Wonder how 'Riverdale' comes up with its enthralling score? Music composer Sherri Chung shares all the secrets
Sherri Chung, one of the music composers for The CW hit 'Riverdale', shares with Meaww the specific challenges of working on the show and that includes Cheryl Blossom as well.
Let's be honest, Riverdale's music has hyped you up, scared you much and above all, made you fall in love with Archie and the gang even more.
Meet Sherri Chung, the musical composer working alongside Blake Neely, for The CW hit. In an exclusive interview with Meaww, the composer who's also worked on Netflix's documentary series 'The Keepers' and NBC’s hit espionage thriller 'Blindspot' as well as with the CW DC universe's 'Arrow', 'The Flash', 'Supergirl' and DC’s 'Legends of Tomorrow' shares about the specific challenges of working on 'Riverdale' which includes refraining from musically competing with Cheryl Blossom, who always has a dramatic entrance and snappy dialogues.
Sherri also shared her playlist with us, but it's not something you'd expect.
You are well known for your compositional work across various platforms from TV to films, documentaries, commercials, and musicals. Could you tell us about the challenges of composing music for a TV show and how is the thought process different from creating mainstream music?
I think one of the more challenging parts of scoring this show is also the same for most episodic formats… the deadlines! The schedule is pretty tight. But it's also a fun challenge and can actually work in favor of the end result, because it forces me to trust my instincts both dramatically and musically. There isn’t too much time for second-guessing, however, that doesn’t mean you just slap your first thought on the page. It means you really have to work for every choice you make because it has to count.
More specific to 'Riverdale', another exciting challenge is ensuring not to overstate some already overtly presented ideas. For instance, when Cheryl’s character appears on screen, her entrances and lines are never subtle. Musically you want to match that, but without competing with the character. So it ends up being really important to choose carefully and economically the most impactful musical statement that says just the right thing without overdoing it. It ends up being a good challenge creativity wise.
As far as comparing it to mainstream music, as in stuff on the radio, it’s actually easier for me to write for film and TV because I write to the story and emotion on screen. Once I figure out the function of the score, I just watch the story unfold and am inspired by what I’m seeing to create a score that complements it.
We would like to know how did you get started on Riverdale and how has your journey been so far?
I was already collaborating with Blake Neely on several of his shows. I started writing with him when he was started the 'Supergirl' pilot. Blake gave me a call and said "hey I want you to be a part of what I’m doing." We ended up working on three other shows that season, another superhero series called 'Legends of Tomorrow', an FBI mystery/drama, and of course, 'Riverdale'. When the 'Riverdale' pilot came in, I totally fell in love with it and was excited to work with Blake on helping him develop this new sound. Since the start, I was a part of the process of finding the sonic palette of this special world. We had such success in our partnership during the first season, that moving forward with it became the natural next step to share a screen credit.
We would like to know more about you and your introduction to music. Please tell us about your childhood and who influenced you the most when growing up?
I was always involved with music in some way. I studied classical piano at the age of 5 and grew up playing in various musical groups and bands. I was singing a lot in my youth and church groups and played the trumpet (poorly) in a Jazz band. Far more proficient on piano, I accompanied the choirs and theater performances during middle school and high school.
My classical background introduced me to "composers,' so when I heard an amazing score by Michael Kamen for the movie 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves', I was totally mesmerized by the magic of music and I realized that I wanted to do that for a living. Songwriting and singing were the start of my composing career, which led to studying composition more seriously in high school. I got a Bachelor of Music in Composition and Theory, and after a number of years of teaching private piano lessons, I moved to Los Angeles to attend USC’s graduate course in Film Scoring.
As you've said in your previous interviews that you love working on otherworldy projects especially post-apocalyptic kind, we would like to know the kind of post-apocalyptic music we would be hearing from you.
Well I’m not sure what constitutes a post-apocalyptic sound in music, but for me, it’s always about what and how the characters, images, and stories make me feel. I’m really inspired by these worlds that are created and portrayed that we are not familiar with. The idea behind a post-apocalyptic world is that something reached a huge tipping point and a new way of life has replaced the old one. And I try to create a sound, even if it’s not a melody, that I can work with and ask "what does that make me feel?" I try and incorporate something that is guttural, almost a direct reaction to what’s on screen. And if I haven’t seen this world before, then I haven’t heard the sounds that make up its music. So that exploration is the true creation for me. It’s a beautiful thing; you can discover a lot of places in your mind by trying to create a sonic representation of something you’re seeing and feeling for the first time and yet maybe can’t find words for.
Who would you love to work with next and why?
I would love to work on a film, show, etc. that really makes you think about human nature and the psychology of what would happen in extreme moments. I love real stories and raw emotions. I think about what kinds of stories really inspire me and it is always the focus on a character journey, where the story is about the human journey and experience. To answer this question, I would love to work on anything that is character and emotionally driven, edgy, uncomfortable and taps into something for the audience to think about.
We are also curious about your playlist. Can you give us a sneak peek at your current playlist?
Current playlist is no music at all! Talk shows, NPR, interviews is what I’m listening to at the moment. I am a little more inspired by getting separated from music. Having some space from it gives me a lot more perspective.
Besides Riverdale, you have worked on Netflix's documentary series The Keepers and NBC’s hit espionage thriller Blindspot as well as contributed to the music of shows within the CW DC universe. What has been the most thrilling and challenging experience so far and how do you juggle between composing music for Riverdale and Blindspot?
I find that having a few projects to go back and forth between keeps me more creative, engaged and tapped into the emotional journey of the characters I write for. I’m especially inspired by the variation of work I usually have. It’s kind of like eating your favorite food for every meal, every day of the week. You can’t possibly do without your favorite food, but having other yummy things thrown into the mix makes everything tastier.
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Please tell us about your work dynamics with composer Blake Neely and what's the secret of you guys working so well together?
I think a lot of the partnership success is how we are very much alike in our thinking, writing and the way we approach scenes. It definitely helps that I have picked up some of his methods over the years! There is also a huge amount of respect and trust, which allows for a mutual willingness to be vulnerable as artists.
Do you have anything else you'd like to add?
The Riverdale soundtrack just came out for Season 2! It’s available on iTunes, we’re very proud of it and super excited. The soundtrack for Crisis on Earth-X, the DC superhero crossover episodes from the previous season, is also out! It includes myself, and co-composers Blake Neely, Nathaniel Blume and Daniel James Chan. Also stay tuned for our forthcoming cross-over event…Elseworlds!