The Emmy-winning composer talks about working with one of his influences, his composing process and his success with Mr. Robot.
Entering your ideal industry and working with one of your professional favorites is a fantasy for most people. Mac Quayle was lucky enough to live his fantasy working with fellow composer Cliff Martinez as an introduction to the field. He provided additional music for some of Martinez’s projects including Contagion, Spring Breakers, and The Normal Heart.
Looking back on his experiences, the music Martinez was composing resonated with Quayle, making it easy to work with him. He uses his former mentor as an influence in his Emmy-winning score for the USA show Mr. Robot, one of the many projects he composes. Along with Mr. Robot, Quayle composes the score for American Horror Story, Feud, and American Crime Story.
Here Quayle talks about his experiences working with Martinez, his creative process and what we can expect from season 3 of Mr. Robot.
How did you initially get started scoring film and television?
I had a career in the music business until the early 2000’s when the music industry shifted. My first job was working for Michael Levine on Cold Case, learning the basics.
After starting out, you eventually moved on to work closely with Cliff Martinez. What was your experience like working with him?
He’s great. He’s such an original talented composer, and I was a huge fan of his before I started working with him. I felt that his music resonated with me so strongly that I felt comfortable working with him. Some of my music was definitely influenced by him and his work, but there’s many projects that are completely different, like Feud or AHS. Cliff definitely influenced my work on Mr. Robot though.
So how did you get involved with Mr. Robot?
Mr. Robot, I got introduced to the creator right after finishing AHS: Freak Show. One of the editors on AHS went to write for Mr. Robot and recommended me to Sam [Esmail]. I went right from my first show to my second. I’ve been involved in electronic music since my beginnings so when he said the sound was electronic I was excited to do something like that.
What does your usual composing process look like?
It starts with a conversation with the creator and producer. The conversation is about what the musical sound should be. A lot of ideas are through around. Once I’ve seen the first scenes or images, I start writing to the picture. Once I have something, I send it out to the creator to review the images. Then it’s a back and forth with changes being made until we have a piece that represents the scene well.
With Mr. Robot being more electronic, how does that compare to your scoring on shows like Feud or AHS?
At the core, the score kinda functions similarly, telling the story and bringing out different emotions, but each show has its own pallet of instruments. Mr. Robot sounds electronic with synthesizers. AHS is done with many electronic instruments but it doesn’t sound electronic. Feud is a totally natural sound with an orchestra. It’s a bit of a different approach to writing the score due to the instruments but it functions the same.
How does the season three score compare to the previous two seasons?
I think that season one, we established the sound, season two we built upon that and evolved it with some real instruments. Season three is similar as we keep pushing the sound more while sticking with the foundation and building on it. Only a few episodes have been written so far so I can’t even tell you too much yet. But what we have so far takes our previous scores further.
You’ve really gathered a following from your Mr. Robot scores. What’s it like having that appreciation for your music?
I’m grateful that there’s people enjoying the music. It’s people enjoying what I enjoy. I’ve done a few live shows performing the show’s score because of it. Some opportunities came up, the first was performing at a film and TV festival in July in Spain. It all went quite well and it’s the tip of the iceberg. The trick is to fit it into my schedule. There may be another performance in the fall.
Finally, for those who have an interest in the field of music composing, or just want to learn more, what advice can you offer them?
I think that the starting point is to learn music. As a musician, play an instrument, compose your own music and have some technical knowledge. You begin to learn your craft. When I started scoring for Cold Case, I learned how to work my studio. I could write music, I could play instruments. The best piece is to find people to see your music. Work with other composers to get your start.