Today’s media composers area diverse lot, and by the looks of this year’s awards crop, particularly successful at finding fresh musical solutions to dramatic problems. Variety‘s Music for Screens Summit showcases several of these creatives, including composers Michael Abels (“Get Out,” “Us”), Siddhartha Khosla (“This Is Us,” “Looking for Alaska”) and Amie Doherty (“Undone,” “Here and Now”), who talk about topics of interest in the world of film, television and game music today.
What’s the current environment like for media composers? Are there more opportunities to be creative?
Siddhartha Khosla: More than ever. I started my career as lead singer-songwriter of a band on a public radio station, had a lot of critical success but not much commercial success. So I grew up being artistic and making art. I’m finding that most showrunners want composers that have their own original and unique voice. We are living in a very artistic environment.
Amie Doherty: I think so. There’s so much content being made now, especially with the rise of streaming, so there’s definitely a push for the show to be unique and stand out. That spills over into the music side of things. On “Undone,” the producers encouraged me to be bold with the music and to experiment with the palette. They were really supportive of having the score be very present as a means to help define the show.
Michael Abels: Just because of the amount of content that is needed now, there are a lot more voices in the filmmakers’ room. As a result, there’s a lot more work for media composers. Those new voices want to make their mark, and they know that having interesting music is one way to achieve that.
What are the biggest challenges that you face these days, either creatively or business-wise?
Doherty: The quick turnaround of episodes [in television], which doesn’t always leave time for real collaboration. I love it when I’m brought in early to have the time to experiment. Especially if you’re trying to do something unique, it takes time for something different to settle, and feel familiar with it.
Khosla: For me, they are emotional and psychological. I grew up in this country, a child of immigrants. So I constantly feel I need to take every opportunity that comes my way and make the best of it. The challenge is in making sure I choose the right projects, and in an age where there is so much content, the challenge comes in maintaining our artistic integrity, making us feel whole as artists.
Are there more opportunities now for women and people of color in your profession?
Khosla: There are new voices in Hollywood telling new, diverse stories, and as long as diversity in storytelling is there, these opportunities will continue. I don’t see enough female composers, or composers of color, but that’s not to say there hasn’t been improvement.
Doherty: It’s just about representation. It’s about seeing someone who looks like you doing it. I like to keep it positive. We hope we’ll inspire other women just by doing the work.
Abels: We talk about unconscious bias. It’s something that occurs when you don’t realize it’s occurring. Diversity is the key to everything. With the Composers Diversity Collective, when well-meaning people say they want to be inclusive, we’re saying, “Hey, we’re over here!”
We heard a lot about tension this year between composers and music supervisors in the Television Academy. What’s your experience been like?
Khosla: I have nothing but wonderful relationships with the music supervisors I work with. My experience in this business has been shaped when music supervisors have had a big say in the projects I work on. They bring wonderful song choices. I’ve worked on projects where music supervisors have recommended me as composer and I got the gig because of it.