The Flash Grant Gustin

Arrowverse composer Blake Neely on The CW's superheroic soundscape

Contributed by
May 24, 2018

This month, SYFY WIRE is interviewing some of the best composers in TV and film to get insight on the theme songs and scores that stick in our heads long after the credits roll.

Watching Star Wars: A New Hope makes most kids to dream of far-off galaxies and epic space battles. But, for an 8-year-old from Paris, Texas, the 1977 film inspired dreams of something quite different: a career in film and TV scoring.

"I remember distinctly sitting in the theater and thinking during the opening credits, 'I've never heard this music before, so this must be a job — that you can write music for movies. And I love this music. I want to do that,'" composer Blake Neely told SYFY WIRE in a recent conversation. "It set me on this path and finding my way. That's how I got here."

"Here" is at the apex of a prolific career that includes scoring such hits as Everwood, The Mentalist, and Riverdale, as well as DC Comics series Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and DC's Legends of Tomorrow. In fact, Neely — who's also a conductor, arranger, orchestrator, pianist, and author — just scored his 1,000th television show, and, over the years, he's been nominated for three Emmy Awards.

As part of SYFY WIRE's Convos With Composers series, we sat down with Neely, 49, to talk about characters, composers, and upcoming projects.

What do you love most about scoring comic book shows?

I was a comic book nerd growing up. I enjoy the responsibility of creating themes for these characters that predate me and you and most people on the planet, because we're in the 80th anniversary of DC Comics. What's also fun is you can do big and bold things with these shows because they're so cinematic and in your face.

How did you get into comic books?

My younger brother got me into them, and the first comic book I bought was an Aquaman [title], so I'm waiting for Aquaman to come to the Arrowverse so I can write his theme.

How do you develop theme songs for your DC shows?

I like to write away from [footage] so I cannot be dictated by how the show goes. For Arrow, I surrounded myself with pictures of the character and things in his world to put me in that headspace. I knew that he was on this deserted island, so themes of solitude came up. And I wanted to only use instruments that were bowed or with strings, to tie into "arrow." I even limited myself to the keys of G and A because of "Green Arrow." I went to the first action scene, and I realized you can't do a superhero show without brass. So it was an attempt, and it got me into a direction and a sound palette.

With The Flash, I did the same thing: I surrounded myself with images of things of propulsion, like jet engines and rockets.

You received a rejection letter from a college school of music saying you should consider another career path. What effect did that have on you?

That gave me the drive to do what I really want to do. And for no one to tell me I couldn't do it. Also, it taught me about rejection. You can't be in the film industry without knowing how to handle rejection.

What influence has your friend and mentor Hans Zimmer had on your work?

He put in me the sense that a score needs to have its own idea — a specific role. He's also taught me a lot about writing music with a computer, which helps in television when you don't have a budget for a full orchestra.

Who are your biggest influences as a composer?

One of my favorite composers is an Estonian composer called Arvo Pärt. But I'm also influenced by Samuel Barber and Mahler and, of course, John Williams. And Thomas Newman.

Do you have a series you dream of scoring?

If they make a Star Wars TV series, I want to do it.

What do you think about John Williams possibly leaving the Star Wars franchise?

I don't think he'll leave. I think that man is not really human — he's an alien that was put here, and he'll just continue to give us his wonderful riches for the rest of our lives.

Kind of like Yoda?

Exactly.

What are your favorite shows in terms of the score?

Of course, Game of Thrones. I love Seinfeld. I'm a huge fan of The Dick Van Dyke Show.

I love TV, and I love the art form of TV. A lot of people will say, "Don't you want to do movies?" And I have done movies. But what I love about TV is you get 22 episodes a year and then hopefully more seasons to get to know these characters — to experiment and dive deep. Whereas with a movie, it's two hours, and unless there's a sequel, you're done.

What are you working on now and next?

We just completed a new pilot for a Greg Berlanti show that will hopefully be on The CW next year. That's exciting.

Last year, I did this Netflix documentary series, The Keepers. That's one of my proudest scores. I love doing documentaries, because to actually take a real person's life and make music to that — it was amazing. So I did that with Ryan White, and he's got a new documentary on Dr. Ruth that we're going to do this summer, which I'm excited about.