If you’ve watched a hit summer movie in recent memory then you’ve undoubtedly heard the work of Brian Tyler. The eclectic composer’s sound can be heard in the scores of the Fast & Furious franchise, Crazy Rich Asians, and Avengers: Age of Ultron. When he isn’t writing blockbuster film scores, he tours as DJ Madsonik and collaborates with topline producers and rappers like Kill the Noise, Rae Sremmurd, and Wiz Khalifa. Ready for some goosebumps? We caught up with Tyler at his sprawling home studio to learn how he’s created such a rich and diverse body of work.
Capturing creative flow
Tyler’s studio overflows with a global array of percussion, drums, and instruments. It’s part of the reason that he’s been attached to so many projects. And, everything stays miked up at all times. This allows him to stay in his creative flow and easily catch those magical moments of musical clarity. “I’m really more of a tracker,” says Tyler. “I’ll go and play things in manually. I like to commit creatively to writing a certain way. It’s more difficult to change later, but it’s just how I do it.”
This approach allows him to create a rich patchwork of textures and rhythms. When asked about the ingredients that make up his secret sauce he says, “Those kinds of sounds, I’ll just record them and come up with ideas and it becomes a more eclectic vibe. That’s why you see so many percussion instruments. No one percussion instrument sounds the same.”
Tyler has always incorporated a broad range of sounds and techniques into his work. “Even when I lived in a tiny apartment with a couple of microphones, I would try to imbue it with some humanity,” he says. “I would mic up a snare drum. I would throw in my voice way in the background. I would do something live, something that had dirt to it, that had the imperfections that samples usually polish off.”
When worlds collide
Tyler is an artist who exists in two distinct worlds: film composer and globe-trotting DJ. And while these lives may seem vastly different, he reveals that he uses one to influence the other. As he stands in front of a four-deck Pioneer DJ setup, he recalls how the gear was an integral instrument for the most recent Fast & Furious movie.
“I would play drums in [one] room, track it into Pro Tools, and then I would bring it in here [to] mix it and remix it,” says Tyler pointing to the DJ equipment. “You come up with ideas, even for scoring, through these. You can really tweak stuff, things you only can do live instead of sitting there with a mouse and a click and a pointer and space bar. It’s very different when you can kind of tactically do it under your fingertips.”
Beating your own brain
Another key to Tyler’s success is how he’s simplified his workflow. His vast sample library is searchable by keywords. It cuts down on the inevitable doomscrolling that producers face when finding the right sound for the moment. “At any one time, I can use [an] iPad interface here to scroll through,” explains Tyler, “and find a sound just by searching a technique, like harmonics on the harp.”
Like most musicians, Tyler sometimes doesn’t know when the creative process should end. “I never really finish a music project,” he says. “It just kind of ends at some point in the process of making it.” Even at his level, he finds it difficult to stop tinkering. Yet he offers valuable insight on the matter. “I think if I had 30 years to work on an album, I probably would do it for 30 years. At any given point it would be like, here’s a version that could go out to the world. It’s a snapshot of what the idea was at the time of which we ran out of time.”
Feeling inspired? Check out our chat with Tyler Bates, another composer behind blockbuster film scores like the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise.