HBO Composer, Music Editor and Music Supervisors Explain How to Create Music for New Show ‘The Baby’

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HBO’s new TV show, The babyis billed as a horror series in the vein of the acclaimed film get out. And that’s true. The show, which debuts on the premium channel on April 24, is both terrific and weird, weird and lavish.

But beyond the excellent acting, storytelling, and plot, how does a show like this come together musically? How do the people responsible for writing the songs, scoring the show, and editing the sounds make it all work to bring those weird feelings to life?

Well, that’s exactly what we asked show composer Lucrecia Dalt, music supervisors Pete Saville and Zoe Bryant, and editor Ed Hamilton. So, without further ado, let’s see what they had to say about their work below.

American songwriter: When you start writing for a new show, what are the first two or three things you do first? is he watching the show to get a sense of what is needed, is it just improvising on a theme or two, or is it going back to older ideas? What happens first?

Lucrece Dalt (composer): Once I’ve read the scripts and had a conversation with the creators and directors to understand the energy of the show, I start compiling a playlist with music from other artists as well as my own which I think are in the creative line of this one, this is how I start to test if I’m heading in the right direction, also to suggest ideas that I could explore. Then I would go and create a “sound menu”. These are usually short snippets of sounds to test out the first palette, it can range from short recordings of different instruments and percussion to different types of synths or vocal processes. After that I started to compose the first themes, for this show there was already a creative direction of some sounds that they wanted to explore in the score around extended vocal techniques, weird body vocals and percussion, so the first themes explored what I could do using these specific elements.

AS: How did you start finding the sounds and songs for The baby as the process progresses? And when did you know you were done?

LD: The first theme I developed was for the opening scene. I wanted to explore the idea of ​​a leitmotif, something distinct and memorable, yet simple, that would take many forms throughout the show. I did this line with a processed clarinet with tape delay. I also focused a lot in the beginning trying to find the different sounds related specifically to The baby as a character, since he has no voice, the various possible sounds that relate to various things he does and how he affects people. Then the process was to create themes constantly, I frequently sent folders with about three or four pieces, which they then used to try the first cuts, it was very useful to continue filtering what was preferred from what I offered. Then I would mark in the image.

Finishing a score is a joint process; I present raw ideas that meet what my intuition thinks a scene needs, then it enters a collective process of scrutiny that eventually shapes the piece to its final state. The baby was a dream project to work on, they reacted very positively to the first ideas that I presented, which in most cases I thought to myself – this is going to be a bit too radical for television, but let’s see how they react – it was such a fun project to be part of.

AS: How do you know something is working for a given show? Is it clear in an instant, is it worked, do you sleep on it for days? Or do you just know when you know?

Pete Saville and Zoe Bryant (music supervisors): It all starts with discussions with creators and writers. Then we start researching and compiling ideas that we think are “right” for the show. Sometimes there are obvious starting points like a time period, social or cultural scene, geography, or character type. But it’s always a process of getting closer and closer to what works by testing ideas against each other, and imagining.

Typically, in an eight-part show, halfway through, what works starts to become very obvious and natural. In a way, the show begins to define itself. Surprisingly, this can sometimes make it harder to find the perfect cue because what you need for a scene can be so specific. But that’s the challenge! And when you find that perfect cue, it’s obvious because the scene is suddenly amplified. It becomes more than the sum of its parts, that’s what we’re after!

AS: When you thought about the musical supervision of The baby, what were the crucial sounds or feelings you wanted to touch? How did you know your musical choices would ultimately work out?

Pete Saville and Zoe Bryant (music supervisors): Initially, when creating the “mood-board” playlists for the show’s creators, Sian and Lucy, we focused on very specific types of sound, musicians with unusual vocal talents, such as the singers of inuk throat, or Yma Sumac with her extreme vocal range. Sian and Lucy wanted the show, especially the score, to sound organic and “earthy”. We also explored a more “tribal” percussion sound, with artists like Babatunde Olatunji. These early steers helped us research and grow as we progressed through the episodes.

Feelings: Early on, we discussed the importance of balancing comedy and horror. It had to be “right”, especially with the score. And we already had in mind the perfect composer for that. Lucrecia Dalt, whom we knew was able to follow this delicate line perfectly.

We don’t always know if a musical choice will work, but you usually have a first instinct as to whether or not it’s suitable for a show. The baby or not? As above, it is a process. Of course, sometimes there are happy accidents, songs that work. But generally it’s a journey, and the musical decisions are settled with exploration and time.

AS: What is your role in the final product of a TV show? Is it a bit of everything or are there very specific details you need to consider?

Ed Hamilton (music publisher): It’s different for every project, and there’s always a good mix of creativity and organization, which is one of the great things about music publishing. there is always variety in the work. The role, as I see it, has two main responsibilities:

The first is to ensure that the composer has all the support they need to allow them to focus on the creative aspects of the score as best they can. It covers everything from being a sounding board to bounce ideas around to helping decipher all the notes that come back – it’s never easy to talk about music and sometimes it’s useful to have multiple heads on things – watch other episodes to see how themes and motifs translate and what development may be needed. Often this will involve complete stem modifications and re-trimming to achieve an almost complete given replica before scoring.

Sometimes I attend the final mix if the composer can’t be there, to give them a voice in the room and to help the mix engineer with any final musical adjustments that may arise. I also work closely with the music supervisors, both on the score and on any commercial cue ideas that need to be cut into images.

The more administrative side is making sure that the composer has all the elements he needs for post-production and that he is familiar with image changes and planning. This has become particularly relevant over the past two years. With so much remote work, the picture is often in flux until the last minute.

The second part of the role is the interface between the composer and the post-production in the other direction. Ensure the release contains all the latest releases of cues, all compliant with the latest image edits and updates on the cue sheets, essentially ensuring that the director, image editors and executives can always see where each scene is musically; the Avid must be fed. I’m sometimes involved early in the composition, working with the director and the editors to try to see which direction the score might go – a process I particularly enjoy once the composer has been chosen, because we can then start shaping using the compositor palette.

AS: When you have finished your work on The baby, What did you think? How did you know you were done and it would work fine?

HE: Honestly, I loved the show from the start, it’s still great to watch, but with Lucrecia’s score, it’s really special. I usually feel like the music is working as it should when I watch an episode all the way through without stopping to tweak the music and get totally caught up in the story, that’s when it really feels like the television.

Photo via HBO

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