Part 2, with an exclusive behind the scenes video can be seen here.
Over to Tristan..
Over the past couple of months I’ve been writing the score for The Horse Man, which is different to anything I’ve seen on TV before. Despite having the same format as the show The Dog Whisperer, the actual concept feels fresher and far more modern.
When I was first approached by Danny Lacey, I was excited at the prospect of the project, and writing in an entirely new style altogether. The first thing on the list to get done was the main theme of the show. The brief was for it to be very punchy, and to sound similar to a big American CBS show with a deep and bluesy feel to it. For this reason, I felt that it had to feature mostly guitar, harmonica and drums/percussion to really give it that vibe that I was looking for. The main theme starts with a roaring harmonica, which I purposely opened with to make the show distinctive. I don’t know any other programmes on TV that start this way, and it’s one of those things where somebody may be in the kitchen (or in a different room to the TV) as the programme is starting, they then hear the harmonica and within 1-2 seconds, they know that it’s The Horse Man that’s just starting. It’s really important with TV themes to grab peoples’ attention very quickly, and for there to be memorable aspects about it. There’s a repetition in the melody near the end, which, again, is designed purposely, so that it sticks in peoples’ head. I really approached this from a pop music point of view. I thought to myself, what are the key elements that are needed for people to remember and recognise this tune?
- Very few notes in the melody used. The accompaniment thickens the arrangement out and makes it sound more complicated.
- Use few and simple chords: I think there are only 3 chords in the theme…
- Repeat material, but not to the point where people get sick of it.
Danny sent over some temp music very soon after getting on board the project, so that I could understand the kind of style that he wanted for the theme and underscore music. Just in case you didn’t know, temp music is used in the early stages of the editing process (and right through until the composer joins the team) for a few reasons. A couple of the main reasons are to either: edit the pictures to the beat of the music, or for the director/producer to gain an understanding of what the footage looks like to a certain mood of music. Temp music can be great for composer’s to understand the director’s wishes, but also a nightmare when the director gets hooked and can’t get the temp score out of their head, so when the composer suggests anything new, it seems too alien to them. For me, it’s worked brilliantly so far.
The next step was to start writing the underscore for the documentary. This involves listening to the temp score thoroughly and figuring out why it works so well with the picture. Once I’d figured this out, I got about sketching tracks out. Generally, I’ll start with the basic chords at the piano or on guitar, and then work out a full arrangement, including harmonica, keys, drums and occasionally synths and strings, which are buried underneath in the mix. I think synths are important to included to keep it modern, otherwise it can tend to feel like you’re back in Nashville in the 1970’s. The music is really important to help give the show a clear brand identity, and although at first it can seem a titanic task of compiling lots and lots of music together, once you get your mind in the world of the show, musically, it’s a lot easier to write. In terms of inspiration, the picture always dictates how I write, whilst also obeying elements of the temp score. It’s a great feeling when you capture the feeling of what’s on screen without it being too blatant. I think the art of film and TV music is writing brilliant music whilst being really subtle with it at the same time.
Almost every time I start working on a track, I’ll get half way through and then send something over to the team at Stada Media. I do this with nearly every client, because if you get to the end of a three-minute complex piece of music, which has taken two whole days to write and the client doesn’t like it, it’s a waste of time for everybody. Once I’ve received the feedback from the team, I’ll either revise what I’ve done or carry on and finish it off and send it back over for final feedback. I always make it clear if something isn’t finished or mixed and if it’s work in progress.
Although the director/producer may not have musical abilities, they generally know in their head what they want. You then have to cater for their needs accordingly and use your own expertise to get to the end result. There’s a really fine line between bringing your own ideas to the table, and totally ignoring the original brief and the director’s wishes.
The final piece of the jigsaw is to then apply a touch of mastering, send over the mp3, and then wait for the final edit where 24 bit 48kHz files will be sent over.
Thanks for reading! I hope this blog has been useful.
Check out the official trailer for The Horse Man below: