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Behind the Theme: Tagged

This edition of Behind the Theme details the creation of one of the main themes from "Tagged," the #1 Apple Fiction-charting audio drama by Goldhawk Productions in collaboration with Sony Podcasts. The show follows two social media influencers (played by Jessica Plummer and Ben Hardy) who find themselves slipping from layer to layer of an ever-deepening mystery. "Tagged" grapples with themes such as honesty, revenge, and the ethics of responsibility for mistakes of the past all within mystery, conspiracy, cults, a French police station, and young newlyweds. Before getting into the creation of the music, you can listen to the theme here:

The process of creating the music began after the director sent me a script for the first episode. My early impression was that the show shifted between interviews with a police officer and the main events of the story, that it centered around two influencer newlyweds in their twenties, and that there was a seductive / sexy / international element to the writing that recalled Mission Impossible or James Bond.

In hindsight, my first attempt at the music involved a bit of a misread of the main characters. I assumed that because the characters were influencers, they were not to be taken seriously, and that we would be smirking at their expense. So I imagined a light mystery, perhaps a take on one of Bernard Hermann and Alfred Hitchcock's lighter affairs - something like "Marnie." I initially presented music that reflected this, leaning into winking mystery and somewhat bumbling rhythm. You can listen to the initial ideas that I presented in the video below:

While there are seeds of what became some of the music within these two ideas (the ambient orchestral/synth part of Tre and Karlie became a cue in the score), they come off as a bit bouncy and lackadaisical, particularly the woodwinds in the first sketch. After presenting these, the director and I met and he described his vision of a hip and modern score that would suggest the music that Tre and Karlie might actually listen to, but also speak to the romantic nature of international travel, mystery, and danger.

I thought about the show for some time. I knew that there was an element of Hitchcock/Hermann that could work for this, but I needed a contrasting style that would amp up the cocky bravado of Tre, and the sexiness and cunning of Karlie. One artist that came to mind was the late Pop Smoke, a young man who had a string of innovative hits and who was sadly murdered just as his career was taking off. His song "Dior," produced by 808Melo, has a synth melody that for some reason makes me think of Mission Impossible/Bond/Jason Bourne. You can listen to that here:

I started to envision of blend of a melody inspired by the 808Melo synth line, and a Bernard Hermann score. This combo could speak to Tre, Karlie, and encompass the romance and exciting mystery of the show as a whole.

I typically start themes by either humming into my phone, or sketching ideas on the piano. In this case, I put my phone on my piano at home and I recorded this melody:

This has an element of the Bond / Mission Impossible thriller that I felt the director was envisioning, I think because of the pairing of a repetitive motif with a descending bass. It feels suspenseful and inevitable, and I could imagine orchestrating it differently in several cues to speak to different scenarios (exactly what I ended up doing with my portion of the score).

The next step was to sort out the sonic palette of the show. I ended up creating a couple of full versions of the theme, something I often do while trying to find the palette of a show. My initial attempt included live jazz drums, violins, and some Moog synthsizer. It sounded like this:

I must admit that I love this arrangement. It's a little surprising, strange, and esoteric while still exciting. But I thought it recalled Portishead or other 90's electronic music more than the palette of a 24-year old today, which meant that it might not resonate with the show's audience, or speak to the director's aesthetic vision. My next attempt was this:

This felt closer to the story, characters, and overall aesthetic of the show, but was a bit low-energy. I think the drums are too sparse and the elements that are there don't have enough character. These two together essentially amount to the final version, the session of which can be seen here:

The director agreed that this was the way to go, and this sound ended up dictating the palette of my contribution to the score. I must shout out Sacha Puttnam who also contributed to the score. His cues were far lighter than mine, and perfectly complimented the harder and more aggressive music I wrote for the show. Enjoy the show here, and thank you for reading!


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