Man Made Music’s Joel Beckerman on Creating Political Soundtracks for CBS News, Hillary and Trump

The roster of media mavens, moguls and boldface names spotted today at Michael's.

DianeClehaneLunch_FeaturedI was joined today by Joel Beckerman, founder and lead composer of Man Made Music, a bicoastal “strategic” music and sound studio. You may not know Joel’s name, but I guarantee you know his work. Man Made Music is responsible for scores of (get it?) instantly recognizable tunes you’ve heard watching some of the biggest news events of the day, at the movies or cheering on your favorite Super Bowl contender. Joel, who Fast Company has heralded as one of their “Most Creative People in Business 1000,” has personally created or produced original scores for more than 50 television programs, won ASCAP’s “Most Performed” theme award for the past eight years, and has developed signature sonic branding programs for global giants including Disney and AT&T.

diane-clehane
Diane Clehane and Joel Beckerman
Credit:

In preparing for our ‘Lunch,’ I was astounded to learn just how many iconic themes Joel was responsible for, including the reboots of the classic NBC chime and the decades-old HBO theme used to introduce the cable network’s original series and movies, as well as the music for Super Bowl XLVI. He also worked on this year’s Academy Awards and has a top secret project in the works for next year’s telecast.

A pianist who attended New York University, Joel’s passion for his work came through in everything he said. “We respond quicker to sound than any other of the five senses. During the course of our conversation, he frequently cited studies he’d read and used in his book, The Sonic Boom: How Music Transforms the Way We Think, Feel and Buy. In creating a theme for a show, film or brand, the mission is the same, he explained. “It has to capture the spirit of the brand and couldn’t be used for anything else. That’s the high bar we set for ourselves.”

I was most interested in talking to Joel about his work in television news and his thoughts on creating soundtracks for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (More on that later.) Most recently he was charged with creating the music for CBS News’ coverage of the upcoming presidential election. Shockingly, the network had been using the same theme music which premiered in 1987. “Ours in the fourth theme written,” Joel told me. “Before the themes were used, there was just teletype sound.” Joel and his co-writer Wayne Sharpe were tasked with creating something original that conveyed a sense of “moving forward” for both the news division and the country. Previously, Joel produced the session where James Horner created the theme for the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric and wrote a couple of dozen melodies with Horner’s melody.

Last month, a version of the music Joel created for the network’s election coverage became the theme of the CBS Evening News, which is a great source of pride for this self-described news junkie. He wanted to bring “an elegance” to “the program of record” that reflected not only the spirit of the broadcast but the persona of its anchor. “Scott [Pelley] doesn’t insert himself into the story,” said Joel. “He elevates the work of his colleagues. [Creating the theme] was a very meaningful project.”

Joel describes the theme of the broadcast as having “worldliness and trustworthiness” as well as a “forward motion” composed of strings (for worldliness), lower brass (trustworthiness) and short note percussion (forward energy) recorded with a 35-piece orchestra.

For the debut of CBS This Morning, Joel wanted to capture the spirit of the show’s anchors and differentiate the broadcast from its more infotainment-focused competitors. He and his co-writers came up with a “drum groove idea” that captured both the “credibility and trust” of Charlie Rose and the “accessibility” of Gayle King. “Charlie is a rock star in his own way. He gets people to speak very personally and Gayle has a very sharp intellect and could also be an audience member. There’s no artifice there.”