Composer Kris Bowers (‘Dear White People,’ ‘For the People’) on the color of sound and diversity in TV music industry [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

When composer Kris Bowers returned to Netflix‘s “Dear White People” for season two series creator Justin Simien had something different in mind. “He had a color palette that he decided to start using as inspiration from the beginning of the season,” Bowers reveals. The colors came from Civil War-era paintings, and “he asked me … to write a theme based on those color definitions. For instance, blue might represent confinement, and gold might represent true self.” So Bowers was on a mission to literally find the sound of color. Watch our exclusive video interview with Bowers above.

“Dear White People” is about progressive students at a fictional Ivy League university, but while the soundtrack also features contemporary music, Bowers leaned into his “natural inclinations as a jazz pianist” for his score in season two. “This time I was trying to simply play along to what I was watching as if I was accompanying a singer or musician or dancer.” He also tried to challenge himself by drawing from “strange influences.” For instance, he was inspired by Bernard Herrmann‘s “Vertigo” score for a climactic scene in the season finale.

Bowers also composed another series this season, ABC’s legal drama “For the People” produced by Shonda Rhimes. His music for the series is “a lot more traditional,” and while “Dear White People” is composed with “fluidity and continuity” due to the show’s overarching themes and story arcs, “For the People” is more self-contained as “each episode establishes its own themes.”

But even getting the job on “For the People” was a significant accomplishment because “there aren’t many people that look like me that do shows like that,” Bowers explains. “There’s not much diversity when it comes to network TV composers, so it felt like a win to be a person of color scoring an ABC show.”

To aspiring musicians of color he says, “Find what you love and pursue that unflinchingly. And be musically honest all the time.” He also suggests finding role models “to look up to. It’s important to see that it’s possible … Right now we’re in a special time when there are a lot of people that are getting into this space that are widening the diversity.”

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