By Amanda Hess
LOS ANGELES —
When Brad Segal studied classical piano at Juilliard, he didn't expect that he would one day leverage his talents to score scenes of women weeping in Jacuzzis. But as a composer and music supplier for "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette," he now spends his days turning small talk into high drama. Segal, who has worked on the shows for more than a decade, talked with Slate about how he manipulates contestants' personalities from the moment they exit the limo, wrings high tension out of people sitting around, and ramps up the string music to drum up some reality television romance.
Slate: I imagine that you didn't grow up thinking that you would become a composer for reality dating show competitions.
Brad Segal: No. No, no. When I went to Juilliard, I thought I was going to be a concert pianist. But I started to have fun just writing music. I first got a job at a jingle company in New York, writing music for commercials, then went on to score TV and film. When the early stage of reality shows hit, it was a rude awakening. The amount of music they wanted, and the time frame to do it in, was so different from scripted television and film - just a load of music in a short amount of time. It used to be that unscripted shows hired composers to write original music for the shows, so they would call me, Brad Segal, to score the whole show, because I specialized in that orchestral, emotional, romantic style of music they use on the "Bachelor." Nowadays, producers don't have time to edit their shows, send them to the composer, and have them score the show. They rely on big music libraries. So now they call my company, FineTune Music, to provide a collection of prewritten music, and then they'll ask me to compose a few original cues as needed. One year, I did five reality shows and the movie "Easy A," and I thought that might be my transition back into film. But the unscripted shows just kept coming and coming and coming.
Slate: Music must be more important in unscripted shows, because the producers don't have the typical tools, like scripted dialogue, to set the tone.
Segal: Most definitely. Often, you'll have two people sitting at a table eating and having a basic, normal interaction. But put some heartfelt romantic music under it, and all of a sudden it becomes a meaningful conversation. Or, by using a tension cue, you can make something feel tense that's not tense at all. When I watch a scene without the music, I rely on the producers to tell me how they want to characterize the contestants or foreshadow the plot. If it's going to be a relationship that lasts through the season, I'll score it in a romantic way. But if they're going to start butting heads after a few days, I'm going to want to play it a little more tense. For the music that plays as each person exits the limo, the producer will give me a little insight into their characters. If there's a guy who's a goofy guy, I'll pull comedic music; if there's a scene of romance building, I'll pull that sweeping orchestral music. That's the fun thing - it can tell the viewer what to feel as they watch.
Slate: In this week's "Bachelorette" premiere, former contestant Chris Bukowski "crashed" the mansion to try to get into the contest. How did you play that?
Segal: Creating tension is one of my favorite parts of working on unscripted programs. The party crash is the classic example - here's this guy who shows up unannounced, totally out off the blue. But if you listen to that scene without any music, it's just kind of like, "Oh, here's a guy who showed up. Whatever." The producers played it in an interesting way - when the host went and talked with the Bachelorette about his arrival, they started with some romantic music, to make the viewer feel like she might let him in. Then, when she's like, "Nope," the tense music kicks in and it ramps up pretty quickly as security escorts him out. There are a variety of levels of tension music - subtle tension, midlevel tension, and what we call "trailer-level tension." This show by no means uses that big, bombastic tension music, but I'll use tension music a fair amount to build suspense every time the show leads up to the next act - the commercial break.