Inside Story: Writing Music Cues for Country TV

Besides being a cast member on CMT’s I Love Kellie Pickler, I also scored musical cues for the show’s second season.
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Besides being a cast member on CMT’s I Love Kellie Pickler, I also scored musical cues for the show’s second season. These are often two-minute transition spots used to provide energy boosts between scenes, as well as make emotional connections with the storylines. The show’s musical supervisor provides guidelines regarding style, feel, tempo, and instrumentation, and, as budgets are often limited, I teamed up with engineer/producer Matt McClure to work in our home studios. Between us, we wrote and recorded the music within a six-week period. While the music for season one had more of a pop-country, guitar-driven vibe, season two took a dance-pop approach that required using keyboards as my main writing tool. As a result, all of season two’s music—with the exception of guitars and a few bass lines—was programmed.

All drums and loops were achieved using various sample-based plug-ins and libraries, such as Native Instruments Maschine and Toontracks EZdrummer. The synth and keyboard sounds were derived from Absynth, Xpand, Massive, and Codex. Often times, I ended up tweaking the factory presets to come up with unique sounds that not only fit the song, but also created a signature sound within each piece. The challenge was providing ultra-vibey tracks that did not overshadow the show’s action, so we composed simple, but strong melodic motifs that would enhance each scene, rather than distract a viewer’s attention from the actors. Although keyboards and programming were at the music’s forefront, I used guitars to give the tracks some Nile Rodgers-style grooves. For these, I played a Gibson ES-335, a PRS DTG, an RS Guitarworks Slab, or my old Fender Stratocaster, and I plugged into a Dr. Z Carmen Ghia, a 1970 Marshall 50-watt Super Lead, or a Kemper Profiler. Effects included a Wampler Ego and Faux Tape Echo, a Boss chorus, and an Xotic BB Preamp.

In the end, the project was a fun challenge. Synthy pop isn’t exactly my cup of musical tea, however, the assignment forced me to appreciate both the wonderful world of programming and the function of modern pop/mainstream guitar.