You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘House of Cards’ Composer Jeff Beal on the Upcoming Season’s Score

It’s not unusual to see a composer conduct his own music in Hollywood. But it is startling to watch one lead an entire orchestra, and record the result himself without a scoring mixer — in the living room of his own house. Oh, and add to that the fact the show happens to be one of TV’s most acclaimed.

It’s a Monday morning in Agoura Hills, Calif., and “House of Cards” composer Jeff Beal is standing on a makeshift podium, addressing 26 string players. “A tiny bit shorter on the quarter notes,” he tells them. “This (scene is about) campaigning. It should be more fun!”

Wearing headphones, he conducts without a baton, guiding the violins, violas, cellos and basses with one eye on his score (moving bar by bar across a computer screen) and the other on a TV monitor displaying the latest cut of the episode itself.

Over the next two and a half hours, he will record an hour’s worth of music for the final two episodes of “House of Cards’ ” third season (debuting on Netflix on Feb. 27). Much of the music is dark and dramatic, befitting another climax in the saga of power-hungry Frank and Claire Underwood, now president and first lady of the U.S.

Beal has already recorded his own trumpet, piano and synthesizer; electric bass, played by his son Henry; and the operatic voice of his wife Joan. (“It’s the family band. We’re the Von Trapps,” Beal later quips.) He also has orchestrated the entire piece, and will mix it over the next two days in his home studio.

That rich string sound is the final element in his conception for the “House of Cards” finale. “Frank is president now,” Beal says, “so we’re dealing in a wider arena internationally. A lot of times I’ll have music like this, fully orchestrated and string-driven, and sometimes brutally simple music, like a solo piano. There are big contrasts.”

Beal, a four-time Emmy winner (and three-time nominee for his “House of Cards” music alone), operates like most composers in TV and independent film: on a “package” basis that requires him to write, record, mix and deliver all of the music for a single fee. He pays the musicians out of that money, but he likes the creative freedom and the streamlined production process that the terms afford. “It’s way less stressful for me,” he says. Beal notes that exec producer Beau Willimon wanted more rhythm in this season than in season two. But the producer says he trusts his composer to make most of the decisions about where the music goes and how strong or subtle it will be.

“We often whiplash from one emotional state to one that’s completely different in a single frame,” Willimon says. “Music helps us make those transitions, establish the pace, (and) uncover the emotional truths of our characters in ways that can amplify or add more facets.”

Willimon says Beal considers the big picture. “He’s not just tackling each scene as it comes, he’s looking at each episode as a totality. Then he’s doing that on a larger scale, thinking about a trajectory for music for the entire season.

“The best thing to do with a truly original voice is get out of the way and let it surprise you, listen to it and respond,” Willimon adds. “In Jeff Beal, you have a truly original voice.”

More TV

  • Oscars Oscar Academy Awards Placeholder

    ABC Seeks $2 Million to $3 Million for Oscars Ads (EXCLUSIVE)

    Kevin Hart won’t be showing up for the Oscars, but advertisers will. Walt Disney’s ABC has sold more than three-quarters of its commercial inventory for its February 24 broadcast of the glitzy awards fest, according to Jerry Daniello, senior vice president, entertainment brand solutions, for Disney ad sales, pacing ahead of its progress at this time [...]

  • TODAY -- Pictured: Hoda Kotb and

    Kathie Lee Gifford to Leave NBC’s ‘Today’

    Kathie Lee Gifford will leave “Today” after more than a decade co-hosting the fourth hour of the NBC morning franchise. Gifford wants to spend more time focused on a variety of media projects, and said during Monday’s broadcast that her decision was “bittersweet, as these things are.” She expects to stay with the program through [...]


    Protests Outside But No Fireworks Inside CBS' Annual Shareholders Meeting

    A small group of protestors chanted “No money for Les” outside of CBS Corp.’s annual shareholders meeting in New York on Tuesday, but inside there were no questions from shareholders about the sexual misconduct scandal that has enveloped the company and former chairman-CEO Leslie Moonves. The meeting held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was [...]

  • Fox Reshapes Ad-Sales Unit as Disney

    Fox Reshapes Ad-Sales Unit as Disney Deal Nears (EXCLUSIVE)

    Some of 21st Century Fox’s best-known ad-sales executives will leave the company when it closes a large sale of its assets to Walt Disney in 2019. Bruce Lefkowitz, executive vice president of ad sales at Fox; Mike Denby, a senior vice president of ad sales; and Jake Piasecki, another senior vice president, are slated to [...]

  • Chris McCarthy on Reinventing MTV, Moving

    Chris McCarthy on Reinventing MTV, Moving From 'Buy to Build Mentality'

    As goes MTV, so goes Viacom. For the industry, there is no stronger measure of the health of Viacom than the state of MTV. Chris McCarthy, a 15-year Viacom veteran, has been leading the effort to revive the brand since October 2016, when he added oversight of MTV to his portfolio that already included VH1 [...]

  • Bob Bakish Variety Cover Story

    Inside Bob Bakish's Aggressive Turnaround Plan for Viacom

    Bob Bakish was days into his job as CEO of Viacom in late 2016 when he began convening meetings with senior executives to execute a triage effort to save the once-mighty media giant. Paramount Pictures had just posted a $445 million annual loss. Viacom’s cable networks were in danger of being dropped by major distributors [...]

  • Carol Burnett

    Carol Burnett to Receive Inaugural Golden Globe Television Special Achievement Award

    Carol Burnett will receive the inaugural Golden Globe television special achievement award, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. (HFPA) announced Tuesday. Aptly named the Carol Burnett Award, this new honor will celebrate the highest level of achievement in the medium. Burnett, who is a five-time Globe winner — the most decorated in the television category — [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content