We all have our own stories to tell.
Yet, we don’t always have the opportunity to share them. So when the chance to connect with music composer Keegan DeWitt arose, I carefully composed an email to him and clicked the send button without hesitation. Would all the stars align for a virtual interview? The answer is yes.
Cinematic music plays a significant role in telling stories, expressing emotions when words may fail, and providing sustenance. It also helps establish character — giving insight into a particular person or event and intensifying its overall impact. Musical scores may exist as an entity of their own yet are so often interwoven within and inextricably linked to their films (think Slumdog Millionaire, Titanic, or Star Wars). Music fills half of the motion pictures and plays pivotal roles in connecting and elevating varying storylines.
Keegan Dewitt was born on April 8, 1982, in Bend, Oregon. At seventeen, he packed his bags, left for the SUNY Purchase Film Conservatory to write and direct in New York, and headed to the Atlantic Theater Company Acting Conservatory in New York.
DeWitt conveys, “I tried to live in L.A. briefly, but I felt at age twenty-five, New York City was an important place for me to be. In Los Angeles, it’s easy to wake up, and suddenly you’re 55. It’s beautiful, sunny almost every day, and very relaxed and spread out. I always enjoyed waking up in NYC each morning. But, you have to make an intentional choice to live there. It’s constantly challenging and puts you on the back foot.”
After a mere ten years in New York, his compass pointed to Nashville, where DeWitt found himself close to family and could concentrate his time and zeal on his music career full time. While residing in Music City, USA (aka, Nashville), Dewitt assembled a band called The Wild Cub and went on a global tour to support its single “Thunder Clatter,” and wildly appeared on Conan and Jimmy Fallon.
Ultimately, Dewitt’s work was summoning him to move to the West Coast. Thus, Dewitt and his family eventually relocated to Los Angeles.
Dewitt imparts, “ My time in New York and Nashville was a fantastic experience and combined that with meeting my wife and having our first child; it was an intense few years.”
Subsequently, Dewitt reflects on what his creative process entails and values the experience brings him.
“I had a high school mentor who taught me, for better or worse, to write improvisationally. Writing and letting one impulse inform the next action are beautiful ideas and a nod back toward jazz. But in jazz, at least one has a prodigious understanding of key and melody. I wish I had more of that, but I usually sit down, and then my hands will do something which unlocks it. It’s still a bit of a reach into the darkness.”
Wanting to derive more about the music Dewitt creates, he explains, “ All of it springs from some melancholic desire for romance. When I first learned about jazz, I remember loving Miles Davis’s concept, finding meaning in the absence of notes rather than in their presence. The space in between the notes was even more powerful than filling it all up. I love that idea and some abstraction of it, and usually where I begin creatively.”
People have a common misconception about Dewitt’s career: he likes to be specially planned with his creative process. Instead, he shares, “I want to be focused on what’s in front of me. I’m not much aware of planning at all. I’ll score films whenever I have the opportunity, no matter where I might be,” and consequently welcomes spontaneity when it makes an appearance.
However, DeWitt produces his creative inspirations and melodic compositions in his studio, a stone’s throw away from his home and family.
DeWitt further shares, “ Honestly, the most consistent journey for me personally has been understanding the creative process. Sitting down in front of the piano or computer can still be intimidating and originate an idea from thin air. It’s somewhat easier when you’re younger. You have a smaller and more precise understanding of the universe. You want to conquer the world, and you can funnel that into thinking that you’re potentially writing something undiscovered every time you sit down. We have to open up that understanding with age and look for smaller, more enigmatic rewards.”
Working in the music and entertainment industry comes with natural fluctuations. But, on a high note, DeWitt discovers the silver linings and puts his finger on valuable takeaways about his experiences with human dynamics in the workplace.
“What’s most challenging about my field is dealing with people,” he admits. “Sometimes, people in the entertainment industry can be difficult, which can also be challenging, especially in learning to process it, diffuse it for yourself, and not get pulled into it or start it yourself. Secondly, it’s asking to bring one’s personalized passion and experience to a project. Then, at the fault of no one particular, having to either reshape, revise, or toss out those ideas. It can be tough to create something very personal and then realize, wow, I’m scoring the wrong project — time to put that away for now and start again.”
Speaking of human interactions and working with others in a professional setting, what does empathy entail for Dewitt?
“For me, I have to find it a lot in my professional world. I encounter many people with a singular focus on the entertainment industry. As I said earlier, it’s about reminding yourself to understand people as they are. Sometimes it can be easier to feel personally offended or standoffish instantly. If you know that it’s your choice to take it that way, it can be pretty freeing to instead see it as an opportunity to redirect that energy. Now I get excited about the prospect of being a positive force on a project. If I can tell that the collaborators are agreeable to that on the first meeting or the chemistry is there, it’ll undoubtedly affect whether I take the project or not.”
Later, I jump to asking Dewitt about his greatest regret, and he shares: “More a word of advice I always remind myself. No email is worth sending right now. Give it an hour, re-read it, then click send.”
Furthermore, Dewitt finds himself apologizing and considers the term “sorry” his most overused phrase.
Music collaborations are essential for music composers. DeWitt’s keen interests, education, and experiences illuminate why he can be an authentic project contributor for film and television.
DeWitt unravels, “ I had always been drawn to filmmaking, first going to the conservatory to write and direct and then to the acting conservatory. This is why I can be a unique collaborator with filmmakers and often work with them on multiple projects. I approach my work as a filmmaker rather than a musician asked to provide music for a film. I’m often trying to read performance, lighting, and the overall work rather than force a musical conceit onto the project.”
DeWitt works tirelessly to ensure the projects he works on are meaningful and will have gratifying results. He expresses, “ I want to work on projects I’m passionate about and proud of. So much of my early career was hustling and taking gigs where people were perhaps hiring me based on a reel, and it’s more black or white. My richest experiences have been with my friends and repeat collaborators. We talk about the script over lunch, and I’m typically involved in starting with the first cuts. Any music is all a beautiful experiment. There’s less of that ‘I hope they like this; hope I don’t get fired’ vibe and more of an exploration of anything and everything.”
Then, DeWitt divulges a piece of remarkable advice he’s received: “Don’t compare your path to anyone else’s. Some people find success overnight, others at the tail end of their careers, and some after they’re gone. It has to be about your work’s richness and your relationship and pride in it. I feel similar advice can apply to priorities. I’m sure I could have been an even more prodigious composer or performer if I had chosen never to have a family. I probably could have made more money, but I made a concerted choice to invest in the richness of my family over anything else, and I’m always glad I did.”
Dewitt lets in, “The best advice I have gleaned from this is often your weaknesses, or what you are most ashamed of, are your most defining and original traits as an artist. For me, I‘m not a classically trained music composer. Often, I find myself second-guessing myself because of that. Still, more often than not, my most successful moments are when my limits of musical knowledge allow me to do things that perhaps a conservatory-trained composer wouldn’t do.”
Afterward, I ask Dewitt what the key ingredients are to happiness for him. He imparts, “Well, as a father, it’s a constant feeling of ‘right now is perfect, and it’s already passing…’ so that’s a beautiful and bittersweet piece of adulthood. To see your children and your partner and have it feel vibrant and powerful, but it’s already moving forward. The good news is, every stage of childhood is such a wonderful and uniquely rewarding thing to be part of.”
Dewitt continually has a piano bench full of music collaborations composed from his studio space, consistently balancing his work schedule and making time for his wife and children. In addition, he completed television music for a fresh dark comedy for AMC called Kevin Can F**k Himself. Dewitt explains the show is a “cool combination of multi-cam (think sitcom) and single-camera. It’s adventurous and exciting.” Dewitt also shares he helped create a “beautiful film” with his dear friend, Chad Hartigan, entitled Little Fish, released in February 2021.
Currently, DeWitt is working on the film score of Text For You, a Netflix Original starring Priyanka Chopra and Sam Heughan, in which the release date has not yet been announced.
Inspiration for Dewitt emerges from different life capacities; his family organically plays a role in creativity and encouragement. “It’s interesting because I have tried not to press music on my two girls (five and seven), but they are naturally really musical and interested in it. They want to play drums, piano, violin, and sing. So it’s been interesting because I’ll leave the studio and want to step away from music, and they’ll come rushing in and want to collaborate. So, for example, my youngest daughter, Pippa, and I composed many improvisational piano pieces and recorded them. They are strangely beautiful.”
The studio lights are nearly fading, and DeWitt is about to head home to have dinner and spend time with his family. But, before he does, I inquire about his life philosophy.
Dewitt pauses and unravels his thoughts, “I used to think about life a lot more like a boxing match. You’d have to keep your head down, take punches, throw some, and in the end, it’d pay off. But, as I’ve matured, I’ve learned a lot more to make it be about accepting every person and opportunity as a positive opportunity to open a door into an exciting new inspiration, maybe curiosity and love.”
To listen to Keegan DeWitt’s work, please be sure to click the link directly below:
To see the list of T.V. and Films Keegan’s music is an intrinsic part of, please be sure to click the links directly below: