Bill Brown is an award-winning composer and creative force behind the musical scores of fan-favorite TV, film and video game thrillers, dramas and super-hero adventures. Widely recognized for his experimental approach to developing a unique sound and for creating dynamic orchestral landscapes, Bill is best known for composing the compelling musical backdrop for all nine seasons of the hit CBS series CSI: NY.
Bill’s passion for composing is followed closely by his interest in cutting-edge sound technology. Developers regularly approach him to beta-test new music and sound design products; many in the music community as the go-to resource consider him when a product or technology recommendation is needed. Continually experimenting with new technology, live instruments and custom sampling, he is currently exploring the capabilities of Moog Music’s limited reissue of modular synthesizers and more in upcoming projects.
A wealth of popular titles in the gaming world owe their brilliant scores to Bill – this includes The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Command & Conquer: Generals and Captain America: Super Soldier. Bill’s work exemplifies his creative talent for developing thrilling, complex orchestral music that combines heroic themes with eerie, pulsing cinematic atmospheres.
Starting on July 9th, Syfy’s post-apocalyptic thriller, Dominion, returned for its second season and Bill has already taken the series in an exciting new musical direction with the help of some new tools. Here are the highlights from our time with Bill Brown.
GoSeeTalk: Let’s start off with the topic of time frame. TV is always a fast turn around, so how do you handle the work load? Do you only write to picture, or is it better to write broad thematic cues and pepper it to match the action or dramatic beats afterwards?
Bill Brown: I’m doing both actually. I initially came up with a group of themes before starting. I’m working with a core group of themes for the main characters and locations and am creating new themes as I go which is fun. It’s more like working on a feature where I get to re-visit thematic ideas throughout the season and expand on them, and it really seems to serve the show well. And our initial concept was of course 1. Bad-ass! and 2. we don’t necessarily have to do musically what is expected. We can take some chances and be original and thoughtful with it, which I love. So I’m striving for both every day in my work.
What do you look for or focus in on with a TV project that’s different from movies or games?
I try not to delineate between TV, film and games creatively. All of these are most importantly collaborative, so my first priority is to understand what the creator / director / producers are looking for in the score. The focus is always on the quality of the music and how it serves the project. I’m looking to create music that is soulful and takes everything to the next level.
Every cue I write, that is what I’m thinking about, like how does this transform and elevate this moment? What would be surprising in this moment musically? What subtext can it add? What momentum can it create? Etc. etc. All of these questions are now for me ‘gut’ reactions to the material l’m working on, where things like tempo, mood, color all come to me mysteriously as I watch a scene or play a level. I like the mystery of it all. It keeps things interesting!
What do you like about Dominion, be it the music, or story, etc.? What do you hope fans will like most about your Season 2 score?
The writing is strong, the actors are engaging, real, and fun to watch. They’re giving it their all this season for sure. The setting is epic, the direction and the editing is just top-notch. And the score that I’m writing is truly a labor of love, for all of those reasons and more.
I’m already getting a lot of amazing feedback from the fans as well as the cast and crew, and at last week’s Comic Con premiere, the audience was jumping, clapping, laughing, screaming etc. at all the right spots. It felt great sitting there experiencing it with them.
Seeing a show before the fans do, you probably have to keep most of what you see secret. If you could let the cat out of the bag just once, what are you most excited about this season?
*laughs* Oh, no, the cat’s staying in the bag! *laughs* There’s not really any spoilers I can tease myself. I’ll just say it gets even more intense and the story just explodes in the upcoming episodes. It’s really a great season!
OK, as a fan, are you “Team Michael” or “Team Gabriel”?
As far as those two, I’m “Theme” Michael and Gabriel. *laughs*
What is an ideal working environment in the TV world? How close, or far from it has Dominion come to that?
Dominion is pretty much ideal for me – amazing canvas to work with, the writing, the actors the direction, everything. The score isn’t limited to one time or style. It’s a wide open playing field. And to top it off, this crew is the best group of people you could hope to work with, ever!
It seems scoring a TV show, just judging by how much music is written in a season, can be a thankless job. How do you step back and view the music as whole, as opposed to keeping your head down and just reacting to rushes?
Honestly, I just do my best to write music that is meaningful to me and that works well for the show. It’s a lot of work, there’s no doubt about it. I feel so much love and support from the crew and the fans for my work on Dominion though, it’s pretty great stuff.
TV shows can have multiple directors per season, so who do you meet with to get approval and keep moving forward?
With Dominion, I meet with Vaun, Deran and the whole post-production team. We’re always in communication about next steps. We have to be, because it all goes so fast.
Are you scoring another project when finished with Dominion? Do you, provided you know you’ll be working on a project again, experiment with variations? Do you expand on your previous work? Or do you put it all away until you see footage?
I actually have a game lined up for the week after we wrap Dominion Season 2. The only time I’ll reference my Dominion score will be to release a soundtrack and then to work on season 3…I hope! *laughs*
This is a SyFy show and it seems this is mostly an international cast. How is the writing process versus where it’s shot/produced? Where are you located and what kind of support staff do you have?
It was shot in Cape Town South Africa, and of course I’m located in Los Angeles. They were still shooting up until about a week ago, just before SDCC 2015. The editors are locking episode 206 in the coming week, and I’ve just started writing cues for episode 205 this week, and on it goes, on a week to week schedule, into September.
I read you’re creating a whole new sound for Season 2 and the characters. Any tech stuff you’re geeking out over?
I’m really excited about the sound the score has taken on. I’m using some big analog modular synths, and a lot of really cool cutting edge orchestral sample technology – along with some really talented musicians. Together it’s sounding massive, organic and emotional. It’s really exciting stuff for sure.
Switching gears to another of your strengths, I’ve been told that scoring video games is difficult because you have to plan for all the variables that happen in game play. How much extra work do you think you have as compared to other projects?
It depends on how many variables you want to implement. For some games, I’ve just written and recorded the cues and for others I’ve split the cues up into many interactive blocks and multiple stems to implement reactively in the game later.
Sometimes there are themes for all of the characters, sometimes not. Depends on the project. Setting up a score that is interactive / reactive to the player’s moves is more intense for sure though and requires a lot more asset management. It’s really another separate job in that case.
To wrap this up, I want to say that I loved Return to Castle Wolfenstien. It’s been so long since I’ve played it, but while those final missions near the end with the super soldiers kept me at my keyboard for what seemed like weeks, I really remember the music…
Well, tell me, as someone with as much experience as you have, how have things in the video game music industry changed over the last decade?
Not too much really, except there’s probably a wider range of styles / genres. I think people still want to escape into amazing worlds with great stories and inspiring music. That doesn’t seem to change.
Finally, do you have a preference – game, TV or movie? Is it based on the process of each, or just your personal taste? And on that note, how do you juggle personal taste against what the project requires?
I like different things about all of them truthfully. They can all be magical. I know because I’ve had those moments with all of them – and that’s what makes my work so meaningful for me.
Thanks to Bill for his time. Season 2 of Dominion began on July 9th only on the Syfy Channel. For more information, and to listen to samples of his work, head to Bill’s official website or his SoundCloud account.