How Composer Darien Shulman Created the Electronic Sounds of Netflix’s “American Vandal”

There is no denying that true crime documentaries have become increasingly popular over the last few years with the success of HBO’s The Jinx and Netflix’s Making A Murderer, Evil Genius & The Keepers, so of course there has to be a satire of genre.  Enter Netflix’s American Vandal, which pokes fun at these intense stories with investigations that take place around outrageous acts that one can’t help but laugh at. Season 2 of Netflix’s American Vandal recently premiered with viewers once again left with a big question after episode 1, who spiked the lemonade with laxatives? In due time viewers will get answers as to what is being called “The Brownout”, but as the pieces of the mystery unfold other elements of the show are quite enjoyable, including the score by composer Darien Shulman. Even though a project’s score is crucial to the storytelling process, it is often a mystery the thought process behind creating it, so we decided to speak with Darien below about this and more.

-What was the initial appeal to work on American Vandal?

I’ve been collaborating with Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault, the creators of American Vandal, for a number of years. We first came into contact just after I finished school, about a decade ago. Tony and Dan are among my favorite people to work with, so naturally I was thrilled when they asked me to compose for Vandal.

Composer Darien Shulman

-Season 1 and 2 have different main title themes. Who decides what those should sound like?

The decision to make a new title theme for season 2 was a mutual one between myself and the rest of the team. Because season 2 tackles a new crime, in a new setting, with new characters, we felt that it was warranted to have a brand-new title theme that would reflect this new direction.

-Do you have a favorite character to score?

It’s always fun to come up with melodies or leitmotifs that correspond with certain characters, but I am much more interested in discovering how those themes develop with the story. For example, there’s a melody that I introduce in episode 3 of this season for a certain character (I’m being careful to avoid spoilers here!) which reappears in a completely different context in the final episode. I get a real creative rush from repurposing established material into new settings.

-How fast do you work when given a project of this scale?

There’s a lot of planning ahead involved in creating the score for a show like Vandal. I like to have a certain amount of music already written by the time the show gets to post, so that the editors can work to “temp” music that I’ve written specifically for the show. This way, the general tone of the music can be established early in the process, and we get to focus on the nitty gritty of deciding when all these different pieces of music should appear.

-Does the fact that the show streams on Netflix as opposed to airing on TV affect your process? 

It’s true that Vandal is more likely to be binge-watched in one or two sittings, rather than watched in the traditional once-a-week way, but I feel like my creative approach wouldn’t be much different if the show were delivered to audiences the old way. I suppose, if the show aired on network TV, the biggest difference would probably be having to accommodate commercial breaks!

-Composing is generally a solitary pursuit, while creating television is a joint effort by many different people. How do you deal with both sides of that coin?

Well, the solitary aspect of composing is actually my least favorite part of it. It can get lonely! I love collaborating with others– that’s a big reason why I decided to pursue creating music for picture in the first place. It’s a great feeling to be part of a larger team, all working together to create something special.

-If there were to be a Season 3, what would you like to see happen with the story?

I think I’m going to leave that one to Tony and Dan. I know for certain that whatever they come up with, it’ll be awesome.

-Do you have any other upcoming projects that fans should be on the lookout for?

Right now I’m working on an EP of original instrumental music, that I’m really excited about. That should be finished by the end of the year, so stay tuned!

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