This is me: Anne Kulonen on breaking out of classical music

Moving away from her classical training allowed her to experience different genres, which in turn shaped her work as a composer.

This is me: Anne Kulonen on breaking out of classical music

In the early days, I remember watching a small gig where some old dude was playing kitchen utensils on this little pub stage, and that was the gig – just whatever sounds and rhythms you could create with kitchen gear.

I started playing the piano at the age of five, so that’s probably the earliest I can trace my career back to. My extended family enjoyed music, though I didn’t come from a particularly musical background, but when my parents introduced me to music education I naturally took to it.

For a long time I was looked upon as being trained as a classical pianist. That was the route I was on. Conservatory training was very rigid in its approach, so when I hit my late teens it didn’t seem like the right path for me any more. I wasn’t encouraged to actually compose and create, and that contributed to the feeling that it wasn’t a perfect fit. I ended up taking a bit of a break from classical music.

In hindsight, it was really important for me to go through that experience as a composer. If I continued on a purely classical path, my creative view and expression would be very different. It was the best thing that could have really happened in terms of opening me up to a wider world within sound.

Moving to London brought me back into music from a slightly different angle. I studied sonic arts and music in London, which brought me into contact with a crazy range of music. It wasn’t just classical: there was jazz and all these other cool, unusual genres which were different from what I grew up with. Music has been such a huge part of my life since I was tiny, and I don’t think I necessarily fell out of love with classical music – I’m very lucky to have the classical training that I have and there’s huge value in it – but it lit the fire again. It taught me to think outside of the box.

I got lucky on my first pitch. I happened to meet a director [Barney Cokeliss] who asked whether I would be interested in appearing in an ad, even though I couldn’t act my way out of a paper bag. Some months later I got a call to audition for the spot, where Cokeliss and I talked about the music side of things. Funnily enough, I did end up being in one of his ads, but more importantly, I won my first pitch, which was amazing. The experience made me think: "Well, pitching is easy." Down the line, I realised that wasn’t the case.

It never ceases to amaze me how creatively differently everyone thinks. There are times when I’ve pitched for a job and heard some of the other approaches, and it’s amazing how different people think, even with the same brief. We are all influenced by everything around us, but composing is about putting your own spin on things, being inspired by things that have been done before and creating something new.

Last year I worked with Cokeliss on Leica’s "Like the night" campaign, which focuses on the work of female photographers. In advertising, it’s pretty rare to be given as much freedom as I had on that particular project. It was all shot at night to fit Byron’s She Walks in Beauty, so I started to piece things together based on some photographs. The end result was visually beautiful and interesting, a wonderful project to work on.

There are so many female composers doing great work, yet we aren’t really represented in terms of the people being appointed to work. For #SheTakesOver to showcase people’s work and all the diverse voices is fantastic. It’s about time, really. It’s all about equal opportunities, and giving women an equal chance to be put forward and have a chance to work on these projects. I’m looking forward to seeing where the industry goes from here.

Anné Kulonen is a Finnish-born composer, producer and songwriter, based in London. With previous work for Macmillan Cancer Support, L’Oréal, Morrisons and Lexus, her first feature-length effort, Clay Kickers, is set for release later this year. Kulonen’s work is celebrated by the industry’s #SheTakesOver initiative, which supports up-and-coming women photographers, filmmakers and composers, and conincided with International Women’s Day.