The next time you flip on Duck Dynasty, try watching it with the sound off.
Can you detect any evidence of a plot? Does anything seem funny, intense, or sad? Do the pork rinds you're probably eating even taste as good?
Sound and music do the emotional heavy lifting in unscripted shows like A&E's quacky beardfest. They tell you how to feel, even when acting is sparse, expressions are hidden under camo caps and facial hair, and very little in the way of drama is actually transpiring before your eyes. Even at their best, the visual components in reality TV involve a lot of dirty looks and slack-jaw glares.
That's where Zimmer and his new partners come in. If he can use music to help you understand what's happening in Inception, surely he can make reality TV better. The Academy Award- and Grammy-winning composer behind the aforementioned film about dreams within dreams, plus the Dark Knight trilogy, Man of Steel, and about 100 more (plus game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2), along with his business partner Steve Kofsky, are teaming up with Extreme Music, Sony/ATV Music Publishing's production music division, to officially launch The Bleeding Fingers Custom Music Shop. They'll target clients interested in custom-crafted music for light television drama, documentaries, and reality TV. In what they call a "proof of concept" period, they've already scored Duck Dynasty, Boston's Finest, and the History Channel's Mountain Men, which won ASCAP and BMI awards.
Bleeding Fingers' founders are targeting showrunners and music supervisors who are under the gun, budget-wise and deadline-wise, and don't want to sift through a million crowdsourced tracks by no-name musicians using GarageBand. "It's a quality play," Zimmer says. "I don't think anybody wants to make something of poor quality. The whole point is to encourage excellence. You gotta start somewhere. I think it's important to try set an example."
Plans for the new venture include 18 new studios on Zimmer's sprawling Santa Monica, California, campus, a place they call the "Stanford of Score." Clients of Bleeding Fingers won't necessarily get Hans Zimmer himself in a room directing an orchestra. During his decades as a composer, he's assembled a collective of understudies—musicians and composers to whom he's delegated work. Many have had direct hands in the work Zimmer is most famous for. Bleeding Fingers offers these creators and other up-and-comers steady work.
"They've all been through the Zimmer boot camp," says Extreme Music and Bleeding Fingers CEO Russell Emanuel (Kofsky will serve as the new company's chairman). "These are seasoned TV and film composers. Hans's role is to bring in the talent. They'll become Bleeding Fingers composers. Our job is to bring in the business." Bleeding Fingers will compete with more democratic, digital, crowdsourced companies making music for reality TV. Jingle Punks, for example, a four-year-old music production company with offices in New York, L.A., Toronto, London, and Sydney, has music on reality shows like Pawn Stars, American Pickers, and The Voice. The company is tech-driven and lets virtually anyone submit songs to be added to a catalog that's polished and made available to music supervisors.
Extreme Music comes to the table with a catalog of about 13,000 unique copyrights, a fraction of what competing production music companies offer. Emanuel says showrunners and supervisors don't want to go shopping in a Costco-sized store to try and find the perfect score. That's why, he says, Extreme has the "highest grossing music catalog in the world." "I know it's cheesy and everything, but it really is about quality not quantity," Emanuel says. "If you dive into these freight trains worth of music, it's a small amount that's making money."
For Zimmer, who previously partnered with Extreme on customix, an online music library that edits music to video, this is a smart diversification in a rapidly changing time for major motion pictures in Hollywood—the number of traditional big-budget projects are shrinking. "The world is shifting," Zimmer says. "The way we tell stories is shifting. Television writing has become so incredibly good, and at the same time you have reality shows, which have a completely different approach to telling stories. Maybe not that different really from an Robert Altman movie if you think about it."