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If you’ve watched any of DC Comics’ forays into television, chances are you’ve heard and enjoyed the musical stylings of Blake Neely, one of the most prolific composers in TV and film. Whether it’s the iconic theme song for veteran shows such as Arrow and The Flash or the larger soundtrack of newer shows like Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow, it takes a certain flair to evoke a superhero’s larger-than-life persona. So how does Neely do it?
Unless the show is on Netflix, chances are the music for a series based on a superhero from classic comics is bold and majestic to mirror the heroism of the main character, and that’s by design. “I said I wasn’t going to use brass,” Neely confesses. “I wasn’t going to use typical — at that time — superhero sound. But it’s comfortable to an audience, and it feels like superhero music. But that’s been from decades and decades of this type of music being scored.”
That being said, each of the four DC-based shows has its own signature sound, sometimes developed based on the character and other times centered around his or her powers. “When I sat to do the one for The Flash,” says Neely, “my idea wasn’t the character itself. It was the sound of propulsion and jet engines… and with Arrow it started with all kinds of sounds you could maybe get from a bow and arrow, like string sounds and pluck sounds and things like that.”
But a broader scope inspired the music of Legends of Tomorrow. Neely explains, “When I got to Legends of Tomorrow, I’d written things for so many of the characters that were then going to be on the show that it was: ‘Okay, how do I tie them all together?’ So it wasn’t one single character theme; it was how do I tie them all together and give it sort of an ensemble theme.”
Neely came at Supergirl from a completely different angle, and he admits the sound for that show is still growing and developing. “I don’t know what is really the signature behind Supergirl because it’s not a particular sound device,” he says. “It’s more a thematic device because that show was intentionally crafted to be like traditional orchestral and an homage to John Williams and his Superman scores… and it became this more modern hybrid heading even towards Man of Steel type of sound.”
But everyone loves a good crossover episode, and Neely is no exception. “What I love about those episodes is being able to combine and mash up the themes. It’s a lot of fun!” exclaims Neely. “When I found out that they were gonna possibly spin off… I thought well, there’s gotta be some kind of way of doing a connective tissue between all of them… But it’s music, and you can literally mash up anything and make it sound like it was supposed to go together.”
Neely is clearly having fun as the composer of some of the most well-loved superhero properties in entertainment today, and he looks forward to even more challenges as each of his shows move into new seasons. “Since Supergirlis going to the CW, they’re talking about a four-way crossover with Arrow, Flash, Legends, and Supergirl,” Neely teases. “If that happens, that’s going to be crazy.”
Then, perhaps remembering how much work that means for him, Neely playfully adds, “If that’s confirmed, I’ll tell you how I did it — if I survive.”
For the full audio of our interview with Blake Neely, listen to the latest Sci Fi Fidelity on the Den of Geek Podcast Network on Soundcloud or with the player below. Timecode for the interview is 38:20.