Megan McLachlan talks to Bleeding Fingers Music about why you have to be a musical chameleon to score the soundtrack for Fox’s The Simpsons.
Can you imagine The Simpsons without music? It’s like imagining the 30-year-old TV series without Homer.
I had the chance to chat with the Bleeding Fingers Music team behind the score on the FOX animated comedy, including lead composer Andrew Christie and co-score producer Russell Emanuel. We talked about what it’s like coming into a show that’s been on for three decades, the quick turnaround between episodes and music, and whether Bleeding Fingers is an homage to a beloved Simpsons character.
Awards Daily: How long have you guys been doing music for The Simpsons? I know that Bleeding Fingers Music was founded in 2013.
Russell Emanuel: We’re just coming to the end of our second year doing this. This is our second season, and it’s been quite the ride. We came in the start of Season 29, with “The Serfsons” Game of Thrones episode.
AD: Were you intimidated composing music for The Simpsons, which has some of the most notable TV music of all time?
Andrew Christie: I don’t know if intimidated is the right word, but we are big fans of Alf [Clausen] and what he did for The Simpsons, so we’re very conscious of carrying on his legacy but also doing it the Bleeding Fingers way. We have been very conscious and detail-oriented throughout the entire scoring process.
RE: It’s a big responsibility to be coming in. That team had been working together for so long. It’s incredible to see and a privilege for us to come into such an important program and watching these seasoned veterans of the show and their process. We feel very lucky to be on the ride. They were amazing, very inclusive having us involved, and I think genuinely excited to have some new energy brought to the music.
AD: What is your process like for developing music for a project like The Simpsons?
RE: What’s unusual about this show is that the scoring process generally happens from spotting to recording orchestration within one week.
AC: They’ve been doing this for so long, and it’s such a quick turnaround. There’s a lot of thought to it, but because of the time crunch, you have to go with your gut, too, and just sort of do it.
RE: Each episode itself takes nine months to animate, but the music gets done in a week. It’s quite the task.
AC: They also have a really distinct vision with what they like, so that makes our job a lot easier.
RE: We sit down with [executive producers] Al Jean or Matt Selman and run through a spotting session, where we go through the show and decide where music goes. We literally are writing stoically for three or four days and then it has to get out to orchestrators and copyists and all the other people, and by Day 6 or 7, we’re recording with live players.
AD: Do you guys get to see episodes ahead of time? Get to read scripts?
RE: We get the scripts and we don’t get long. If we see the episode before the spotting session, it’s generally two days before.
AD: Is creating music for animated shows different than live-action?
AC: I approach animation the same way as I would live-action. You’re trying to tell the story and move the story along. Obviously there are musical things, sometimes the animation isn’t finished, so we’ll get a storyboard of what’s still being animated. But it’s very clearly laid out. Logistically it’s sometimes a bit different, but not creatively.
AD: Do you have a favorite piece of music from The Simpsons?
AC: Yes! It’s the end credits to “Werking Mom” (Season 30, Episode 7). That whole episode was a Parisian-jazz kind of thing, and I’d never written in that style before. It was one of those instances, where once we recorded, the score really came alive.
RE: The joy of working on a show like this is the fact that you do so many styles of music. Unlike a lot of shows that we do, we’ll lock into a style for the show and that will be it. I think Andrew’s choice highlights that at one time we’re doing Parisian music then we’re doing fantasy music, such as for the episode that satirizes Game of Thrones. Two weeks ago we were doing an episode all about Canada.
AC: Then we’ll do “Treehouse of Horror”, which can jump to 10 different styles in one episode.
RE: The joy and the challenge of this is that you really have to be a musical chameleon.
AD: Finally, Bleeding Fingers is a great name for the company. Is it at all an homage to Simpsons character, Bleeding Gums Murphy?
RE: I always like to say that it is! It’s a happy coincidence. But really Bleeding Fingers was chosen because to be a great musician, you have to practice until your fingers bleed. I’m really proud to be a part of this collective of composers. It is a privilege to have such diverse talent from all over the world.
The Simpsons airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.