Daisy Jones and the Six is a series well-known for the original music created by its cast and crew that gives its titular band the look and feel of a real-life 70s LA rock and roll group. But one of the most important aspects that allow this music to shine is the composition of the score that widens the soundscape and adds another layer of depth and texture to the show’s atmosphere.
Composer Tom Howe speaks to the techniques he utilized to find harmony between the score and the original music and the collaboration he had with the music supervisors to develop a balanced tone. He details his experience with 70s-era music and his navigation of multiple projects currently airing.
Read our full conversation with composer Tom Howe for Daisy Jones and the Six below.
Hi, this is Danny Jarabek here with Awards Radar, and I’m very excited to be speaking with Tom Howe, the composer for Daisy Jones & the Six, among many other shows currently. So, Tom, thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate you taking the time and I’m super excited to have this conversation.
Tom: Likewise. Thanks for having me.
Of course, we’re talking about Daisy Jones & the Six today, but you’ve been involved in a few different projects: Ted Lasso, Shrinking. What has been the journey for you recently with everything kind of coming together?
Tom: It’s been unusual because they’ve all sort of been released within a very short period of time. For me, it wasn’t really like that working on them. It’s been a very busy 12 months. They almost were kind of chronological, so I did Daisy Jones last summer, even though that didn’t come out until this year. Then, Shrinking was kind of September through December. Ted Lasso started really in the new year. So, Ted Lasso was very much chasing my tail in that we had very, very hard deadlines because they released the first episode and I still had four or five left to score. Maybe even more. You’ve got that panic of, “Next week they’re going to release another one,” and you’ve got to keep going with that. For me, they were sort of quite nicely spread out, actually. That’s helpful when you’re trying to say something different sound-wise in each case, if you know what I mean. Sometimes it’s hard to have things overlapping when you’re trying to put a different hat on in terms of the creative side of it.
Right. Of course, three totally different shows tonally. How did you navigate mentally between them all? The sounds you were producing, was there any sort of bridge?
Tom: There’s a little bit of a bridge in between Ted Lasso and Shrinking just in terms of I’m playing the instruments across those shows. Shrinking is a bit more keyboard-heavy. I’ve got organs in there and old whirlies and also some vocals and things. In Ted Lasso, I don’t have that. But Daisy Jones, initially, when I started on that, it’s obviously set in the 70s, so all these conversations about what the music should sound like and running concurrently with producers and directors and editors and things like that in terms of narrowing down the tone of the music and how it’s going to help the picture best and all the rest of it and the story. The first thing I noticed when watching Daisy Jones that made it completely different is, on a show like Ted Lasso, it’s obviously about sport stories and people’s emotions, but Daisy Jones has got a lot of music in it already. So, you’ve got the music of the band themselves and then you’ve got also a lot of authentic 70s needle drops. So, before you even start, there’s a lot of music already within the episode and the show in general. I thought initially I was going to do something that sounded like it was from the 70s and would be quite guitar-based, but I very quickly realized that that would be just a completely overwhelming experience to the viewer because you’ve already got so much music within it. So, I actually decided to do something very pared back and more ambient and use the score more as a kind of breath between the songs, whether that be needle drop or band songs. It felt, to me, important that the music could set the mood and the emotion of the overall arc of the scene but not actually comment too much on the action and also not do too much to tire you out as a viewer and a listener. So, that was a very different approach to how I normally would look at something.
Yeah. And as you mentioned with Daisy Jones & the Six, it’s, of course, a story about music set in an era that’s defined by its music. So, what were some of those early conversations you were having with the creators, with the producers, about how the score would work into that harmony of the narrative elements of the music as well?
Tom: I have a drum kit set up in my studio permanently which I play on Ted Lasso and Shrinking in various things. But I went as far as, initially, on Daisy Jones, I got a new drum kit that’s an authentic 70s-sounding kit. Slightly smaller kit. Also, I went down the rabbit hole of even what microphones would have been used there and the fact that they might have used a mono overhead mic on the drums not stereo. Really into some detail of the sound. What guitar amps might they have been using and how can I best replicate that sound. What might the bass have sounded like and what desk would it have been going through. I know it sounds like that’s completely tech nerdy, but the combination of those things can actually make something sound more authentic. And although I didn’t end up using those across the score actually at all, really, I ended up also replacing a few of the needle drops, which you probably wouldn’t notice or know, I hope. Within there, there are moments where some of that setup that I did is sitting in there among some of the songs where it wasn’t necessary to spend the money on something where it’s maybe more background or they’re not using the vocal or something like that. Also, in a couple of spots, I had to come out of a song. In Episode 10, there’s a bit where you’re going into a Mick Jagger vocal, and I’ve done this score, and then toward the end, it has to blend with The Rolling Stones track. So, I used some of those more authentic sounds there to kind of bridge the gap. But most of the score, it doesn’t really use those at all. It’s more synths. Some of the synth sounds are from that area, but you wouldn’t necessarily know because they’re washed out and reverbed and stuff. That’s intentional to try and make it almost, as I said, feel like a very separate thing to the songs.
Of course, this project is set in the 70s. Is this an era that you had ever scored something for before with any of your past projects or was this something new? Obviously, your music, as you described, is not necessarily tied immediately to the tone of the soundtrack of the score, but is that an area you had operated in before and was that different for you?
Tom: I have operated in it before, but strangely enough, only in a way of doing parody. So, I’ve had it either in a film or TV show before where somebody has suddenly decided they need a moment that sounds like there’s something from that era, be it a James Bond thing or a spy thing or a funk thing or something. Usually, it’s been based around a joke, so it might be on something like a Shaun the Sheep movie or something like that where they have a cue, and they need that sound to make the joke funny. But I’ve never actually operated in that area on a serious drama level before. To me, that’s what make these things exciting. Each project you get – hopefully, Ted, Shrinking and Daisy Jones all do sound different. To me, finding the pieces to the puzzle to make the picture is what makes the job exciting because each time you approach something, it’s different and you’ve got to figure it out. Once you figure it out, hopefully you figure it out, there’s obviously an enjoyment to that and then you’ve got your sound for that project. But if I find a sound for something, I try not to then use it again on something else. I try and make each thing its own thing.
With this project, it is something that had started years ago and had actually been affected by the pandemic. Did that affect your workflow for your department at all or your process on the timeline of the score?
Tom: No, not really. I might have started sooner, obviously, if things had gone as they wanted them to. Obviously, that was all a terrible time during COVID all around across the board, but in terms of how it impacted this project, I actually think it was beneficial. One of the problems with making TV shows or films about musicians is that often the actors aren’t musicians. So, you cast somebody who may be a great actor, but when they then pick up the guitar, they mime something, and the action is completely unrelated to what they might be doing. So, there’s kind of a lack of authenticity to it. I’ve seen that many times in different films and TV projects. But on this, what you hear being played by the band, they can play that and that’s what they sound like. That’s them singing. They’re not being overdubbed by somebody else and having to lip-sync. They had an extra year or something to rehearse and practice with not a lot else going on, obviously, because the world was shut down, so they actually all got very good at what they do. I think that elevates the entire show because the band is a band, and they can play. That gives it authenticity and a seal of approval, if you like, in terms of how the whole thing looks and feels.
Yeah. And I think it’s a really cool opportunity too with the music being so integral to the storytelling and the fact that the protagonists themselves have an album, a real album. It was a really unique opportunity for anyone involved with the music of this show. Is there anything in particular that you took away from this experience or maybe you learned that was specific to the uniqueness of this show and how it was set up musically?
Tom: I mean, I’ve worked a little bit with Blake Mills who put all the songs together. I did some string arrangements on some of the songs, and I worked some of the melodies from the songs into the score in places, too. There was a guy called Mike Poole who was doing a lot of the sound, making sure that if they had a shot of the drummer playing a cymbal roll live that the sound was actually not the wrong sort of drum sound. Really specific. Like, did it sound like mallets when actually the guy was playing sticks or whatever it may be. But whenever you’re working with other people across different things like that, you always learn something. I think the attention to detail from that and working with Blake, we really did a few little things together, but you’re always – a bit like working with Marcus [Mumford] on Ted is that he’s coming from a record perspective and I’m coming more from the TV/film world perspective. And I’m always blown away by their attention to detail on things like mics and what equipment they’re using, what guitar it’s going to be, and how that impacts the overall sound. Generally, in the film and TV world, if you’re doing something that’s a more orchestral score or something like that, you’re making a demo and then probably it’s going to get rerecorded, so you’re less concerned about whether the clarinet sample’s any good because it only has to sell the demo and then you’re going to go and make it. They’re making things from the ground up. And those sounds of what the guitar is going to sound like is as important as what the notes are going to be.
Yeah, absolutely. And you mentioned how your score is very ambient driven, kind of blending between the musical pieces and the soundtrack of the narrative itself. On the technical end, what is a little bit of the process behind creating that sort of ambient texture that blends in with all of these major musical pieces?
Tom: It was about finding the right synth sounds but also the right reverbs. It’s hard because a lot of the bits where the score is there, they are moments that can sometimes also be quite dialogue heavy. When the band are playing, no one’s really talking. So, it’s got to set the overall mood but not be so forward in the mix that it’s getting in the way of what people are saying. I made an effort to try not to score too much of the action. What I mean by that is if somebody’s off taking a drive in a car to the beach, say, which is one of the longer cues in the show, the music has got a sort of propulsion to it and it’s got the right mood for it, but I’m not specifically hitting when the cut changes to the perspective inside the car or suddenly it pans away. I try not to worry too much about that as I might do normally, but more just play the overall mood. Again, that’s that decision to make the music feel more like a breath between things rather than having a song and then cutting to a piece of score that specifically starts marking all these moments. If it did that, it would feel tiring, I think.
Yeah. I really love the score and just all of the music in this. Tom, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate getting to hear a little bit behind the scenes. And congratulations on all of your work right now. It’s a huge body of work and really impressive diversity of sound that you’re composing. So, really appreciate getting a chance to talk.
Tom: Likewise. Thanks very much for taking the time, Danny.
All right. Have a good rest of your day, Tom.
Tom: All right. Thanks a lot. Bye then. Bye.