Andrew Scott Bell created the theme music used in the audio fiction podcast End of the Cornfield. Check out our interview with Andrew, learn more about his creative process, and check out his future projects.
How do you begin creating a main title theme song? What’s the starting point for you?
That’s a great question. Thank you. I think for me the starting point for any project is always the story and the characters. What is happening emotionally that the music needs support? What is the tone of the story? Where does this story take place and at what point in history? Who are we, the audience, experiencing this story with? Does that change at any point?
So yes, the starting point is always the story. Then after I’ve spent some time thinking about my answers to all those questions, I talk with the director about what they’re looking for. It’s all about getting on the same page so I can nail what they’re looking for – or sometimes give them something they weren’t expecting; something they didn’t KNOW they were looking for.
What was your initial reaction to the scripts? Did anything resonate with you in the story?
I love the story. It’s truly gripping. What resonated with me right away in the first read and especially when I started hearing the recordings, was how defined the characters are. They’re people who were once close but have now drifted apart. Any lingering tension or resentment from years of friendship has now grown over time into this unmanageable chasm between them through which none of these people trust each other anymore.
I was struck by how real the relationships felt, even (or especially) considering the unusual circumstances of the story. That spoke to me and I wanted the music to feel similarly grounded.
What is the scoring process like?
Once I felt like I had a solid direction and both Abbey and I were on the same page about what we were looking to achieve, I really just dove into the episodes and listened again and again until I felt how the pace of the story unfolded and how the music could help convey that feeling of slow tension from the very first note. Then I started writing and recording. A lot of what you hear in the theme music I recorded myself – piano, layered violins, cello parts, percussion, dobro guitar, even my breath. Then Abbey and I tried a few different iterations of that idea before settling back on the first demo.
Sometimes the first idea just nails it but it’s always worth exploring other options, even if the result is where we started from. There was just something right about that first demo that resonated with the story and as soon as we started exploring other options, that became clear very quickly. Something just clicks about the spaciousness of how it feels. The way it subtly hints at mystery, crime, and intrigue. The low growling twang of a distorted dobro placed it firmly in the country without being too on the nose.
What is your favorite part of the theme you created for End of the Cornfield?
I think we were able to find an openness or vastness in the music. Something I was trying to convey was the feeling of night of an empty field. At least in the first half of the theme, I wanted the music to feel hollow and that there’s a lot of space to it; like it could go on for miles in the darkness. And of course we wanted the feeling of mystery. I think Abbey and I achieved that and I’m very proud of what we crafted and how well it compliments the series.
My favorite part musically is in the first few notes you hear on the piano, the repeating quarter note figure. When we first hear the theme, we expect that note to be the tonic or root note of the key. As the harmonic structure starts building around that note, we discover it is the fifth scale degree and not the root (B in the key of E minor). At first, that feels a little disorienting to our ears and what we might normally expect. As that B note continues repeating, it morphs into the major seventh of the next chord (Cmaj7) before becoming the +9 of the final chord (Amajor+9).
So what started out feeling like our grounding note suddenly shifts beneath our feet as the chord progression and harmonic language of the piece reveals itself. It was intended to cause an interesting feeling of uncertainty for the listener, subconsciously telegraphing that not everything in this series is as it first may seem. I hope I achieved that.
You can follow Andrew Scott Bell @IG