We asked longtime friends and Cobra Kai composers Leo Birenberg and Zach Robinson to face off in a scoring battle. Of course they said yes (Cobra Kai never dies!), but gave themselves several rules before they ran off.
First, they agreed they only had 30 minutes. Second, they had to use Arcade’s Follow The Plan Kit from Obsidian. Third, they couldn’t listen to each other’s work until it was completed. Fourth, they decided the music had to be in the style of an ‘80s style training montage. Finally, there would be no mercy.
Birenberg and Robinson: from Disney to Daniel-san
The pair had met about a decade ago when they were part of Disney’s music department under Emmy-winning composer Christophe Beck. There, they worked on universally-loved films like Frozen, Ant-Man, and Edge of Tomorrow, among others. Currently, they’re praised for their work as the Cobra Kai composers. The pair crafted the totally ’80s musical vibe for YouTube Premium’s Karate Kid TV sequel.
Both men come at music from different avenues. Robinson likes to shred on a left-handed Fender Stratocaster while Birenberg fancies himself a master of the electric pan flute. Together, they utilize various elements of Follow The Plan to summon the sounds of the ’80s.
One man went at it with a chugging guitar
“My job is, kind of, to Eighties-ify it,” explained Robinson, who co-composed and oversaw the music production for YouTube’s “Sing It!” After making a simple beat, he added a fuller drum sound and a few more synth vibes. Then, he trimmed the loop to make it sound more robotic. Once the musical bed was made, Robinson pulled the Stratocaster off the wall and plugged it in. “Sometimes I like to chug over it,” he said and added a layer of gnarly hair metal guitar to the mix.
The other man raged via Plotting Modular
Over in the other studio Birenberg started with the beat. “There’s a lot of knobs to play with,” he said with his cap on backwards. “Let’s see what they do.”
After some experiments, he found his way to Plotting Modular in Arcade. There, his eyes and ears were pleased.
“Oh man, any knob labeled Rage, I’m immediately going to turn up, and I was not disappointed,” he laughed.
His humor matches the work he has done in the past. Birenberg composed the music on Hulu’s PEN15 and the FX series Son of Zorn.
With a healthy, dynamic beat, and tubular synths, Birenberg reached for his Akai Professional EWI4000S electronic wind instrument. Why not? After a few notes, it’s obvious the pan flute fits perfectly into the story of the karate kids who have since all grown up.
“The key to a long training sequence like this is you want to make sure your levels, your tiers, are really clear,” he explained.
The verdict: whose montage brought it harder?
Once the trash talk ended, the music began and the two sat down to compare tracks. After a few measures, Birenberg noticed that his partner was using a four-on-the-floor kick, just as he did.
Great minds think alike?
Yes. “It’s a training montage,” Robinson chuckled.
“It’s really interesting how we both have a similar structure,” Birenberg smiled. Then he complimented Robinson’s synth solo, played on his Prophet keyboard.
Birenberg’s piece started off slower, introduced the pan flute early, and built to dramatic tiers quickly.
“We totally did a similar thing,” Birenberg said to his partner after both songs were played, noting it “confirmed that we both have similar instincts when it comes to doing music like this.”
“I think we’re just meant to work together,” Robinson said.
“I think we are too,” Birenberg agreed.