As all composers who have done TV will tell you, a long stint composing for an episodic
TV show brings with it the challenge of fighting off complacency and the boredom of
repetition. In many cases, the style of a show is set up very early, perhaps even in the
pilot, and is the basis for the musical palette that follows the show and even individual
characters. This is , of course a good thing for the continuity and style of the program.
Whether they pay attention to the show or not, viewers become accustomed to the sound
of a show, both the score and the source style.
The challenge for a composer is to stay inspired within the range established so that the
intensity and quality does not diminish over time. When the script and acting are very good,
this is not a problem. On the other hand, when an episodic is consistently below par it is
more of an issue. From my appoint of view, I like to identify the weakest link, be it an
actor or a story line, and try to support it as best I can without being intrusive. For
instance, one might be working on a suspense episode and the character in danger is just
not sympathetic enough for the audience to care. A deft composer can underscore that
character in such a way as to make the audience more invested. The trick is to not be obvious or
indicative to the point of intrusiveness.
As a contrast, I have the good fortune to be starting my fifth season with a show that
never gets boring or repetitive, Travelscope. In that each week we visit new locations,
meet new people and have unique adventures, the music is ethnographically in constant
flux and the situations, while all travel related, can vary widely. I find this immensely
enjoyable and challenging–especially the need to mix the ethnographic elements with
my guitar work and orchestral arrangements. It is wonderful that the existence of Youtube
makes it possible to easily research and gain exposure to practically any music from any
country or period. Of course, the trick is to be able to internalize that sound and
bring it out as your own.
Travelscope is on PBS, so there is really no back end to speak of. I say this too all you
young composers because, although we all need to make a living, money cannot be the sole
quest for a musician, in my opinion. I suggest keeping a solid footing in what makes
you curious, excited and challenged. Music is a wonderful voyage for its own sake.
Get paid, do the work, be a business person, but remember to feed your musical soul.