Composers Take Us Behind the Scenes of Creating Catchy Kids’ TV Tunes



19 Jul 2021

On Make Music Day, the ACTF introduced some leading TV composers to kids from 67 schools all over Australia, and asked them to lift the lid on what it takes to compose music for the kids television shows we know and love.

Joff Bush, Helena Czajka, Craig Pilkington, Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan covered questions from students about their backgrounds as composers, their work in creating music for TV shows and how they collaborate with others in the media industry.

Helena Czajka, one of the composers of popular ABC series Bluey says film and TV musicians must be able to write for anything.

“One of the skills is to learn the ins and outs of all the instruments that are available to you. If a director says, “we want this to be a brass band with a single bass clarinet”, you need to have the ability to provide that to them.  

“Another large part of the composer’s job is to make the creatives you’re working with – who may not come from a musical background – comfortable. You want to create a safe space to chat through ideas and draw out what is in the director or producer’s mind. It is a collaboration – you guide them through the music, while also listening to and interpreting their vision. You both work towards the common goal of creating something amazing.”

Josh Hogan, one of the composers of adventure-drama Thalu explains that the job is collaborative and dynamic by nature.

“I find there can be a lot of pressure to be somebody else as a composer. You might receive temp music or reference music from a client, who will then ask you to sound the same. For example, I am not a fiddle player, but the project may ask for a beautiful fiddle solo. In a case like that, I would work with a fiddle player to bring their [vision] to a project. Making music is collaborative, and it’s absolutely about whatever the project requires.”

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Joff Bush, Are You Tougher Than Your Ancestors? and Bluey composer advises students that creative approaches begin with planning.

“I have a big whiteboard when I’m first talking about a project. Whenever whoever is making the show says a key word – for example, “we want it to feel endearing” – I write it on the whiteboard. When I have a jumble of madness on the board, it helps me decide the instruments that I would like to use.

For example, in The Family Law, the team wanted to highlight a sense of ‘homeliness’ and the family unit. I thought an old, upright piano is something you find in a home and so I wrote a lot of the themes on that. My job is to look at the macro, overarching aspects of the show to develop an instrumentation list that means something to the project.

Craig Pilkington, composer of The Inbestigators and Little Lunch says his approach is to be flexible by creating two or three versions of the music. Producing variations of a theme allows composers to morph pieces of music into cues to keep the mood consistent throughout the show.

“There are themes and instrumental concepts that run through shows. Although, there are certain episodes where the mood will be completely different, and you might use different instruments to go there. You can divert off that when it is needed for special parts.

For example, creating music for the Little Lunch Halloween special. There are parts of that where we went spooky. It was what was required for that episode, but it was a diversion from the usual electronic pop music that we wrote for the rest of the show,” he says.

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Ned Beckley, one of Thalu’s composers says the key to music composition for TV is about finding the right texture. “It’s about the sound and feel of a show and building the band around that feeling,” he says.

At the end of the session, composers urged aspiring music students to keep practising and learn as much as they can about instruments and the technical set up required to compose.

“There was a day when a composer would be a composer. An arranger would then take over, then a conductor, then an orchestra. We are everything now – we present the whole, finished product. That is why it is important to learn the technical setup and be as good as you can be at all the different elements of the job. In doing so, you can present your ideas and music as proud as you can be,” says Craig.

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