TV & Video Magazine

Nathan Barr Keeps the Music Fresh and Yet True to the Show

Posted on the 28 May 2014 by Thevault @The_Vault

nathanbarrTrue Blood’s composer Nathan Barr has been interviewed with a few other musicians about his experience writing music to accompany a visual narrative. Below are the sections pertaining to Nathan from these interviews.
Mike Ragogna: You are basically responsible for how the viewer absorbs the emotional and sometimes subtler elements of a script and performances. Does that responsibility ever weigh particularly heavy on your shoulders? Can it also be the reverse, an invigorating challenge? Maybe both?
Nate Barr: The responsibility to create a score that contributes meaningfully to a film or TV show feels greater when the show is strong on its own. At that point, if I’m not doing my job to the utmost of my abilities, the music can really subtract from the strengths of the film. It’s easier to take a film that has major problems and compose music that can really only help. Either way, watching a film or TV show take on new meaning with my music is the ultimate reward.
MR: What do you find are the challenges in scoring for television that may not be present when scoring for film? Or even between broadcast and cable television?
NB: Writing music for a series is largely about exercising one’s ability to develop musical material in endlessly interesting ways, all of which hopefully help move the show forward each week. I am currently working on my 74th episode of True Blood, and keeping the music fresh, and yet true to the original sound of the show, is by far the greatest challenge.
MR: What projects are you currently working on that you can talk about?
NB: I am currently co-scoring a film at Universal called The Boy Next Door with my dear friend and composer Randy Edelman. It is my first collaboration ever with another composer, and has been a joy. I am also wrapping up the seventh and final season of True Blood, and I just finished the second seasons to both FX’s The Americans and Netflix’s Hemlock Grove. Most exciting was writing a song with Pete Townshend for Season 2 of The Americans.
MR: How much do you submerge yourself into what’s being presented on the screen to be able to assist the storyline?
NB: The best way to submerge myself in a project is to find that one character or thread in the storyline that I can personally relate to on some level. At that point, I am bringing my own life experience to the process and have the best shot at composing an effective score.
MR: What are the most challenging aspects – technically or emotionally – in creating the score?
NB: The most challenging aspect in creating a score is often in the early stages of exploration, before I have any idea of what is going to work. It’s like stumbling around in a dark room looking for the light switch. Also challenging, however, can be a film that is constantly changing as far as the cut goes – it feels very much like a dog chasing its own tail.
MR: What is the collaboration process like when working with a director or showrunner? Do you mostly work in tandem together, or do you have more freedom to create the music you feel fits a particular character or scene?
NB: Hopefully, a show has one or two people with a strong creative vision for the story, and the capability to express what they are looking for in terms that are clear and concise, and most importantly, an ability to know when they have it. Ideally, they also have the political clout to make the final call on music when it is working. The best collaborations are the ones where the creators or showrunners trust the composer to run with a vision.
MR: With each series or movie needing a different feel, are you often having to create music outside of your comfort zone in order to accomplish the appropriate score?
NB: One of the best parts of being a composer for film and television music is the constant shift of gears between genres.  It keeps the job continuously interesting, and the challenge of creating music outside my comfort zone always leads me to new territory as a composer.
MR: What do you think the ultimate goal of a composer is and what are the “absolutely have to do this”s and “never do that”s?
NB: The ultimate goal of a composer is to take whatever material we are given and provide an emotional, musical journey that perfectly complements what is going on on-screen.   And we have to do this without drawing too much attention to our work.  This is one of the “must do’s” of being a film composer – it’s why we get hired.  In terms of things I try and make sure I never do, turning in a score that feels tired, generic or subpar is at the top of the list.
MR: What advice do you have for new composers wanting to pursue this field?
NB: Living in Los Angeles is an absolute pre-requisite to starting a career in film and television music. I think New York used to be an option, but not so much anymore.  The other big piece of advice I would give is to not be afraid to reach out via social media, or other means, to even the biggest composers to express your interest in working for them – you will be surprised by how accessible some of them are.
MR: Will you ever get tired of family and friends treating you special because of all the cool projects you’re associated with?
NB: My friends and family have always been enormously supportive of my journey in this industry, and to actually be making a wonderful living doing it is the ultimate way of saying “you guys were right, I can do this!”
To read this entire interview with the other composers go here:
photo credit: Alexis Korycinski


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