‘Empire’ Showrunners Look Outside Hip-Hop World for Score Composer

Composer Fil Eisler, creator of richly textured orchestral scores for ABC’s “Revenge,” couldn’t understand why a music supervisor wanted him to consider working on “Empire,” a Fox series set in the hip-hop music industry.

But the showrunners wanted to reach outside the box. Co-exec producers and multihyphenates Lee Daniels (“The Butler”) and writer Danny Strong (“Game Change”) felt a different musical style would help define the drama in each episode.

“Lee wanted to hear the unexpected; he wanted the score to be bold and operatic, and blow the stereotype right out of the water,” says Eisler.

Empire” is loosely based on Daniels’ personal experiences with homophobia, child abuse and family dysfunction. Eisler experiments with the full palette of orchestral instruments to emphasize storylines and provide emotional cues without becoming heavy-handed or, as he says, “schmaltzy.”

Eisler begins his process by defining sounds by any means possible. A recent score included notes created from burned and mutilated pianos. Upcoming episodes of “Empire” will include hip-hop rhythms and notes from other unique sources.

“The scope of creating sounds can be simple or the most experimental imaginable,” Eisler says. “As long as it works with the story, an audience will embrace it.”

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