Michael Price offered a fascinating insight into composing for television at an RTS London event in late February. Backed by a keyboard and video clips, Price deconstructed the scores for BBC One show Sherlock and ITV’s Unforgotten.
“They are both detective shows, but they could not be more different. For Sherlock we chose a character- and theme-driven way of scoring,” said Price, who was in conversation with live music producer, and former BBC and Classic FM presenter Tommy Pearson.
Price demonstrated how he and his co-composer, David Arnold – neither will reveal who writes which parts of a score – composed Sherlock’s “hero theme”, the music that accompanies Benedict Cumberbatch’s sleuth as he springs into action.
Price’s music for Unforgotten, which he composed alone, is intentionally set at a lower key. The programme, although it is a cop series, forgoes the action scenes typical of the genre.
“I wanted to create a stillness for something naturalistic to develop – it’s a long way from the hyper-realism of Sherlock,” he explained. “I was trying to find a [musical] language that attaches itself to emotions not characters.”
The piano, supplemented by strings, is the main instrument featured on Price’s soundtrack. “There’s tons of space inside sparse piano music,” he explained. “It leaves room for emotion to develop. Plus, most composers are pianists.”
The composing process, said Price, involves “hours with your arse in the chair –there’s no magic button that writes all the music”.
Criticism and knockbacks are part of the job, continued Price. “As I become more comfortable and confident with my own musical voice, I have got less defensive and more resilient,” he said.
What remains, he added, “is the absolute terror of the blank piece of paper, but with experience, although the terror is just as bad, I have developed techniques to get [a score] started.”
The London Centre event was held at ITV Studios on 22 February and produced by Terry Marsh.
Michael Price – a musical history
Michael Price served his apprenticeship as assistant to the late composer Michael Kamen after his synthesizer expertise landed him work on the1997 sci-fi film, Event Horizon, which Kamen scored with electronic dance duo Orbital.
Price worked with Kamen for five years on programmes that included HBO World War II series Band of Brothers. “There’s a long tradition of composers who’ve been assistants to other composers” Price told Television before the RTS London event. “It gives you a real grounding in the history and practice of [composing].”
Changing note, he was one of the music editing team on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, working with Howard Shore’s Oscar-winning orchestral score. Price also worked as a music editor on Richard Curtis’s rom-com, Love Actually. “We spent nine months in the cutting room working with such a wide variety of songs,” he recalled. “It was a [great way to learn] the technical and emotional aspects of how music works with pictures.”
Price first worked with James Bond composer David Arnold on the 2002 Jennifer Lopez thriller, Enough, and a few years later wrote additional music for Arnold’s score for Edgar Wright’s comedy, Hot Fuzz. “We got on and it’s proved to be a joyful relationship,” he said. “It works so well for us and we’ve sustained [the partnership] for so long – it feels very natural.”
In partnership with Arnold, Price has composed the music for all four series of Sherlock, winning an RTS Craft and Design Award in 2010. “There’s been a great deal of satisfaction for both of us, having what are effectively 13 feature films to construct a musical world – those opportunities don’t come along very often.”
Working solo, Price writes for film, such as 2012 comedy-drama Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, as well as TV. Recently, he composed the music for Unforgotten, starring Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar, which finished its second run earlier this year.
Price also has a burgeoning career as a recording artist, releasing his debut album, Entanglement, in 2015. Tongue in cheek, Price describes his style as “hipster classical”, a crossover of electronic and classical music.