced by a variety of music styles.

"I listen to different music styles ranging from classical to jazz, soul, funk, indie rock and several others. Everything I listen to has an influence, consciously or not, in my ear and on my work. I spend a considerable amount of time analyzing classical works and diving into scores by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and other great composers. There is so much to absorb from their music, its greatness can be intimidating while being an immense source of pleasure all at the same time," he told StepFeed. 

When asked if his Arab heritage and roots influence his work, he said:

"When I used to live in Beirut - which I still regularly visit - I listened to a lot of Arabic music, particularly Om Kalthoum and Asmahan. This influence comes into play especially when I write pieces for a Middle Eastern film, as they involve oud or oriental strings and percussions."

On Tickling Giants, success, and style of work

Since starting out in the field, Tyan has seen great success, working on several notable projects including a PETA campaign starring Joaquin Phoenix, the film Submarine directed by Mounia Akl which screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016, and a collaboration with Mashrou’ Leila.

As part of his work, Tyan often collaborates with filmmakers on bringing their vision to life through music. 

"I put a strong emphasis on communication in order to stay aligned with the director's vision and to write a score in the right direction. I like to voice out my opinion while staying open to feedback and new ideas," he said of his work style. 

One of his latest projects is a documentary film about Bassem Youssef titled Tickling Giants. Tyan's work on the feature has been shortlisted for two Academy Awards, Best Original Score and Best Original Song. 

When asked how he came to be part of the film, Tyan said: 

"I was recommended as a composer by the filmmaker Cyril Aris who is a dear friend of mine and who was an assistant editor on the project. The film’s topic and purpose immediately spoke to me and I got along really well with the director Sara Taksler. It was also quite exciting to see that Monica Hampton was the producer (she won the Palme d’Or for Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911) and Ben Wilkins was the sound mixer (Academy Award winner for Whiplash). The whole process went very smoothly, from the initial discussions about the film and the score, the writing of the first tracks, to the studio recording and delivery of the final tracks. 

As a film composer my priority is to help the film to be as good as it can be and I think we came up with an interesting musical blend which combines soul grooves with spaghetti western themes and an oriental touch."

On being shortlisted for two Academy Awards

When asked how he feels about the critical acclamation his work on Trickling Giants has received, including being shortlisted for Academy Awards nominations, Tyan said:

"It's wonderful to get recognition from such a prestigious institution, especially when your name sits next to giants such as Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Johnny Greenwood and Philip Glass. I worked on this score as passionately and thoroughly as I could, which made it an incredibly rewarding creative process. Now this preselection is adding a professional validation to my work, which is always appreciated."

On his message to young Arab artists

The talented musician and composer is currently working on finalizing a score for a feature film titled The Swing. The film is directed by Cyril Aris and has been co-funded with the help of the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC). 

Speaking of his work on the film, Tyan said: 

"This music is quite different as it is all written for classical guitar. I am also in conversations with a French production for a feature film currently in pre-production."

"In artistic fields, learning is a lifelong process..."

Towards the end of our interview, we asked the artist to share a message with young Arab talents, and he shared a few inspiring words of advice. 

"In artistic fields, learning is a lifelong process, so constantly study works from across the arts, from around the world and from different times in history. Widen your horizons by looking things up online, even if it is something you never heard of or is not available in your country," he said. 

"I also regularly remind myself that we start off our career without the all the skills, and a little impatient. To get a great job one needs to offer rare and valuable skills in return. We have to do a huge volume of work to get better and it takes everybody a while," he added.