scoring like gangbusters
an interview with michael josephs 

Composing music for television is a lot different than scoring a film – or even recording an album. It’s an art form unto itself; the medium, the possibilities, as well as the schedules, the pressures, and the time and financial constraints are totally unique.

Michael Josephs’ soundtracks for NBC, CBS, PBS and Fox Television shows keep him on his toes and working hard. With Fox Television’s Americas Most Wanted, he had the task of creating a unique sound and aural feel for a show on a fledging network, all on an intense schedule timed to the post-production process. The show is a success now and has become part of our pop-culture. Most recently, he has finished a new show called Lunch Box Heroes, with Leslie Nielsen, which runs the opposite direction from “crime music” towards comedy. Add to this shows for CBS and PBS that won a couple Emmys this year, other shows for Fox and record work, and it all conspires to keep him on the tube.

scoring drive

Of course, the act of scoring is itself a very personal and subjective thing. There are a million ways to score a scene, and a composer is paid for their expertise in choosing what’s right for the picture. Instrumentation is a choice of taste (or budget). When asked, Josephs states “I could score a scene with full orchestra or with one guy snapping his fingers; it’s how you look at a scene, your rhythmic and harmonic sense, your sense of placement and color that makes your music unique.”

breathing room

This philosophy makes for an interesting scoring process. “When I first get the videotape, I “spot” the reel, take notes, and start making decisions right away. I’m most effective when I put my ideas straight onto paper or into a tape recorder with a piano. I feel that if you put ideas straight into technology, you get away from the kernel of the idea.” Josephs also likes going direct to 24-track. “I almost never use a sequencer. The only thing I might lock up when I’m writing and recording is percussion through Performer. I’ll go in later and re-record the drums or combine live drums with the midi stuff. We’ll re-cut the whole thing if it’s a totally live or orchestral cue, using the original tracks as a guide.”

mix tricks

One of the most important phases for Josephs is the mix. “One of the things I try to do when I’m composing, and especially when I’m in the mix, is to create a unique aural ambience. I think that if a director’s images and concept are unique, you should create a unique aural space for the images as well.”

a new groove tube

“The main thing for me”, Josephs states, “is always making music in the most positive sense – regardless of the constraints put on you. You can never afford to lose sight of quality.”