Composing for Podcasts & Film: An interview with RedBlueBlackSilver

RedBlueBlackSilver is a film and podcast/radio composer based in the Mojave Desert. He is a regular contributor to Desert Oracle Radio and Simultaneous Times podcast. As well as composing multiple podcast episodes each month he is also the composer for the films Hunt for the Skinwalker and Bob Lazar: Area 51 and Flying Saucers, he also regularly scores silent films for amazing live shows. For a time he also hosted his own podcast: SciFi Music with RedBlueBlackSilver. He can be found at and at his Bandcamp 


 What brought you to composing for podcasts and films?

It started out as a sad story. In 2015, a truck crashed into the car I was driving on the freeway, and my head hit the steering wheel, which cause some persistent neurological problems. I was used to being able to play quickly and accurately prior to the accident. I moved to the desert and quit making music entirely after the crash, and although it made me deeply sad, I moved on to other interests. When after a while I wasn’t making progress, I started to learn about music therapy and I began to appreciate ambient and atmospheric music more. About two years after the crash, I heard the radio and podcast version of Desert Oracle (a beloved periodical field guide to the American deserts) and admired how music blended in with Ken Layne’s voice. I was so taken with the show that I dusted off my instruments and started to submit my own atmospheric music – things I could make despite the neurological issues – to the program. Shortly after, I started to make music for a filmmaker (Jeremy Kenyon Lockyer Corbell) who had been a guest on Desert Oracle Radio. A couple of months later I began to also contribute music to Simultaneous Times Podcast.


How does composing for podcasts differ from film composition?

My favorite thing about making music for podcasts is the near-immediate feedback you get from the audience. There are sometimes only a few days (but no more than a few weeks) between when the music is written and recorded and when you get reactions from listeners. It is helpful in terms of calibrating your future work based on what people enjoyed. Musically though, there isn’t a single thing I do in films that I don’t also do for radio/podcasts. I reject the idea that film music should be bigger and more “cinematic”, and it is disappointing to me that often podcast music is so thin and almost apologizing for existing. Of course, the music can’t be so prominent that the voices aren’t audible but there are a lot of tricks to make cinematic music that stays out of the way in the context of a podcast. Most of the other differences between film and podcast composition have to do with the particular styles of the people in charge, which would be different in someone else’s situation.


What are some tips you have for podcast composers?

In terms of finding the right show(s) to work on, what worked for me was shamelessly contacting local podcast hosts and producers. It takes a lot more work that just writing introductory form emails – you have to listen to existing episodes enough to fully understand its aesthetic and personality, or to absorb whatever you can if it’s a new show. I recommend including sample tracks that are custom tailored to that show, including leaving room for the host’s vocal frequency in case they try to read something over your sample track. Most importantly, pick a show that you personally enjoy.

With respect to keeping yourself on a show, the basics of human interaction apply. Be accommodating when you can, meet deadlines (or decline offers in advance when you are too busy to handle them), remain open to new ideas, and listen carefully for criticism delivered gently “between the lines”. Not everyone is equally likely to be direct with negative feedback, and sometimes you have to listen carefully to the text and the subtext. This is why, especially before the pandemic, I valued (and continue to value) working with locals. Once you meet someone in person and get to know them, it becomes easier to interpret what they tell you later on, even in writing. Helping the host/producer with promoting the show, and representing the show well in general, goes a long way.


What challenges have you faced when working with composition for spoken word accompaniment?

Most of my experience in accompanying spoken word has involved improvising with unfamiliar pieces but if you can get the material in advance, it is wise to read it thoroughly and discuss the emotional tone and big “moments” with the author. The author may not have the musical vocabulary to make specific suggestions, but they should have a good handle on the emotional tone of each part of the piece, and it’s your job to translate that into what you play and when. If it’s a live performance, watch the reader as if they were the lead singer in a band. The experienced ones constantly give out non-verbal cues but it may even help to work out basic signals in advance. For example, if the reader backs away from the mic, the accompaniment can be more prominent until they come back to the mic.

Mostly you are following their lead. If they get quiet, you get quiet. If they slow down, you slow down. You have to see what you are doing as an extension of what they are doing for it to work. Some people can’t handle being in the following role and there are plenty of musical avenues for them, but being a scoring composer may not be ideal for the particularly extroverted or musicians who like to show off their shredding ability.


Do you have any pointers for matching emotion in fiction with audio elements?

Like in any music you have to be aware of tonality, instrumentation/arrangement, time, and space. Everyone uses a different mix of the three for their own sound. Personally, I gravitate towards using tonality as my primary tool, but that is just my individual style. With tonality, it takes a little bit of learning how different types of chords are emotionally interpreted by the listener. The basic thing a lot of people know is that major chords/keys sound happier than minor, but it goes way beyond that. Using diminished chords for a scary tense feeling for example.

For instrumentation and arrangement, strings can help reinforce the sound. A lone violin/viola can be used dramatically for a sad lonely feeling, and a string quartet sound can really drive home melancholy emotions. If you can get a good brass sound, that can help bring home a triumphant moment. I often use synthesizers to create thick bass drones that form the foundation of the instrumentation, and that alone can have its own emotional effect.

Time is important for feeling outside of the happy/sad continuum. For imparting a frantic feeling, a brisk piece that gradually gets faster works well. Similarly, a slow piece can reinforce the feeling of lethargy.

Finally, space is vital for giving either a frantic, crowded feel to the piece or making it feel isolated. This can be achieved through the use of panning as well as how you fill in the low, medium, and high frequencies.


What advice do you have for working with foley and sound effects?

I prefer to use a combination of existing sound effects, atmospheres, and foley (sounds recorded specifically for the piece). I prefer recording my own sounds when possible, but existing sound effects can be gathered from libraries or websites, and can often be the only practical way to achieve the desired outcome. For example, it may not be possible to record a real car crash or a real gunshot. The trick is to find ones that sound realistic and appropriate for the story, and you sometimes have to wade through a lot of low quality sounds to find the right one.

I personally like to record my own atmospheric sounds. Wind, rain, coyotes, birds… whatever you have local and available. Even traffic and mass transit sounds come in handy. Record them when you can and keep them labeled in a folder for later use. Even a cheap handheld recorder can get great results.

Foley is the most fun. It brings back the old era of radio when sound effects were produced live. Do what you can on your own. Footsteps, doors opening, and other household noises sound great when you record them yourself.

Whatever sounds you use, managing panning is important so that the sounds are more realistic to the human ear.


How do you use panning for dramatic affect and spatial dynamics?

Panning is extremely important. In the music itself, it allows you to emphasize or deemphasize instruments based on how close they are to the center of the stereo image. Similarly with sound effects and foley, panning gives the listener a sense of direction. The human ear is really sophisticated, and even subconsciously people can get overwhelmed if everything they hear is heard equally by both ears. In real life, if you hear a sound like the heater turning on, rarely is that heater directly in front of you – usually it’s off to the left or the right. Not using panning for realism can turn people off without them even consciously knowing why. Panning sound effects can also be used creatively, like a car driving by may start off in the left channel, move to the center, and then to the right. It’s just another way to immerse the listener in the fictional world.


What music theory tricks do you take into consideration when composing for podcasts?

To me, the chords you learn in the very beginning of music theory instruction are the only theory elements I use daily. In my approach, it is vital to know the different basic types of tonality and their emotional characteristics: major, minor, diminished, augmented, and suspended. It may be oversimplified, but major sounds happy, minor sounds sad, diminished sounds scary/tense, augmented sounds unstable but open, and suspended chords are nicely emotionally ambiguous.

Another trick I use are pedal tones – keeping the same bass note through the chord progression often employing “slash” chords – to impart the feeling of being stuck in a bad situation. The constant unchanging bass note feels like an anchor.

The important thing is to not get overwhelmed with too much theory. A lot of it is interesting to know, but may not apply to your situation. Learn in whatever way makes sense to you…an online tutorial, a class at a community college, or just reading on your own. The theory tools you use just become another way for you to sound different than anyone else, and can help you establish your own personal style.


Jean-Paul L. Garnier

Jean-Paul L. Garnier lives and writes in Joshua Tree, CA where he is the owner of Space Cowboy Books, a science fiction bookstore, independent publisher, and producer of Simultaneous Times podcast. In 2020 his first novella Garbage In, Gospel Out was released by Space Cowboy Books and in 2018 Traveling Shoes Press released Echo of Creation, a collection of his science fiction short stories. He has also released several collections of poetry: In Iudicio (Cholla Needles Press 2017), Future Anthropology (currently being translated into Portuguese), and Odes to Scientists (audiobook - Space Cowboy Books 2019). He is a two time Elgin Nominee and also appeared in the 2020 Dwarf Stars anthology. His new collection of SF poetry, Betelgeuse Dimming has just been released and is available as a free download audiobook / ebook at He is also a regular contributor for Canada’s Warp Speed Odyssey blog. His short stories, poetry, and essays have appeared in many anthologies and webzines.


RedBlueBlackSilver is a film and podcast/radio composer based in the Mojave Desert. He is a regular contributor to Desert Oracle Radio and Simultaneous Times podcast. As well as composing multiple podcast episodes each month he is also the composer for the films Hunt for the Skinwalker and Bob Lazar: Area 51 and Flying Saucers, he also regularly scores silent films for amazing live shows. For a time he also hosted his own podcast: SciFi Music with RedBlueBlackSilver.