<I>BH90210</I>: Composer Brian Kim
Issue: July/August 2019

BH90210: Composer Brian Kim

LOS ANGELES — Composer Brian Kim has been working on Fox’s BH90210, the reboot of the popular ‘90s television series that followed a group of well-off Beverly Hills teens through high school and later college.  In the new version, the show’s characters now appear as satirized versions of their real-life personas. The series, which consists of six episodes, marks the composer’s first time working on an hour-long network program.

Kim recently took time out between sessions to talk with Post about creating BH90210’s music, his thought process and the gear he uses to meet the series’ tight deadlines.

How did you get involved in this project?

“My agents [were] sending me stuff and sent me the [demo pitch] for 90210. I was looking at it and was like, ‘I think I should probably do this one.’” 

What was your approach to the demo?

“The demo was redoing the theme song — a :30 version of the theme song. That was the demo…So I submitted it and a couple of interviews later I was on it. Most of the things that I do here I get because I know somebody on the gig for a previous job. That's just sort of how it goes. This is one of only a handful of situations where I went in cold and something I did seem to resonate with somebody.”

The show is using the existing theme, which is so iconic with its electric guitar solo. How did that influence you?

“There's been a little bit of confusion as to which one I actually wrote. I think some people think I did the opening credits for the new one, which I did not do. That's actually a cut from the ‘90s. That's one of the originals. My version ends up as score on the show, and as end credits whenever you get to hear and credits, which a lot of times is covered by the promo for the next season. 

“But online and on iTunes, Hulu, mine is there. Mine keeps that melody. That melody is so iconic and soaring, and you and you don't hear melodies like that nowadays anymore and in theme songs, if you even get a theme song on a TV show. I really wanted to keep that front and center, so I keep that on the electric guitar. I add some, like phrasing and ornaments, just for my own amusement and style, but I sort of beef up the electric guitar to make it sound a little more modern. And then behind that, I put a combination of big pop drums, with maybe some old ‘90s-style Phil Collins drum fills, and some claps and sound effects that come from more modern pop, tropical, house music. A lot of pop artists now are reaching back into the ‘90s and using a lot of those sounds in what they're making today. And I'm a fan of a lot of that sort of stuff. It felt right for this moment and felt nice to combine modern sounds with retro sounds to create something that had its feet in both worlds.” 

When you got on-board, did you know how many cues were required or what the show’s music needs would be?

“I knew when I signed on that it was going to be a six-episode mini series, which is not to say that they only wanted to do one season. But for now, this season is just six episodes, so I knew that going in. But I had no idea what kind of music they wanted on the show. I don't really think anybody putting together the show had a clear idea of what they wanted the music to be either.” 

How did you get started then?

“The first three or four weeks I was on the show, it was me just really throwing a lot of paint at the wall and seeing what was going to stick and not stick. We tried a lot of stuff. We tried like electronica to make it super modern. We tried to funk to reach back even farther to give it a retro feel, and then we tried a modern funk sort of thing, like Bruno Mars. None of those really felt right. What we ended up landing on was a very kind of California pop-based guitar sound — a very summery, beachy feel to the score. 

“We listened to a lot of summertime pop hits from a couple of years back, just to keep it modern. What we ended up doing takes a lot from summertime pop hits. One that I know that I listened to a bunch was the current Jonas Brothers song, ‘Sucker’. There's a lot of really cool, modern sounds in that one that actually lent themselves very well to film score. I listened to that one a lot and then our music supervisor, Heather Guibert, has an encyclopedic knowledge of music. She sent me this huge playlist — a bunch of summertime hits — a lot of them that I didn't even know about. So I took a lot from there too. There is a there's an artist named Sofi Tukker, and a lot of her material had this really cool, edgy, California guitar kind of sound, so we combined a lot of stuff from that playlist that she sent me into the score and that's the feel that ended up really hitting it with the show runners.”

Are you working to picture for the score or are you just working with themes and then the editor is using these themes based on where they're needed within the context of the show?

“For 90210, I was really only working with picture. I had entered the process a little bit late. They were already pretty deep into edits at that point, so it made more sense for me to just start writing to picture. And then once they started getting cues, they would sort of put them in a bunch of different places where they felt were going to fit best. On previous jobs, if I enter a little earlier in the process, then I start writing music even before the edits are done. Like you were saying, I write a bunch of themes and then I just kind of place them around. But for 90210, the post turn around on it is so fast, and I entered it relatively late. They were just like, ‘Here's picture. Go!’”

Can you talk a little bit about the pilot episode and if the sound of the show changes in subsequent episodes?

“The pilot episode is unique in that the timeline for the show - for the episode - is not linear. There's a ton of flashbacks in it. And then there are flashbacks within flashbacks. And then when we get to the proper timeline, there's still many '90s references...So that was one of the really hard parts about the pilot — keeping it feeling like it's all of a piece but acknowledging all of these different breaks in the structure that it was going through. There [are] also very emotional moments in the pilot when they’re referencing Luke and his passing, and when there are romantic moments between some characters. We really needed to sort of to thread that needle in hitting all of those spots. Moving forward, the episodes are take a more regular structure. At some pointed in episode [there’s a flashback], but there's usually only one and then the rest of the episode takes place in present time.

“[For] the future episodes, we're going to keep that kind of fun, California pop sound. Everything is really fun. Everything's really bouncy. That's very much the flavor that the studio and the show runners all want to go for and it works really well. Honestly, the pilot was the hardest one. I'm two episodes in and the subsequent episodes have been smoother going just because we're not jumping around quite so much.” 

It’s interesting, the way that they've brought the show back with the actors playing themselves.

“Yeah, and also they sort of incorporate elements of their all old characters into these new personas. Tori's character has a lot of stuff related to Donna. And Jason and so much of what his plotlines are about him having that sort of ‘golden-boy’ reputation, which is very much what Brandon had when he was on this show.”

What is your turnaround time on an episode?

“I have generally three or four days per episode…but the first episode was so time intensive and had so many rounds of notes and revisions…That’s sort of what happens. That time I could have spent on subsequent episodes, [but] I ended up spending on the first episode. Now it's really just I get the locked cut, and then there's a week before the mix on that locked cut. I give myself a little bit of time to do any revisions, so I'll give myself, max, like four days to try to get the score done. And then I send it out and I wait for any notes. Then I spend the last day or two prepping the delivery and stuff like that.”

How many cues do you think are in each episode?

“It varies. I would say minute wise, there's probably anywhere between 15 and 22 minutes in an episode. In Episode 3, we had 51 separate cues, whereas in Episode 2, that was spread out among like 30 to 35. It just sort of depends on the structure of the episode, but generally it sits in that 15-20 minute range.” 

Are you creating variations of cues - say from a major theme – or is every piece unique?

“I would say there's probably two or three themes that recur throughout the season. There are themes for certain relationship pairings and then there's one sort of main 90210 family theme. So much of the show is almost like this dysfunctional family dynamic  — they occasionally come together — and so that theme was highlighted in the first episode whenever they were talking about Luke. There was a particular melody that I would bring in. And then in subsequent episodes I bring that in whenever there is this feeling of everybody kind of coming together. 

“So there are those sort of three main themes so far, but for the rest of it, I have a main sound and I have a template of sounds that I work from. And then it's just different ideas based on that same ensemble.”

Are you're working from your home studio or are you set up at a facility?

“I'm doing everything at home. I have a studio at my house, so I play all the instruments on the show. There's a couple of instruments that I've hired out, but for the most part, like all the guitar, all the bass, all keyboards all the hand percussion, that's just me sitting at my desk with microphones and cables and just banging it out.”

So lots of live instruments. Are you using MIDI too?

“A combination of both. I have a collection of guitars that I use on every episode — guitars and basses — primary electric guitar. There's not a lot of acoustic guitar on the show. And then in terms of MIDI, I don't own a Rhodes piano. I wish I did, but I don’t, so whenever there is a Rhodes electric piano, that's generally a MIDI sound. And whenever it's that's sort of ‘90s, big synth sound, those are also MIDI controlled things.”

What about software and your DAW?

“I use Cubase. I write primarily in Cubase and then I’ll do some audio editing in Pro Tools. We always deliver in Pro Tools because the mix stage always wants everything in Pro Tools, but I'm writing in Cubase and a little bit in Ableton Live because there are some tools in Ableton that are better than everybody else. But 99 percent of the work is in Cubase. 

What kind of mix are you doing? Stereo or 5.1?

“I do the mixing myself this because all the music is basically rock music. There's no real point in delivering [5.1). There’s no point in delivering the rock cues in anything except for stereo. Pop songs on the radio that you hear are not in surround sound. That's not really how they're there conceived. I don't have a surround setup at home. I just have a stereo setup. I can do all the mixing. I can do all of that polishing here, which I like to do. I actually I enjoy that quite a bit.”

What kind of monitors are you using?  

“I'm on Dynaudio BM12s. They are a 12-inch woofer model. They're great. And then I actually have a couple of Avantone MixCubes — or the horror cubes as they used to be called — which are just these tiny speakers. If it sounds good on the MixCubes, then it'll sound good everywhere.” 

It sounds like it can be a demanding show? Are you working on other jobs simultaneously? 

“This is sort of taking up all of my time, and I'm sort of glad that I didn't really have anything else on my plate when this really hit full gear because if I did, I don't really know how I would have kept up with everything.”

When it comes to working on a high profile, is it as financially rewarding as one might think? Or is it basically ‘another job’?

“I never I never really thought about it in that sense. Honestly, I don't have any other hour-long network credits to compare this to. All of my other network credits have been half-hour, so this is my first hour-long network credit. But I will say that I don't feel like I'm being taken advantage of. For the amount of work that we're all putting in on the music, I do feel like the compensation is reasonable.”