Category Archives: Composing

Nylon Studios ups composer Zac Colwell to CD

Music and sound boutique Nylon Studios has promoted composer Zac Colwell to creative director of music at their NYC studio. Colwell joined Nylon in 2015 and will become the studio’s first creative director to meet the increased scope of creative projects out of the music and sound shop in the US market.

Colwell is a multi-instrumentalist who has toured the world with numerous groups, including Big Data, Sondre Lerche, Kishi Bashi and others. He has composed original tracks for such top brands as Aetna, M.A.C, Zac Posen, Honey Nut Cheerios and Unicef. As creative director, Colwell will oversee all creative output from the NYC studio, encompassing original compositions, sound design, spatial audio, mix and music licensing. Nylon also has a studio in Sydney.

“Not only is [Zac] an incredibly talented musician, but he also has a deep understanding of how music can enhance pictures to communicate to their most effective and engaging degree,” notes global executive producer Hamish Macdonald.

Colwell, an Austin native, grew up in a musical family, playing drums, piano, guitar, saxophone and flute. A classically-trained jazz composer, he continues to perform and compose outside of Nylon. In addition to his commercial compositions, he is the drummer and producer of Chappo, sings his own songs with Fancy Colors, produces artists of all different genres, and most recently toured with Bleachers.

Quick Chat: The making of Big Chicken Small Movie

Big Chicken Small Movie is an animated short film that pays homage to Marietta, Georgia’s beloved 56-foot-tall steel fowl. This iconic attraction is part of the local KFC franchise that recently underwent a massive renovation. In the film, a young boy, who is a bit of an outcast, finds a friend in the gigantic chicken and they go on an adventure in North Georgia.

We reached out to agency W+K, animation company Awesome Inc and music company Bluetube about this unique opportunity to honor the local monument in a charming, design-driven tale of friendship.

How did the idea for a film celebrating the Big Chicken come about? What was your inspiration?
Matthew Carol and Mike Egan, Wieden+Kennedy: We wanted to celebrate the re-opening of the Big Chicken KFC with something that locals would love because they’ve given this big steel vaguely chicken-like structure a lot of love since it was built in 1956. It is such an imposing steel structure it seemed funny that it could come to life, befriend a boy and go on a fun adventure while inadvertently leaving a path of destruction in its wake. We were inspired by animation classics from our childhood and, of course, The Iron Giant was mentioned a couple times when we were developing the concept.

Why was animation your favored route to bring it to life?
Matthew Carol and Mike Egan, Wieden+Kennedy: Our first plan was to bring the Big Chicken to life using artificial intelligence and Japanese robotics, but it turns out that an animated film was way more feasible and less dangerous for restaurant visitors.

How did you select Awesome Inc was the right partner for the project?
Matthew Carol and Mike Egan, Wieden+Kennedy: While we did have an Atlantan on our team, we’re way up in Portland, Oregon, so we hoped we would find an Atlanta-based studio who would put some passion and local insights into the project. Awesome Inc really took ownership of the story, character design and all the little details that help the story feel like a celebration of Marietta and the Big Chicken’s place there.

Tell us a little about the style inspiration?
Craig Sheldon, Awesome Inc: With almost all of our projects, color scheme and style are the first things we begin to sort out. We knew that this was a simple story with a lot of emotion, so we chose a limited but bold color palette to bring it to life. Using basic shapes in an illustrative style seemed to aid in our storytelling as well, so we looked to examples with a like-minded philosophy for inspiration, some newer and some more classic.

What did you learn along the way?
Craig Sheldon, Awesome Inc: As far as animation technique, we learned a great deal. We tried out new methods of character rigging and integrating 3D in a seamless way that we hadn’t before. We learned some valuable storytelling techniques during the boarding and animatic phase that we’d not yet encountered on previous projects. We also learned that not only is the phrase “less is more” true in style, but also in storytelling, as we ended up deciding to take out a number of almost completed scenes that weren’t advancing the overall narrative of the piece. It is tough to see so many hours of work hit the cutting room floor, but in the end it made for a better film.

How did you decide on the style of music for the film?
Michael Kohler, Bluetube: I think with most scoring situations, the style of the composition is heavily influenced by the content, look and execution of a scene. With Big Chicken, the character design and animation really helped shape the story, and without any dialogue the music had to complement that feel. The only track that was written before seeing any moving animation was the one that plays as the boy and chicken go on their adventures — that track was the first piece created for this project, and it was started based only on the amazing storyboards.

Can you talk a little about your balance of traditional instruments to digital tools/plug-ins used for the soundtrack?
Michael Kohler, Bluetube: I’ve always been a fan of using both traditional and digital instrumentation when the opportunity presents itself. I think both have positive and negative aspects depending on the situation. For this particular genre of music I tend to start with and almost always incorporate guitar. That was my first instrument and still the one I’m most comfortable with. After that, the sky is the limit with the amazing digital instruments and tools we have at our disposal, giving us opportunities we didn’t have previously.

What was the collaboration like with the W&K team?
Allison Sanders, Awesome Inc: W+K approached us with strong ideas and open minds, presenting an excellent platform for collaboration. They gave us a great deal of creative freedom while at the same time providing the bedrock concept that made this short great. They provided quality feedback if something wasn’t quite working, with the added bonus of positive encouragement along the way. With their understanding of the client’s goals and our first-hand knowledge of the surrounding area, we were able to create a film that sparked interest in the refurbished franchise, while evoking a fond sense of nostalgia for Georgia residents and Big Chicken devotees.

Dell 6.15

Jason Moss composes music for ABC’s The Toy Box

By Jennifer Walden

Children may not be the best source for deciding when bedtime should be, or deciding what’s for dinner (chicken nuggets again?), but who better to decide what toys kids want to play with? A large part of the Tom Hanks film Big was based on this premise.

ABC’s new inventor-centric series, The Toy Box, which premiered in April, features four young judges who are presented with new toy inventions. They then get to decide which toy prototypes would be popular with others in their demographic. Toy inventors competing on the show first meet with a set of “expert mentors,” a small group of adults who delve into the specifics of the toy and offer advice.

Jason Moss

If the toy makes it past that panel, it gets put into the “toy box.” The toy is then presented to the four young judges, who get to play with it, ask questions and give their critique to the toy inventor. The four young judges deliberate and make a final decision on which toy will advance to the next round. At the end of the season, the judges will chose one winning toy to be made by Mattel and sold exclusively at Toys ‘R’ Us.

The Toy Box needed a soundtrack that could both embody the essence of juvenile joviality and portray the pseudo-seriousness its pre-teen decision makers. It’s not a job for your average reality show composer. It required askew musical sensibilities. “The music is fun and super-pop sounding with cool analog synths and video game sounds. It’s really energetic and puts a smile on your face,” says the series composer/music supervisor Jason Moss at Super Sonic Noise in Los Angeles. “Then for the decision-making cues, as the kids decide whether they like a toy and what they’re going to do, it had to be something other than what you’d expect. It couldn’t sound too dark. It still had to be quirky.”

Moss knows quirky. He was the composer on IFC’s Gigi Does It, starring David Krumholtz as an eccentric Jewish grandmother living in Florida. Moss also composed the theme music for the Seeso original series Bajillion Dollar Propertie$, a partially improvised comedy series that pokes fun at real estate reality shows.

Moss covered all of The Toy Box’s musical needs — from high-energy pop and indie rock tracks when the kids are playing with the toys to comedic cues infused with ukulele and kitschy strings, and tension tracks for moments of decision. He wrote original music as well as curated selections from the Bulletproof Bear music catalog. Bulletproof Bear offers a wide variety of licensable tracks written by Moss, plus other music catalogs they represent. “It’s a big collection with over 33,000 tracks. We can really compete with bigger music license companies because we have a huge amount of diverse music that can cover the whole production from head to toe,” he says.

The Gear
Moss composes in Apple’s Logic Pro X. He performed live guitars, bass and ukulele (using the Kala U-Bass bass ukulele). For mics, he chose Miktek Audio’s CV4 large diaphragm condense tube and their C5 small diaphragm pencil condenser, each paired with Empirical Labs Mike-E pre-amps.

Moss combined the live sounds with virtual instruments, particularly those from Spectrasonics. XLN Audio’s Addictive Drums were his go-to for classic and modern drum sounds. For synths, he used reFX’s Nexus, libraries from Native Instrument’s Kontakt, Arturia’s Analog Lab and their VOX Continental V. He also called on the ROLI Equator sound engine via the ROLI Rise 25 key MIDI controller, which features soft squishy silicone keys much different from a traditional keyboard controller. The Akai MPK88 weighted key controller is Moss’ choice in that department. For processing and effects, he chose plug-ins by Soundtoys and PSP Audioware. He also incorporated various toy and video game sounds into the tracks.

The Score
The show’s two-minute opener combines three separate segments — the host (Modern Family‘s Eric Stonestreet), the expert mentor introductions and the judges introductions. Each has its own musical vibe. The host and the expert mentors have original music that Moss wrote specifically for the show. The judges have a dramatic pulsing-string track that is licensed from Bulletproof Bear’s catalog. In addition, a five-second tag for The Toy Box logo is licensed from the Bulletproof Bear catalog. That tag was composed by Jon LaCroix, who is one of Moss’ business partners. In regards to the dramatic strings on the kids’ entrance, Moss, who happened to write that cue, says, “The way they filmed the kids… it’s like they are little mini adults. So the theme has some seriousness to it. In context, it’s really cute.”

For the decision-making cues, Moss wanted to stay away from traditional tension strings. To give the track a more playful feel that would counterbalance the tension, he used video game sounds and 808 analog drum sounds. “I also wanted to use organic sounds that were arpeggiated and warm. They are decision-making tick-tock tracks, but I wanted to make it more fun and interesting,” says Moss.

“We were able to service the show on the underscore side with Bulletproof Bear’s music catalog in conjunction with my original music. It was a great opportunity for us to keep all the music within our company and give the client a one-stop shop, keeping the music process organized and easy,” he explains. “It was all about finding the right sound, or the right cue, for each of those segments. At the end of the day, I want to make sure that everybody is happy, acknowledge the showrunners’ musical vision and strive to capture that. It was a super-fun experience, and hopefully it will come back for a second, third and tenth season! It’s one of those shows you can watch with your kids. The kid judges are adorable and brutally honest, and with the myriad of adult programming out there, it’s refreshing to see a show like The Toy Box get green-lit.”


The new Tom and Jerry Show score combines vintage and modern sounds

By Jennifer Walden

Tom and Jerry have been locked in conflict since the 1940s when animators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera pitted cat against mouse in a theatrical animated series for MGM’s cartoon studio. Their Academy Award-winning Tom and Jerry short films spurred numerous iterations over the years by different directors and animation studios.

The latest reboot, The Tom and Jerry Show, produced by Warner Bros. Animation and Renegade Animation, and directed by Darrell Van Citters, started airing on Cartoon Network in 2014. It didn’t really come into its own until Season 2, which began airing in 2016.

Vivek Maddala

Vivek Maddala is co-composer on the series. “The storytelling is getting better and better. Ostensibly, it’s a children’s show but what I’m finding is the writers seem to be having a lot of fun with allegorical references. It features layered storytelling that children probably wouldn’t be able to appreciate. For example, Tom’s love interest, a cat named Toodles, is an aspiring dancer by night but her day job is being a spot welder for heavy construction. Obviously, this is a Flashdance reference, so I was able to thread oblique references to Flashdance in the score.”

New episodes of The Tom and Jerry Show are currently airing on Cartoon Network, and Maddala will be composing 39 of the episodes in Season 3.

As with Hanna-Barbera’s animated theatrical shorts, the characters of Tom and Jerry rarely talk, although other recurring characters are voiced. Music plays an essential role in describing the characters’ actions and reactions. Maddala’s compositions are reminiscent of composer Scott Bradley’s approach to the original Tom and Jerry animations. Comfortable cartoon tropes like trumpet blasts and trombone slides, pizzicato plucks and timpani bounces punctuate a string-and woodwind-driven score. “Scott Bradley’s scoring technique is the gold standard. It is beautiful writing,” he says.

In their initial conversations, director Van Citters regularly referenced Bradley’s scoring technique. Maddala studied those scores carefully and frequently revisits them while writing his own scores for the show. Maddala also listens to “music that is completely unrelated, like Led Zeppelin or Marvin Gaye, to help jog my imagination. The music I’m writing for the show very much sounds like me. I’m taking some of the approaches that Scott Bradley used but, ultimately, I am using my own musical vocabulary. I have a certain way of hearing drama and hearing action, and that’s what the score sounds like.”

Maddala’s vintage-meets-modern compositions incorporate contemporary instrumentation and genres like blues guitar for when the cool stray cat comes onto the scene, and an electro-organ of the muziak persuasion for a snack food TV commercial. His musical references to Flashdance can heard in the “Cat Dance Fever” episode, and he gives a nod to Elmer Bernstein’s score for The Magnificent Seven in the episode “Uncle Pecos Rides Again.”

Each new musical direction or change of instrument doesn’t feel abrupt. It all melts into the quintessential Tom and Jerry small orchestra sound. “Darrell Van Citters and Warner Bros. are giving me quite a bit of autonomy in coming up with my own musical solutions to the action on-screen and the situations that the characters are experiencing. I’m able to draw from a lot of different things that inspire me,” explains Maddala.

Instruments & Tools
His score combines live recordings with virtual instruments. His multi-room studio in Los Angeles houses a live room, his main composing room and a separate piano room. Maddala keeps a Yamaha C3 grand piano and a drum kit always mic’d up so he can perform those parts whenever he needs. He also records small chamber groups there, like double-string quartets and woodwind quartets. The string ensembles sometimes consist of seven violins (four first and three second), three violas and three cellos, captured using a Blumlein pair recording configuration (a stereo recording technique that produces a realistic stereo image) with ribbon mics to evoke a vintage sound. He chooses AEA N8 ribbon mics matched with AEA’s RPQ 500 mic pre-amps.

Maddala also uses several large diaphragm tube condenser mics he designed for Avid years ago, such as the Sputnik. “The Sputnik is a cross between a classic Neumann U47 capsule with the original M7 design, and an AKG C 12 mic with the original CK12 capsule. The capsule is sort of like a cross between those two mics. The head amp is based on the Telefunken ELA M 251.”

Maddala’s composing room.

Maddala uses three different DAWs. He composes in Cakewalk’s Sonar on a PC and runs video through Steinberg’s Cubase on a Mac. The two systems are locked together via SMPTE timecode. On the Mac, he also runs Avid Pro Tools 12 for delivering stems to the dub stage. “The dub is done in Pro Tools so they usually ask to have a Pro Tools session delivered to them. Once the score is approved, I copy the stems into a Pro Tools session so it’s self-contained, save that and post it to the FTP server.”

Maddala got his start in composing for film by scoring classic silent films from the 1920s, which Warner Bros. and TCM restored in order to release them to today’s audiences. He worked with recording/mix engineer Dan Blessinger on those silent films, and Blessinger — the sound designer on The Tom and Jerry Show, recommended Maddala for the gig. “A lot of the classic silent films from the 1920s never had a score associated with them because the technology didn’t exist to marry sound and picture. About 10 or 15 years ago, when TCM was releasing these films to modern audiences, they needed new scores. So I started doing that, which built up my chops for scoring something like a Tom & Jerry cartoon where there is wall-to-wall music,” concludes Maddala.


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based writer and audio engineer.


The sound of John Wick: Chapter 2 — bigger and bolder

The director and audio team share their process.

By Jennifer Walden

To achieve the machine-like precision of assassin John Wick for director Chad Stahelski’s signature gun-fu-style action films, Keanu Reeves (Wick) goes through months of extensive martial arts and weapons training. The result is worth the effort. Wick is fast, efficient and thorough. You cannot fake his moves.

In John Wick: Chapter 2, Wick is still trying to retire from his career as a hitman, but he’s asked for one last kill. Bound by a blood oath, it’s a job Wick can’t refuse. Reluctantly, he goes to work, but by doing so, he’s dragged further into the assassin lifestyle he’s desperate to leave behind.

Chad Stahelski

Stahelski builds a visually and sonically engaging world on-screen, and then fills it full of meticulously placed bullet holes. His inspiration for John Wick comes from his experience as a stunt man and martial arts stunt coordinator for Lily and Lana Wachowski on The Matrix films. “The Wachowskis are some of the best world creators in the film industry. Much of what I know about sound and lighting has to do with their perspective that every little bit helps define the world. You just can’t do it visually. It’s the sound and the look and the vibe — the combination is what grabs people.”

Before the script on John Wick: Chapter 2 was even locked, Stahelski brainstormed with supervising sound editor Mark Stoeckinger and composer Tyler Bates — alumni of the first Wick film — and cinematographer Dan Laustsen on how they could go deeper into Wick’s world this time around. “It was so collaborative and inspirational. Mark and his team talked about how to make it sound bigger and more unique; how to make this movie sound as big as we wanted it to look. This sound team was one of my favorite departments to work with. I’ve learned more from those guys about sound in these last two films then I thought I had learned in the last 15 years,” says Stahelski.

Supervising sound editor Stoeckinger, at the Formosa Group in West Hollywood, knows action films. Mission Impossible II and III, both Jack Reacher films, Iron Man 3, and the upcoming (April) The Fate of the Furious, are just a part of his film sound experience. Gun fights, car chases, punches and impacts — Stoeckinger knows that all those big sound effects in an action film can compete with the music and dialogue for space in a scene. “The more sound elements you have, the more delicate the balancing act is,” he explains. “The director wants his sounds to be big and bold. To achieve that, you want to have a low-frequency punch to the effects. Sometimes, the frequencies in the music can steal all that space.”

The Sound of Music
Composer Bates’s score was big and bold, with lots of percussion, bass and strong guitar chords that existed in the same frequency range as the gunshots, car engines and explosions. “Our composer is very good at creating a score that is individual to John Wick,” says Stahelski. “I listened to just the music, and it was great. I listened to just the sound design, and that was great. When we put them together we couldn’t understand what was going on. They overlapped that much.”

During the final mix at Formosa’s Stage B on The Lot, re-recording mixers Andy Koyama and Martyn Zub — who both mixed the first John Wick — along with Gabe Serrano, approached the fight sequences with effects leading the mix, since those needed to match the visuals. Then Koyama made adjustments to the music stems to give the sound effects more room.

“Andy made some great suggestions, like if we lowered the bass here then we can hear the effects punch more,” says Stahelski. “That gave us the idea to go back to our composers, to the music department and the music editor. We took it to the next level conceptually. We had Tyler [Bates] strip out a lot of the percussion and bass sounds. Mark realized we have so many gunshots, so why not use those as the percussion? The music was influenced by the amount of gunfire, sound design and the reverb that we put into the gunshots.”

Mark Stoeckinger

The music and sound departments collaborated through the last few weeks of the final mix. “It was a really neat, synergistic effect of the sound and music complementing each other. I was super happy with the final product,” says Stahelski.

Putting the Gun in Gun-Fu
As its name suggests, gun-fu involves a range of guns —handguns, shotguns and assault rifles. It was up to sound designer Alan Rankin to create a variety of distinct gun effects that not only sounded different from weapon to weapon but also differentiated between John Wick’s guns and the bad guys’ guns. To help Wick’s guns sound more powerful and complex than his foes, Rankin added different layers of air, boom and mechanical effects. To distinguish one weapon from another, Rankin layered the sounds of several different guns together to make a unique sound.

The result is the type of gun sound that Stoeckinger likes to use on the John Wick films. “Even before this film officially started, Alan would present gun ideas. He’d say, ‘What do you think about this sound for the shotgun? Or, ‘How about this gun sound?’ We went back and forth many times, and once we started the film, he took it well beyond that.”

Rankin developed the sounds further by processing his effects with EQ and limiting to help the gunshots punch through the mix. “We knew we would inevitably have to turn the gunshots down in the mix due to conflicts with music or dialogue, or just because of the sheer quantity of shots needed for some of the scenes,” Rankin says.

Each gun battle was designed entirely in post, since the guns on-screen weren’t shooting live rounds. Rankin spent months designing and evolving the weapons and bullet effects in the fight sequences. He says, “Occasionally there would be a production sound we could use to help sell the space, but for the most part it’s all a construct.”

There were unique hurdles for each fight scene, but Rankin feels the catacombs were the most challenging from a design standpoint, and Zub agrees in terms of mix. “In the catacombs there’s a rapid-fire sequence with lots of shots and ricochets, with body hits and head explosions. It’s all going on at the same time. You have to be delicate with each gunshot so that they don’t all sound the same. It can’t sound repetitive and boring. So that was pretty tricky.”

To keep the gunfire exciting, Zub played with the perspective, the dynamics and the sound layers to make each shot unique. “For example, a shotgun sound might be made up of eight different elements. So in any given 40-second sequence, you might have 40 gunshots. To keep them all from sounding the same, you go through each element of the shotgun sound and either turn some layers off, tune some of them differently or put different reverb on them. This gives each gunshot its own unique character. Doing that keeps the soundtrack more interesting and that helps to tell the story better,” says Zub. For reverb, he used the PhoenixVerb Surround Reverb plug-in to create reverbs in 7.1.

Another challenge was the fight sequence at the museum. To score the first part of Wick’s fight, director Stahelski chose a classical selection from Vivaldi… but with a twist. Instead of relying solely on traditional percussion, “Mark’s team intermixed gunshots with the music,” notes Stahelski. “That is one of my favorite overall sound sequences.”

At the museum, there’s a multi-level mirrored room exhibit with moving walls. In there, Wick faces several opponents. “The mirror room battle was challenging because we had to represent the highly reflective space in which the gunshots were occurring,” explains Rankin. “Martyn [Zub] was really diligent about keeping the sounds tight and contained so the audience doesn’t get worn out from the massive volume of gunshots involved.”

Their goal was to make as much distinction as possible between the gunshot and the bullet impact sounds since visually there were only a few frames between the two. “There was lots of tweaking the sync of those sounds in order to make sure we got the necessary visceral result that the director was looking for,” says Rankin.

Stahelski adds, “The mirror room has great design work. The moment a gun fires, it just echoes through the whole space. As you change the guns, you change the reverb and change the echo in there. I really dug that.”

On the dialogue side, the mirror room offered Koyama an opportunity to play with the placement of the voices. “You might be looking at somebody, but because it’s just a reflection, Andy has their voice coming from a different place in the theater,” Stoeckinger explains. “It’s disorienting, which is what it is supposed to be. The visuals inspired what the sound does. The location design — how they shot it and cut it — that let us play with sound.”

The Manhattan Bridge
Koyama’s biggest challenge on dialogue was during a scene where Laurence Fishburne’s character The Bowery King is talking to Wick while they’re standing on a rooftop near the busy Manhattan Bridge. Koyama used iZotope RX 5 to help clean up the traffic noise. “The dialogue was very difficult to understand and Laurence was not available for ADR, so we had to save it. With some magic we managed to save it, and it actually sounds really great in the film.”

Once Koyama cleaned the production dialogue, Stoeckinger was able to create an unsettling atmosphere there by weaving tonal sound elements with a “traffic on a bridge” roar. “For me personally, building weird spaces is fun because it’s less literal,” says Stoeckinger.

Stahelski strives for a detailed and deep world in his John Wick films. He chooses Stoeckinger to lead his sound team because Stoeckinger’s “work is incredibly immersive, incredibly detailed,” says the director. “The depths that he goes, even if it is just a single sound or tone or atmosphere, Mark has a way to penetrate the visuals. I think his work stands out so far above most other sound design teams. I love my sound department and I couldn’t be happier with them.”


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based writer and audio engineer.


Warner/Chappell intros Color TV, Elbroar music catalogs from Germany

For those of you working in film and television with a need for production music, Warner/Chappell Production Music has added to its offerings with the Color TV and Elbroar catalogs. Color TV is German composer Curt Cress’ nearly 14,000-track collection from Curt Cress Publishing and its sister company F.A.M.E. Recordings Publishing. Color TV and the Elbroar catalog, which is also from Germany, are available for licensing now.

Color TV brings to life a wide range of TV production styles with an initial release that includes nine albums: Panoramic Landscapes; Simply Happy, Quirky & Eccentric; Piano Moods; Chase & Surveillance; Secret Service; Actionism; Drama Cuts; and Crime Scene.

Following the initial release, Warner/Chappell Production Music plans to offer two new compilations from the catalog every two weeks. Color TV is available for licensing worldwide, excluding Italy and France.

“Composers have that unique talent and ability to translate what they’re feeling,” explains Warner/Chappell Production Music president Randy Wachtler. “You can hear emotion in different compositions, and it’s always interesting to hear how creators from countries around the world capture it.  Adding to our mix only adds more perspective and more choice for our clients.”

Cress began his musical career in the 1960s, performing in acts such as Klaus Doldinger’s Passport and his own band Snowball, as well as in Falco and Udo Lindenberg’s band. His solo projects involved work with local and international artists including Freddie Mercury, Tina Turner, Rick Springfield, SAGA, Meat Loaf and Scorpions, as well as releasing his own solo material. He made a name for himself as a composer for popular German films and TV series such as SK Kölsch, HeliCops and The Red Mile.

Elbroar, out of Hamburg, Germany, is a collection ranging from epic to minimal, jazz to techno and drama to fun. The catalog serves creatives in the fields of television, film and advertising, with a strong focus on trailers and daytime TV.

The catalog’s first release, “Epic Fairy Tales,” is an album of orchestral arrangements that set the scene for fantastic stories and epic emotions. Elbroar is available for licensing immediately, worldwide.


Qwire’s tool for managing scoring, music licensing upped to v.2.0

Qwire, a maker of cloud-based tools for managing scoring and licensing music to picture, has launched QwireMusic 2.0, which expands the collaboration, licensing and cue sheet capabilities of QwireMusic. The tool also features a new and intuitive user interface as well as support for the Windows OS. User feedback played a role in many of the new updates, including marker import of scenes from Avid for post, Excel export functions for all forms and reports and expanded file sharing options.

QwireMusic is a suite of integrated modules that consolidates and streamlines a wide range of tasks and interactions for pros involved with music and picture across all stages of post, as well as music clearance and administration. QwireMusic was created to help facilitate collaboration among picture editors and post producers, music supervisors and clearance, composers, music editors and production studios.

Here are some highlights of the new version:
Presentations — Presentations allow music cues and songs to be shared between music providers (supervisors and composers) and their clients (picture editors, studio music departments, directors and producers. With Presentations, selected music is synced to video, where viewers can independently adjust the balance between music and dialogue, adding comments on each track. The time-saving efficiency of this tool centralizes the music sharing and review process, eliminating the need for the confusing array of QuickTimes, Web links, emails and unsecured FTP sites that sometimes accompany post production.

Real-time licensing status — QwireMusic 2.0 allows music supervisors to easily audition music, generate request letters, and share potential songs with anyone who needs to review them. When the music supervisor receives a quote approval, the picture editor and music editor are notified, and the studio music budget is updated instantly and seamlessly. In addition, problem songs can be instantly flagged. As with the original version of QwireMusic, request letters can be generated and emailed in one step with project-specific letterhead and signatures.

Electronic Cue Sheets — QwireMusic’s “visual cue sheet,” allows users to review all of the information in a cue sheet displayed alongside the final picture lock.  The cue sheet is automatically populated from data already entered in qwireMusic by the composer, music supervisor and music editor. Any errors or missing information are flagged. When the review is complete, a single button submits the cue sheet electronically to ASCAP and BMI.

QwireMusic has been used by music supervisors, composers, picture editors and music editors on over 40 productions in 2016, including Animals (HBO); Casual (Hulu); Fargo (FX); Guilt (Freeform); Harley and the Davidsons (Discovery); How to Get Away With Murder (ABC); Pitch (Fox); Shameless (Showtime); Teen Wolf (MTV); This Is Us (NBC); and Z: The Beginning of Everything (Amazon).

“Having everyone in the know on every cue ever put in a show saves a huge amount of time,” says Patrick Ward, a post producer for the shows Parenthood, The West Wing and Pure Genius. “With QwireMusic I spend about a tenth of the time that I used to disseminating cue information to different places and entities.”

FMPX8.14

Bates Motel’s Emmy-nominated composer Chris Bacon

By Jennifer Walden

The creators of A&E’s Bates Motel series have proven that it is possible to successfully rework a classic film for the small screen. The series, returning for Season 5 in 2017, is a contemporary prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. It tells the story of how a young Norman Bates becomes the Norman Bates of film legend.

Understandably, when the words “contemporary” and “prequel” are combined, it may induce a cringe or two, as LA-based composer Chris Bacon admits. “When I first heard about the series, I thought, ‘That sounds like a terrible idea.’ Usually when you mess with an iconic film, the project can go south pretty quick, but then I heard who was involved — writers/producers Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin. I’m a huge fan of their work on Lost and Friday Night Lights, so the idea sounded much more appealing. I went from feeling like ‘this is a terrible idea’ to ‘how do I get involved in this!’”

Chris Bacon

Bacon, who has been the Bates Motel composer since Season 1, says their goal from the start was to make a series that wasn’t a Psycho knock-off. “It was not our goal to tip our hats in obvious ways to Psycho. We weren’t trying to make it an homage. We weren’t trying to inhabit the universe that was so masterfully created by Alfred Hitchcock and composer Bernard Herrmann,” he explains.

Borrowing Some Strings
Having a long-established love of Herrmann’s music, it was hard for Bacon not to follow the composer’s lead, particularly when it came to instrumentation. Bates Motel’s score strongly features — you guessed it — strings. “One reason Herrmann stuck solely to strings was because the film was black and white,” explains Bacon. “He chose a monochromatic palette, as far as sound goes, without having woodwind and percussion. On the series, I take it farther. I use percussion and synth effects, but it is mostly string driven.”

Since the strings are the core of the score, Bacon felt the expressive qualities that live musicians add to the music would be more emotionally impactful than what he could get from virtual instruments. “I did the first three episodes using all virtual instruments. They sounded good and they did their job dramatically, but in talking further to the people involved who handle the purse strings, I was able to convince them to try an episode with a real string section.”

Once Bacon was able to A/B the virtual strings against the real strings, there was no denying the benefit of a live string section. “They could hear what real musicians can bring to the music —the kind of homogenous imperfection that comes when you have that many people who are all outstanding but with each of them treating the music just a little bit differently. It brings new life to it. There’s a lot of depth to it. I feel very fortunate and appreciative that the account team on the show has been supportive of this.”

Tools & Workflow
For the score each week, Bacon composes in Steinberg Cubase and runs Ableton Live via ReWire by Propellerhead. His samples are hosted in Vienna Ensemble Pro on a separate computer while all audio is monitored and processed through Avid Pro Tools on a separate rig. Since his compositions start with virBates Motel -- "Forever" -- Cate Cameron/A&E Networks -- © 2016 A&E Networks, LLC. All Rights Reservedtual instruments, Bacon has an extensive collection of sample libraries. He uses string libraries from Cinesamples, 8Dio and Spitfire Audio. “I have lots of custom stuff,” he says. “I love the Vintage Steinway D Piano from Galaxy.”

Once he’s completed the cues, he hands his MIDI tracks over to orchestrator Robert Litton, who determines the note assignments for each member of the 18-piece string section. The group is recorded at The Bridge Recording studio in Glendale, California, owned by Greg Curtis. There, Bacon joins recording engineer James Hill in the control room. “I enjoy conducting if I can, but on this series it makes more sense for me to be in the control room because we often have only three hours to record roughly 35 minutes of music. Also, the music always sounds different in the control room. Ultimately, when you are doing this kind of work, what matters is what is coming out of the speakers because that’s what you’re actually going to hear in the soundtrack.”

After the live strings are recorded, engineer Hill mixes those against the virtual instrument stems of the woodwinds, percussion and synth elements. He creates a stem of the live strings to replace the virtual strings stem.

“We don’t do an in-depth mix like you would typically do for film,” says Bacon. “At this point, I’m able to leave Jim [Hill] the demo song as a reference and let him do a quick mix. Then, he creates a live string stem and all of those stems are sent over to the dub stage.”

In Season 4, Ep. 9 “Forever,” the moment arrived when young Norman (Freddie Highmore) did what he was destined to do— kill his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga). That’s not much of a spoiler if you’re familiar with the film Psycho, but what wasn’t known was just how Norman would do it. “This death scene was something I had been thinking about for four years. The way they did it — and I think they got it right — was that they made the death a very personal, emotional, thoughtful and, in a very twisted way, probably the most considerate way you can kill your mother,” laughs Bacon. “But really it was the only way that he and his mother, these two damaged broken people, could find peace together… and that was in death.”

The Norma/Norman Theme
In the four-and-a half-minute scene that reveals Norma and Norman’s lifeless bodies, Bacon portrays tension, fear and sadness by weaving a theme that he wrote for Norma with a theme he wrote for Norman and Norma. Norma’s theme in the death scene plays on a large section of violins as her new husband Alex (Nestor Carbonell) tries to resuscitate her.

“The foundation for her song has been laid over the course of two seasons, starting in Season 2, where we look at her family background, like her parents and her brother, and discover how she became her,” explains Bacon. “I didn’t really know which of her themes I was going to use for her death scene, but it seemed to feel, as we’re looking at Norma, that this is a moment about her, so I went back to that theme.”

As Norman wakes up, Bacon’s theme for Norman and Norma plays on sparse piano. In comparison to Norma’s theme on soaring strings, this theme feels small, and lost, highlighting Norman’s shock and sadness that he’s survived but now she’s gone. “The score had to convey a lot of emotions,” describes Bacon. “I tried to keep it relatively simple but as we went bigger it seemed to fit the enormity of the moment. This is a big moment that we all knew was coming and kind of dreaded. The piece feels different than the rest of the show, and rightfully so, while still being a part of the same sonicBates Motel -- "Norman" -- Cate Cameron/A&E Networks -- © 2016 A&E Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved landscape.”

His original dramatic score on the “Forever” episode has been nominated for a 2016 Emmy award. Bacon says he chose this episode, above all the others in Season 4, because of the emotionally visceral death scene. It’s a big moment for the story and the score.

“During the whole death sequence there are barely any words. Alex is saying, ‘Stay with me,’ to Norma. Then you have Norman wake up and say, ‘Mother?’ at the very end. But that’s it. That section is like a silent movie in a lot of ways. It’s very reliant on the score.”


Composer Harry Gregson-Williams to keynote Production Music Conference

Golden Globe-, Grammy- and BAFTA-nominated composer Harry Gregson-Williams will keynote the Production Music Conference (PMC), which takes place over two days in October in Santa Monica. In addition to playing clips from some of his films, including The Martian and the Shrek franchise, Gregson-Williams will discuss the creative process, his beginnings, writing production music for KPM and how he developed his career as a film composer.

PMC, hosted by the Production Music Association (PMA), takes place at Santa Monica’s Le Méridien Delfina on October 17 and 18. The newly expanded two-day conference will host business, creative and technology panels featuring diverse artists from the world of production music and will consist of industry panels, educational seminars with music professionals and networking events.

New features include one-on-one meetings with a music pro, hosted roundtable discussions with professionals and nearby networking and meeting spaces. The goal of the conference is to bring the production music community together. Visit here to register.

Gregson-Williams was the composer on all four installments of the Shrek franchise, garnered a BAFTA nomination for the score for the first Shrek, and received Golden Globe and Grammy Award nominations for his score to Andrew Adamson’s, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Other credits include The Martian and Kingdom of Heaven, directed by Ridley Scott; The Equalizer directed by Antoine Fuqua; Phone Booth and Veronica Guerin directed by Joel Schumacher; Man on Fire, Spy Game and Enemy of the State directed by Tony Scott; Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens; the animated films Arthur Christmas, Chicken Run and Antz, and Gone Baby Gone and The Town directed by Ben Affleck.

Upcoming projects include the dramatic crime thriller Live by Night, starring Ben Affleck, who also directed the film based on his own screenplay; The Zookeeper’s Wife, starring Jessica Chastain and directed by Niki Caro; and Alien: Covenant, starring Michael Fassbender and Billy Crudup directed by Ridley Scott.

Main Image Credit: Benjamin Ealovega