Joe Williams composed the Original Music for Roswell
In our continuing series Roswell: Behind the Scenes, we recently visited Joseph Stanley Williams, the musical composer for Roswell, at his home studio in Thousand Oaks, California.
The WB: What is your role as composer for Roswell?
Joe: Well, the job is to provide a musical undertone to accompany the action, to help the storyline along. You emphasize turns where the storyline does, musically, in order to provide the audience with a little bit of emotional content.
I handle all the dramatic, comedic and romantic underscoring, that’s my gig. I mean, other than song material, musically, everything else that’s in the show comes from this room.
The WB: How did you get the job?
Joe: I was brought on by Jason Katims and David Nutter, who was originally an executive producer in the first season and who also directed the pilot.
Jason had worked with a composer who I work with, Snuffy Walden, a very well known composer in television, on another show of his, Relativity. He really wanted Snuffy on the show to cover the elements that had to do with the Romeo/Juliet storylines between Max and Liz.
So the two of us were brought in as a possible team to do the score together, but as it turned out, Snuffy got so busy with a couple of other shows that I jumped in and started working on the pilot. It turned out that Jason and David were very pleased with what I was doing, so I became the sole composer on the show.
The WB: What type of preparation do you do before you compose an episode?
Joe: Well, the only time I get a script is if the story calls for something musical that needs to be pre-recorded for them to actually shoot to.
Sometimes the writers will write something in the show for Majandra Delfino to perform, which requires that I go in the studio with her ahead of time to create whatever it is that she’s to do. That’s usually the only time I’ll get a script, unless it’s something that Jason Katims, or one of the other writers, feels they want me to digest before or while they’re shooting.
The WB: Can you walk us through your process?
Joe: I’ve worked on several television shows and films, as the composer, as well as some cues on some big films and the process has been different on everything.
For the most part, after the editors have gotten through a show and the directors have done their cut, they’ll call me and we do a spotting session. Generally it will be Tracey D’Arcy, who is one of the producers on the show, along with Jason Katims, the editor of that episode and a music editor who will take notes.
We’ll watch the episode in its final form and decide where the score should go and where the cues should enter. Then we make a list of how many cues go into the show and what types of music it needs to be, their length and description. So with that, and my own notes, I’ll digitize everything into my computer, and just start chipping away at each cue one after the other until it’s finished.
I’ll always at least bring in a guitar player to play some electric guitar and nylon string stuff for the romantic themes. I might bring in a cellist to play some of the bittersweet moments, or even a woodwind player or maybe just something out of the ordinary. I’ll mix the whole thing here on eight-track tape, clone the tapes and send it off to the music editor. I’m sort of a one-man show.
The WB: How did you get your start?
Joe: My background is as a singer, although I am a student of my father’s, who is a film composer (John Williams, Star Wars), and I grew up watching him writing and scoring for film and television. I’m not a classically trained musician, but I did take piano lessons as a kid and some vocal training, which was really necessary when I got a real job as a rock singer.
The WB: With Toto?
Joe: Yes, it was a great period in my life for me. Both happy and sad, and difficult and easy.
The WB: What advice would you give to someone who came to you saying they wanted to become a composer?
Joe: Not to do it the way I did it. I’m not saying someone that has a similar background as I have couldn’t do what I’m doing, and someone who really puts their mind to it couldn’t do it because that’s really what it takes.
The bottom line is if you really want to compose, then you just go and do it. You have to get lucky, certainly, and you have to nurture relationships with people that could potentially hire you. In my opinion, that’s one of the most important things. If you do a job, they’re gonna call you back because they liked you as a person, and they liked your work.
Now what my dad would say, if you’re a musician he’d say study, he’d say practice, he’d say work on your craft, and whether it’s with your instrument or in your studio, write something every day. Whether it’s a couple of bars, or a song, just work on the craft. That’s what his advice would be so I guess I would give that same advice. Study and work at your craft.
I do make a point to do a few things that my father suggested, which is to work a little bit every day to get better. Read the New York Times every day and keep your brain sharp. I’m always learning.
The WB: Do you really need to know how to read and write music to become a composer?
Joe: You don’t necessarily have to, because there are some very famous composers out there who don’t, but what they do have is a tremendous ear and a talent for working with picture. Writing music for picture is a completely different animal than just writing music.
I’ve found, in the almost ten years I’ve been working with picture, if I treat things with a more simple approach I’m doing better for the picture. So you don’t have to be a musical scholar, but it helps.
There’s no substitute for an orchestral score, large or small. Go see any movie these days and the biggest budgeted ones always involve some orchestra. And the composers you see who are writing the scores for these films are people who have training.
The WB: Would you say you have a favorite artist?
Joe: My favorite group is The Beatles. A lot of people’s favorite group is The Beatles, it’s a very standard boilerplate answer, but it’s really true.
I listen to a lot of film scores… Forrest Gump and Contact… I love that score. I’m also a huge fan of Danny Elfman. He and I have a similar background, but he’s a genius. He’s a tremendously talented musician, and has a wonderful ear and a really sharp mind to be able to come up with these flurries he does, these wonderful orchestral flurries.
The WB: What about today’s groups?
Joe: I do like some of the *NSync stuff because it’s really solid harmonies. It’s guys singing in harmony, and the same holds true for girl bands. I love some of the Dixie Chicks stuff because the vocals are on pitch, and performed well, and recorded well and the harmonies are fantastic. Some of the songs may not be brilliant but they’re good solid pop songs, and not that I listen to them all the time, but I have great respect for anyone who goes in the studio and records good quality music.
Copyright 2001 The WB Television Network
Discover the magic music can make…
(With apologies to Isabel).