5 Tips From Rich Tozzoli On Composing For TV

02-07-2014 10:49 AM

Rich Tozzoli has worked with such artists as Al DiMeola, Ace Frehley, Hall & Oates and David Bowie. He has composed for the likes of NBC Olympics, NFL, NHL and Deepak Chopra/Oprah Winfrey, and can be heard nightly on History Channel, Discovery Networks, Nickelodeon and all A&E networks. Over to Rich….
Composing for TV is creative, challenging and always fun. But you have to be able to work fast, think on your feet, and have full control over your DAW. I think of Pro Tools as an essential instrument that helps me translate what’s in my mind to what comes out of the speakers during a broadcast.

  1. In The Box - I happen to write for a variety of different shows, so each day (and sometimes each hour) has its own direction. That’s why it’s so essential to work with a fully automated setup, and for me, that composing, editing and mixing completely in the box. That way, I can recall the entire session, including video, at a moments notice with no worries.
  2. Score To Picture - TV work comes in two distinct categories; score to picture or not. If it’s score to picture, there are usually far more specific needs, based upon the onscreen image. Those needs are discussed up front with the producer and/or editor. Things such as overall feel, sound, tempo, and onscreen sync hits are common issues. The length will vary depending on if it’s a show theme, bumper, or simple background. Make sure you’re aware of the frame rate and type of video they deliver, which are often .mov files that can load directly into Pro Tools. Sometimes they will have you work from an .aaf as well, which includes such tracks as VO (voiceover), Dial (dialog), SFX (sound effects) and Music (which can be temp tracks). Get that specific video information in a written ‘directive’ email that you can easily refer to (and show them later if things go wrong)
  3. So That’s What You Want - Over the years, I’ve found it to be a massive time and mind saver to ask the production team to give me tracks that they already like. This can be music they can’t license or simply an overall feel they’re seeking. This way, I’m not starting out blind, which often leads to driving the wrong way for too many hours. If they give you tracks, it can help you focus on a direction quickly. Sure, you want to have your ‘creative license’ and be heard, but there’s a time and place for that. When scoring to picture, the more information you have the better. Remember, time is money.
  4. Not Working To Picture - Sometimes the editors of a particular show just need a lot of tracks to choose from. That’s when I just compose to compose – but with direction. Those directives come either written or simply by watching the show and knowing the sound they use. For example, the car shows will have heavy guitar tracks with drums and bass. The swampy shows will have much more slide guitar, open tunings, banjo, mandolin and resonator. The mystery shows will have more drama with strings, pads, and ambient tracks. Every show has its own sonic signature.
  5. Give Them What They Need - Final deliveries for TV tracks vary from show to show, but I usually provide a full mix, one without melody, one with rhythm tracks only (bass and drums, drums alone, drums and percussion) and both a quick intro version and sting out version. That’s again where Pro Tools is vital, allowing me to cut, paste, edit, mix and deliver with just a few minutes of work.

In this game, you need to get a lot of material out the door as fast as possible. However, it has to be sound great, and that’s why knowing your DAW inside and out is critical.
Below are some examples of Rich’s work.

  • Burning Barn - dramatic cue with pulsing synths and percussion. Andy Munitz on fiddle recorded with a Royer 121 and I played slide on a open tuned Broadcaster using UAs ENGL E765.
  • Severe Pounding - hot rod cue with Ray Levier on drums. Im playing a hot rodded Telecaster with Rio Grande BBQ Bucker pickups through my Mesa Boogie MK IV. Bass is my old Fender P played with a pick for the edge. Guitar and drums cut live with a bass OD.
  • Sweet River - swamp cue - a short one with me on Banjo miked with a DPA 2011 and Jeff Bioletti on his old Martin D18 miked with an Earthworks QTC 1. Cut live sitting right next to each other.