Whether in a movie theater or on an iPad, the effect is the same: Brian Tyler has an extraordinary way of bringing to life what we’re seeing with his outstanding music. Tyler has scored over 100 films, including blockbusters like Avengers: Age of Ultron, Furious 7, Iron Man 3, and Thor: The Dark World, as well as the breakout hit Crazy Rich Asians. Collectively, his movies have made $13 billion worldwide, putting him in the top 10 highest grossing film composers of all time.
In addition to his tremendous film credits, Tyler arranged and conducted the film logo music for the Universal Pictures 100th Anniversary, the Marvel Studios logo, and the NFL theme music for ESPN. He also scored the theme for the U.S. Open Championships, now airing annually on FOX. His TV credits include Yellowstone, 1883, and Hawaii Five-0, as well as his Emmy-nominated scores for Last Call, Sleepy Hollow, and Transformers: Prime. And it doesn’t end there.
His list of wins includes two World Soundtrack Awards, with one for Best New Film Composer of the Year, a staggering 34 BMI Awards, and 12 Goldspirit Awards. His soundtracks are mainstays on the charts, with several having hit #1. In addition, he was inducted into the prestigious music branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2010.
Tyler stays incredibly busy with current projects like Disney’s Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers and “Are We Dreaming,” an immersive audio-visual experience which debuted in an epic two-hour midnight performance for a crowd of 30,000 at Lost Lands Music Festival.
BMI caught up with The Fate of the Furious and Formula 1 composer in advance of the company’s Film, TV and Visual Media Awards, where Tyler will be recognized as a BMI Icon. Here’s what he had to say about his amazing journey.
In addition to the many prestigious awards you’ve been given, you will be recognized with BMI’s highest honor, the BMI Icon Award, at the upcoming BMI Film, TV and Visual Media Awards. What does this acknowledgement mean to you?
Being given this award is absolutely amazing to me. I have always looked up towards the composers who were awarded this honor before me with such admiration and respect. Receiving this award is truly something that, at one time, seemed impossible. I dedicated myself to the craft of music because it is the way I best express myself and I would not have it any other way, regardless of if there were awards or not. So, it is truly a dream come true to receive this honor.
You started scoring films after completing your master’s degree from Harvard. How were you introduced to film scoring, and why did you pursue this career path?
Creating music has been the central passion for me for as long as I can remember. I recall reading novels as a young kid and writing my own proto-score music to bring the novels to life in my own mind. Music has been my life since I was a child, always occupying my time and fascination. I continued to compose all the way through graduating from Harvard. After graduation I immediately dove into composing and producing music, from classical to score style to hip-hop to rock to underground electronic music. The world of music was so vast, and I truly loved and wanted to master so many styles of music that I found film scoring to be the most diverse avenue to making music with the least amount of typecasting. And to this day, I am so glad I chose that path.
You’ve scored more than 100 films, including the Fast and Furious franchise, Crazy Rich Asians, Iron Man 3 and Scream, and also compose music for TV and video games. What’s the most challenging and/or rewarding project you’ve worked on so far and why?
The most challenging project I have ever worked on is probably my very first film, Bartender, which was a lesson in learning on the fly on how to score a film. It was a complete orchestral styled score and additionally I was producing something like 12 multi-genre songs ranging from hip-hop to industrial to pop on top of that. I didn’t know anything about the technical terminology of film scoring since I didn’t go to school for it, nor was I working with anyone on the project, and I frankly had no friends or associates that were film composers. Weeks before the final dub, my entire 100 minutes plus of music was erased by a drive bug as well as its back-up, and this at the time felt like a career ender. It was absolutely gutting. I was so terrified about being considered unreliable that I told no one and started from scratch and redid the entire score. It wasn’t until many years later that I told the director who then teared up in sympathy for the young lad who went through hell. Haha.
As a composer and multi-instrumentalist, how do you find balance in exploring different sounds and instruments while trying to create music that compliments the story or plot?
I really love to put unexpected musical colors into the music but not for the sake of shock-value or merely being “different.” I feel that instrumentation that subverts expectations can provide a unique emotional tone to music that gives it a unique vibe. For instance, I love using choir in bass music and hip-hop as a way to increase the scale of the sound. Often, I love using synths within traditional orchestral pieces like the Yamaha CS-80 or the Jupiter 8 to give it a feeling of warmth and power outside the normal symphonic palette. Other ways I do this are using instruments from Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa that have a different scale than western tuning. Those microtonal notes can produce incredible emotion. So much so that I detune my western synths and pianos to be microtonal tunings to create a power that is not available to me on the 88 key standard western notation scale.
Do you have a go-to instrument to start your creative juices going? How do you expand on an idea?
My first go-to instrument of choice when starting to create music is my brain. I usually close my eyes and just let it run wild and see what comes to me. I find that if I sit down at an instrument like a piano or guitar, I will write music for THAT instrument. Which then can lead to a conclusion that is imprisoned in the wrong instrument and its style. Even if I then port the melody from a piano to a cello, let’s say, it will still have the DNA of something that was written on a piano. Avoiding that by going on a fully variable mind exploration of music really leads me to the best possible choices in my music.
Can you share a little about how the creative process works when you’re trying to create music that aligns with the director’s vision for a film?
My creative process for creating music for a film doesn’t really vary when writing for a particular director’s vision once that director establishes what he or she wants from their film. At the point at which I know what they are looking for, it is a process of simply creating music that best evokes both the emotional and narrative heart of the film through music.
You’ve described one of your recent projects, “Are We Dreaming,” as a “modern-day Fantasia crossed with the visual spectacle of cinematic films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner.” What was the inspiration behind this immersive audiovisual experience, and how did you bring it to fruition?
The inspiration for “Are We Dreaming” came from a desire to see the spectacle of film being such a powerful visual tool, be paired with but in service to music. Putting music as the driving force behind a visually arresting journey through space and time and the idea of who we are as human beings essentially inverts the normal film process. By making the journey driven by music instead of dialogue or a single storyline, the visuals are in service to the music. For instance, not only did I strive to incorporate footage from all around the world (currently 22 countries!), but also of space and dance choreography, I also wanted to create the most elaborate and beautiful abstract visuals that would look exactly like the music sounds. And in doing this, I realized that by me creating both the visuals and the music, there would be a 1-to-1 connection between the artist and what people would experience during the show. Having one mind that created the visuals that also created the music has created a synergy that has resulted in “Are We Dreaming” having a level of impact on people beyond anything I had imagined, and the reception has been incredible to see. It is exciting that it will be fully launching soon. It is the most important and personal project of my entire life.
You have a musical alter-ego, Madsonik, and have collaborated with Juicy J, Wiz Khalifa, Ty Dolla $ign and Tom Morello, creating hit songs for movie soundtracks. Why were you drawn to this aspect of your musical career and how does your creative process in this alter-ego differ from projects under your Brian Tyler brand? Given this success, do you see yourself working with other songwriters more in the future?
My Madsonik bass music/hip-hop alter ego really got enveloped into the “Are We Dreaming” banner in a sense, along with so much more. But it was always a passion of mine to create music in different genres and at the time, it was more understandable to have two names for the two worlds (scoring and songs). Now people know that about me more, so it is something that actually happens more and more often on these films. And I love working with other artists so much, as it brings true joy to my music journey as an artist.
What are you working on now?
I am working very hard on “Are We Dreaming” and loving it. It is a project that is different every single night that I perform it, and I am playing music festivals and solo shows as the album launches this summer. I was fortunate enough to play main stage at a music festival for a massive crowd recently which really brought a whole new reality to it. I am also doing concerts of my live film score music through the winter. Additionally, I am currently scoring a musical that will be based in Las Vegas and premiering later this year which is absolutely unreal. It is a spectacle with incredible sets and choreography and breathtaking scale. My new film projects include two animated films (Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers for Disney is one of them, and the other one I am not at liberty to divulge yet!) as well as Yellowstone and 1932 for Taylor Sheridan, Fast X for Universal, and a slew of other films I am under NDA to keep quiet about for the time being, haha! I am also producing tracks on a number of pop artist projects.
What advice would you give to an aspiring composer trying to navigate the entertainment industry today?
Truly, life is so short so go with what you are most passionate about musically. Be selective and enjoy your life. Certainly, make sure you pay attention to the craft of filmmaking if you choose films, tv, or games. And definitely keep an open mind to genres you are not yet familiar with including new music that does not yet exist. I find that I learn as much from the giants of the past as the new artists of today.
How did you first start working with BMI, and how has it impacted your career?
I believe I first joined BMI in 1997 when I scored the film Six-String Samurai. I remember being a deer in headlights at my first BMI Awards show but so thrilled to be a part of the family. Through the years BMI has taken such an incredible interest in my well-being and growth as a composer that I can never thank BMI enough. The care of making sure I have always been protected and represented as a composer in an ever-changing world of how music is used and exploited has brought so much peace of mind to me. The platforms in which music is used have expanded at an astonishing rate during my career from theaters to streaming and beyond. I am so glad that BMI has my and all other composers’ backs that are part of their incredible organization.