When it comes to the DC universe, Blake Neely is an honorary resident. Currently scoring the CW’s Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and its new addition Supergirl, this award-winning composer is no
stranger to world of superheroes. His extensive catalogue of iconic and interconnected musical accompaniments has made him key in developing a sound that resonates as uniquely DC. We sat down with Blake to discuss his writing process and his life as a DC fan turned legend.
Popwrapped: How did your start writing for TV?
Blake Neely: I was an orchestrator first for composer Michael Kamen for several years and then I started doing a little bit for Hans Zimmer who then had me write some things for him as an additional composer. But the real start came when I sent a demo to Greg Berlanti for his first show Everwood and he hired me as a composer. And that was really the start of everything. That was 14 years ago.
PW: That’s amazing that you worked with Hans Zimmer!
BN: Yeah, I was able to work with Hans. I was able to work with James Newton Howard. Michael Kamen—many of the masters.
PW: So, obviously you’re pretty heavily associated with DC Comics. Were you a big DC fan growing up?
BN: Yes! DC Comics was always my favorite! The first comic book I ever bought was an Aquaman comic. But I’ve always loved the characters—Flash, and Batman, Superman, you name it!
PW: Do you have a favorite?
BN: I don’t really have a favorite. I guess I’ve always been drawn probably to Aquaman since it was the first one I bought, but I don’t have a favorite. And now that I’m getting to work on all these shows and write themes for all these great characters, there’s really no favorite anymore.
PW: When you were writing the music for the show Arrow, especially for Oliver, what did you draw inspiration from?
BN: Well Greg and I talked about what he wanted to do with the show because it was very new at the time, this whole idea of rebooting comic books for TV. He wanted to be dark, and very human, and very emotional, not just focusing on the heroic aspects because Oliver is a very complicated character; he went through the death of his father, was stranded on an island for five years.
So I really kind of wanted to dig into the isolated aspect of Oliver’s character and his emotional struggle. So I just approached it from that point and it became a point that I always come back to on the show, which is seeing the world through Oliver’s eyes. Every character that comes into play, all the themes and all the music always relates back to Oliver and his journey.
PW: A lot of the Arrow scores have this signature sound. A sort of high-pitched, chirp noise. What is that?
BN: It’s just a synth sound that I developed that I thought was a cool approach for him and it’s like this long, bendy synth sound that ultimately screeches. I always felt like it was sort of like him drawing back the bow and then releasing it. So it was just sort of designed more as a tension build for him and the action.
PW: Of all the heroes and the characters that you’ve scored for, has there been a character that was particularly challenging?
BN: Honestly, all of them are challenging just because every time you’re given a new character and you’re writing for them, there’s this responsibility. The fans have loved them for decades and it’s this iconic character that you want to support and sort of paint a picture of musically.
I guess Flash was really challenging just because of the history that came before it. There’s been the show and themes written for him and he’s a fairly well-known character. One of the most fun ones, or two-- Ra's al Ghul and Vandal Savage (who appeared on Flash and went over to Legends of Tomorrow).
PW: In terms of Flash, since there was an original TV show, when you were writing the music for the reboot, did you pull any influence from the original?
BN: No, because we wanted to make it its own show and not really tie into that. Although they have some Easter eggs, like John Wesley playing his father and then Mark Hamill’s Trickster coming back. I didn’t turn to Danny Elfman’s theme or Shirley Walker’s music from the original show because we wanted it to be its own thing. Not to mention copyright and legal.
PW: Do you have a favorite episode on any of the shows or a favorite piece that you’ve written for one of them?
BN: Oh gosh, they’re all like little kids of mine. It’s like picking a favorite kid, but there have been some really fun ones; on Supergirl, there was a fun scene--well, it wasn’t fun--when she fights the Red Tornado. That scene was very fulfilling to write for. And I would say I always loved in Season 2 of Arrow when I got to score Deathstroke. For some reason he was just a really great villain that you could almost do anything with.
But there have been so many great episodes. Scene-wise, I always enjoy writing for Oliver and Felicity. Legends of Tomorrow, we had a western episode where they went back to the Old West, that was great. We took all the established themes and played them in a western style. The thing about these shows is you get to do so many different things every week. You get to go different places musically and use different influences.
PW: And is it just the four shows, or do you have any other shows that you’re working on?
BN: I also score Blindspot on NBC, which is not superhero related, but it’s a really challenging show.
PW: How hard is it balancing all five shows simultaneously?
BN: I just don’t sleep from September to May. No, it’s very challenging because the schedules are very fast turnaround. I think people tend to think that there’s a lot of music that’s already written that you can just slap up against it and it works, but it’s actually crafted for each scene and for each episode.
I’m given a week, between getting the show and finishing it. So that’s all five shows, scoring during a week. But I have a really good team of co-writers and orchestrators and arrangers and we just write as fast as possible and hope for the best.
PW: In terms of the DC shows, does it make it any easier that a lot of the scores kind of complement each other?
BN: Well, I think what makes it easier is every time you have a show that has gone on multiple seasons, you have a back catalog of themes and sounds, things you can draw from and adapt. And then also, it does help a little bit that the shows are related, especially when you have the crossover episodes, to be able to combine Flash and Arrow’s themes on top of each other. If I’d designed one as say country western and the other as jazz, it’d be a little more difficult. But the fact that they’re in the same universe—yeah, it tends to crossover pretty well.
PW: I will say that I listen to the Flash and Arrow themes all the time and the crossover soundtrack is definitely my favorite.
BN: Oh I love doing those every year. And next year they’re talking about doing a 4-way crossover, with all four shows. That should be an intimidating challenge.
PW: Have you started thinking of ways to combine all four of them?
BN: No! Not right now. I had a lot of fun this year when they announced Flash was coming on to Supergirl and those were two pretty stylistically different. I thought it was going to be difficult but it ended up not being so difficult. I mean its music. You can kind of mashup anything with the other and make sense.
PW: Speaking of Supergirl, since it was originally on CBS, did you approach this project with the same concern for compatibility that you did with the other three?
BN: Well, each show is approached in different ways for its music so that some ways they do stand apart and you don’t think, “Oh that sounds like Arrow or that sounds like The Flash." But the fact that it was on a different network didn’t make a difference. It was more they needed to be somewhat similar because it’s the DC Comics universe and a sound has been established.
Although with Supergirl, it’s a little bit more traditional, or started a bit more traditional than the electronic sound of the others, but then we wanted to see that it evolved into a little bit more of what the other shows are, musically that is. It’ll be interesting if it feels like we need to change the sound anymore since it’s moving to CW, but I don’t really approach what the network is because these days, nobody really knows what network things are on because they’re just watching on their devices.
PW: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us.
BN: Thank you! And thanks for watching the shows!
A huge thank you to Neely for lending his time to fill us in on the inner workings of the DC universe. You can hear Blake’s iconic sounds on Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl when they return to the CW this fall! Until then, be sure to check out his music on Spotify!