Q&A Kevin Kliesch


Kevin Kliesch accepts his Daytime Emmy for “Sofia the First” at the April ceremony. (Photo by Beth Krakower)

Kevin Kliesch hails from New Jersey and attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he had dual major in film scoring and music synthesis. Upon graduating, he was invited to  joined the school’s staff. He moved to Los Angeles in 1996, and has since then worked as a composer and orchestrator on more than 100 feature films including Frozen, The Hangover, Tangled and Shrek Forever After.

Initially known mainly been known as an orchestrator, working closely with Alan Menken, Kliesch was able to successfully transition to composing, where he has become quite sought-after in the animation genre, earning many awards for his work on the “Thundercats” series.

“Sofia the First” — for which he received a Daytime Emmy nomination for composition last year, and won Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction and Composition this year — marks the first time he’s worked as a composer for Disney. It’s also the first time anyone in a music category been nominated (let alone won)  for the same program in both the daytime and primetime Emmy races.  Kliesch’s recent composing projects also include DC Comics’s animated films Superman: Unbound and Justice League: War, along with Tangled Ever After. He was recently tapped to compose for Disney’s new “Tangled Ever After” TV series, set to premiere on The Disney Channel in 2017.

MaxTheTrax had the pleasure of debriefing Kevin on the intricacies of his art.

MaxTheTrax: So, you are the series composer for The Disney Channel’s daytime animated series “Sofia The First,”  and also had the opportunity to create a score for the primetime special?

Kevin Kliesch: Yes, I am the sole composer on “Sofia the First.” I have been scoring the show since November of 2012. For this special one-hour episode, the challenge was to present Princess Ivy as an evil princess who wants to take over the kingdom of Enchancia, while also staying true to the sound that I have crafted for Sofia over the last three years. Keeping in mind the target demographic (2-7 year old kids), I couldn’t make the score too scary or I’d lose all of the viewers! Yet I had to find the right tone to convey Ivy’s evil intentions.

MaxTheTrax: There were a few Broadway-inspired musical interludes. Did you write those songs?

Kevin Kliesch: I don’t write any songs for “Sofia the First.” That’s left up to my very talented friend and colleague John Kavanaugh. Sometimes I am asked to add the extra “Disney Magic” that the song may need, through orchestration, but in the case of this one-hour special, I didn’t contribute anything to the songs.

MaxTheTrax:  For the special, did you use live musicians or continue with the digital template you’d established so successfully for the series?

Kevin Kliesch: None of what you hear on “Sofia the First” is performed by live musicians. Everything is composed, orchestrated, and performed by me, in my studio in Valencia.

MaxTheTrax: Disney is a company that puts a lot of emphasis on music. Did they give you any special instructions for the show?

Kevin Kliesch: From the very beginning, the director, producer, and creator of the show were adamant about keeping the “Disney sound” for “Sofia.” That meant not “writing down” to preschoolers. My task was to make the lush orchestrations, the soaring melodies, and the overall light-heartedness of the score appeal to a new generation of children. We never wanted it to sound simple – it had to retain the quality of past Disney scores that we as adults have grown up with.

MaxTheTrax: Can you talk a little about your writing process for “Sofia”?

Kevin Kliesch: I write every episode of “Sofia the First” from my studio using samples. All of what you hear is completely synthetic – with very few exceptions, there are no live musicians involved. There is no “demo” that I create – I write the music as a fully orchestrated score, which is presented to Disney for approval. My sonic palette to includes sounds from various libraries.   As technology progresses, so do the sounds themselves, and each generation improves upon the previous generation of sounds. I didn’t use any “special” sounds for the “Curse of Princess Ivy” special – they are the same sounds that I use in the series.

MaxTheTrax: What advice would you have for those beginning to pursue  a career in scoring music for film and television?

Kevin Kliesch: Study, study, study! When I was young, I rented out scores of famous movies like Star Wars and E.T.. I input every single note into my sequencer to learn composition and orchestration. Today, things are a little different – not only do you need to know how to write melody, harmony and counterpoint, you also need to have a solid foundation of how to use technology, which means mastering sequencers and notation software. Upcoming composers now have to be adept at creating believable “mockups” – computerized renditions of what an orchestral score will sound like using only samples.

MaxTheTrax: Any work that particularly inspires you?

Kevin Kliesch: I don’t go to movies anymore — I  don’t have the time! But I constantly listen to my soundtrack library at home for inspiration. My favorite composers are John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, and the late James Horner, who recently passed away, but whose music will live on for many years to come.

MaxTheTrax: Well thank you very much for making time to talk to us!

Play the 2013 VSL interview with Kevin Kliesch, below, for an indepth look at his digital audio workstation setup.

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