Composer Mike Suby’s career encompasses a wide variety of projects across both film and television, including “Robot Chicken,” “Pretty Little Liars,” and “The Butterfly Effect” (2004). This year, he has two very different shows — “The Vampire Diaries” and “Project Runway” — in contention at the Emmys. When asked in our exclusive audio interview (listen below) about how he comes up with musical themes for such disparate programs, his answer is simple: “It always depends on what you get on film. You spend a lot of time creating palates and thematic material for characters, and in the end, it’s always about what you get on film. So that always dictates for me what I’m going to do.”
He relates this to his work on “The Vampire Diaries,” a popular young adult drama about a teenage girl torn between two vampire brothers. “It’s a young show for kids,” he explains, “with dark subject matter. So I try to blend elements of something that kids within that age group can relate to, but also maintain a dark edge and some sort of cinematic quality which I always like.”
“The reality shows are very different,” he continues. “With ‘Project Runway,’ the runway music is just pure dance. We listen to what’s popular and what’s hot, and we try and do things in that vein. It’s just a whole different beast from scripted television. So in that vein, we write music, and then they cut the actual picture to the music, whereas obviously in scripted television, you’re scoring scenes as you watch them.”
In addition to “Project Runway,” Suby has also composed music for “The Simple Life” and “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” However, he admits, “the scripted work is much more gratifying and absolutely more artistically fulfilling.” He elaborates by explaining that, in his experience, music is written before the editorial process has started. “It allows the editors to use rhythm to cut the scene…actually, what it does is allow the editors to control what they’re doing, as opposed to the composer controlling what’s going on. So it feels to me I have less of an impact on a reality show.
“Not that I don’t like it,” he explains, “but I have a lot to say on a scripted television show, developing themes for characters over seasons and reminding viewers of certain times in the past for the show, connecting dots, and I don’t have that power in reality television because I don’t control it at all: I don’t control where the music goes.”
Suby has won two ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards for his work on “The Vampire Diaries” and “Make It or Break It.” He’s in the hunt for his first Emmy nomination this year. Check out our full interview to learn more about his creative process.