A Q&A with Schroder on Creating the Musical Landscape for Hulu’s The Ultimate Playlist of Noise
What would a horror film be without menacing music signaling something bad is about to happen? Or a romantic drama without the sweeping orchestral score accompanying a final embrace? The simple answer, not as impactful or emotionally connecting. Whether one realizes it or not, the score for a film is just as integral as the actor’s performances. Crafting the perfect palette of sounds around a picture seems like a daunting task, but for musicians who have made this their profession, it’s just another day at the office. Composer Erick Schroder knows this first hand, with over 70 IMDB credits to his name, he has scored everything from documentaries to sport dramas.
His latest project is Hulu’s comedy/drama The Ultimate Playlist of Noise starring Madeline Brewer (The Handmaid’s Tale) and Keean Johnson (Euphoria). The film is centered around a high school senior (Johnson) who’s about to lose his hearing, so he embarks on a journey to hear his late brother’s voice one last time.
With music being front and center in The Ultimate Playlist of Noise, we had Erick break down his score for the project. We also spoke to him about his studio and what instruments/equipment he finds essential to the composing process.
Read the full interview here:
Dan Moore: Your latest project is Hulu’s The Ultimate Playlist of Noise. Can you tell us about the score for this film?
Erick Schroder: The score has quite an intimate quality to it. To complement some of the indie rock songs in the film, we countered with a more minimal and sentimental approach. This allowed the score to better concentrate on and support the emotion of the lead character’s journey. Our intent was to really capture the rawness of his experience and the life-altering blow of someone who’s whole life revolved around sound and music.
Dan Moore: Before beginning work on The Ultimate Playlist of Noise, what sort of preparation did you do?
Erick Schroder: I had pitched for the film and based off of that scene, loosely had a sense of what the score would entail. Although reading the script can be informative and creating musical ideas before seeing the film can be useful, I often prefer to have my first overall viewing be with the creative team. I ideally want to view it without having preconceived ideas of what I think should happen. That being said, depending on the specific project, there are times when I will view a film on my own and create a suite of ideas for consideration during the spotting session. Every project is so different. Ultimately, I always think of scoring as being on the same journey the audience will be on when viewing the film, which is why I prefer to score start to finish. I rarely jump around unless it is for a specific reason.
Dan Moore: Did you lean towards one specific instrument, more than others, for The Ultimate Playlist of Noise? If so, what was that?
Erick Schroder: I would say it’s a toss up between the guitar and piano. Without giving anything away, the guitar itself plays an important role in the story for TUPON (The Ultimate Playlist of Noise). Overall, guitar, piano, and synths make up the bulk of the score with a sprinkling of bells and vocals.
Dan Moore: How much input did the film’s director, Bennett Lasseter, have on the score for The Ultimate Playlist of Noise?
Erick Schroder: Bennett had quite a bit of input on the score. With COVID, the pace of post production was slowed down a bit, which for a composer, is a beautiful thing. To have the time and opportunity to experiment and try a multitude of different ideas was a welcomed luxury. So often, scores get rushed at the end of the production, but with TUPON, we had several months to collaborate on the score. Bennett and I have worked together once before, so there was an immediate level of comfort when starting this film. Bennett was incredibly supportive of letting me experiment and try various ideas as we honed in on the sound of the score. Some scenes were a slam dunk; others took many revisions to find the perfect balance of what was really needed without forcing the emotion.
Dan Moore: Sound design is very important in The Ultimate Playlist of Noise because the film centers around a character losing his hearing. How closely did you work with the film’s sound designer?
Erick Schroder: I actually didn’t work with the sound designer on this project. When spotting the film with Bennett and Robin, the editor, we carefully combed through it and identified key sound design moments for me to leave space for and moments where the score needed to shine. There are also quite a few songs throughout the film, so the spotting session really provided a solid map of where I needed to concentrate.
Dan Moore: You have scored everything from horror films to romantic comedies. What genre comes most natural to you?
Erick Schroder: I would say scoring for drama comes most naturally to me. Towards the beginning of my career, I was almost exclusively scoring dramas. I think it can be easy to fall into a space of scoring within the same or limited genres. We find our comfort zone. And then an entirely different, unique opportunity may present itself that changes that trajectory and pushes you out of your comfort zone, which can be a wild ride. I really had an amazing year with a lot of these opportunities. Genre lines blurred and I found myself scoring thrillers, dramas, a family film, a western, and an art house film, so I was definitely kept on my toes and pushed to explore my scoring capacity at a new level.
Dan Moore: As a composer, what do you think is the most important part of the job?
Erick Schroder: Ultimately, to support the emotion of the film. I always try to ebb and flow with the storyline. There are times when the music really needs to carry and push the scene along and other times when it should barely be present. The more subtle the cue, sometimes the more challenging it can be. These ideas come, and you get excited and start putting them in. Yet, when you step back and evaluate the scene, you realize you ended up forcing something that doesn’t really support it in the appropriate way. For certain scenes, less can be more.
Dan Moore: Tell us about your studio. What is the one object in there you can’t live without?
Erick Schroder: I have a very modest studio — computer, piano, and a variety of acoustic instruments. As simplistic as this may seem, I really couldn’t live without my computer. I typically develop my thoughts at the piano, the computer is where I really start exploring sonic possibilities. Honestly, I sometimes wonder how much more efficient I would be with just a piano, pencil, and paper — I guess I have those old school tendencies. The computer provides so many options and possibilities, I easily get lost in the creative playground and before I know it, the day has passed.
Dan Moore: What is the most unique instrument you own?
Erick Schroder: I have a very cool sound design instrument called a “MPA 019.” It features a variety of items to pluck, strike, and bow. Whenever I work on a thriller or horror project, it is the secret sauce I use for the extra cool creepy factor.
Dan Moore: What program or piece of equipment is integral to creating your film scores?
Erick Schroder: Piano is in absolutely everything I score. I am a pianist so writing at the piano is where I start developing ideas. Every score is so different, but whether it is a drama or experimental music, I always find a way to use the piano. It may be that, it gets mangled so much it no longer sounds like an actual piano, but there will always be piano there.
You can learn more about Erick here: https://erickschroder.com/