Prodigal Son composer Nathaniel Blume talks music of the FOX series

PRODIGAL SON: Tom Payne in the "Silent Night" fall finale episode of PRODIGAL SON airing Monday, Dec. 2 (9:01-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. Cr: Barbara Nitke/FOX.
PRODIGAL SON: Tom Payne in the "Silent Night" fall finale episode of PRODIGAL SON airing Monday, Dec. 2 (9:01-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. Cr: Barbara Nitke/FOX. /

Prodigal Son is the creepiest TV crime drama, and composer Nathaniel Blume told Precinct TV how he crafts the FOX show’s intense musical score.

Prodigal Son has TV crime drama fans on the edge of their seats, and part of the reason the FOX series is so bone-chilling is its music. The composer who has created the show’s signature sound is Nathaniel Blume, who took Precinct TV inside his creative process.

Read our interview to discover how Nathaniel originally became involved with the show, what he did to find the direction its score would go, and how scoring a TV crime drama is different from the superhero shows he’s also working on.

Plus, listen to one of his favorite musical cues from the season so far.

For more on Nathaniel Blume, you can visit his website. You can also follow him on Twitter!

More from TV Crime Dramas

Precinct TV: How did you become the composer for Prodigal Son? Was there something about the show that stood out to you musically?

Nathaniel Blume: It was a prior relationship with [co-creator] Chris Fedak. I’d worked on Deception with him. For
Prodigal Son he has a co-creator, Sam Sklaver, who I’d not worked with previously [but we] have since developed a great working relationship.

But Chris sent the script and kind of described what he was going for, which was a crime procedural that’s more like a thriller for primetime. I was totally on board from the get-go. It’s definitely a nice change of pace from the superhero stuff, Flash and Arrow, that I’m co-composing with Blake Neely right now. It’s so great to have another creative outlet where I can use my musical abilities in a different way.

PTV: How did you decide what direction you wanted to go with Prodigal Son‘s music? How did you build that sound?

NB: It was mostly based on reading the script. I read the script just as they had started
production, and from that I already had some ideas. I don’t know how exactly I came to some of
them, but I know one thing that I did was purchase a bunch of surgical instruments off of eBay. I
didn’t know you could do that so easily, but there was a surgical tool kit that I found, and a bone cutter. I had them delivered to the studio, where I recorded all of those sounds and basically made a percussion palette out of them.

I knew I wanted to have a little bit of a different twist on what you would hear percussively in a crime procedural. In terms of the rest of the palette, the strings are used for their versatility. They’re able to be scary and also to emote when needed. So that was kind of an easy selection. Then there are just some other design elements that are meant to be off-putting and kind of add to the anxiety and darkness of the score and show.

After I read the script, I wrote a little five-minute suite based on the events that happened in the first act of the pilot, and I emailed it to Chris Fedak who was in New York shooting at the time. He listened to it while he was on set and just loved it. He said ‘yes’ to this, and ‘this part is definitely going to be useful for Dr. Whitly’, and ‘I like the haunting aspect here’, and so on. That gave me a very clear idea of where we were going to go from there.

PTV: Many TV crime dramas spoil the suspense with obvious music. So how do you keep up the tension on Prodigal Son without giving too much away?

NB: The good thing about this is we’re mostly tense all the time! So maybe that’s a way to keep you on your toes, because you don’t know whether we’re pointing to the killer or just being generally tense. The real times where we release the tension are when problems are resolved, but pretty much from the opening frame until the bad guy or girl of the week is caught, it’s quite tense.

PTV: Before Prodigal Son, you also provided additional music for CBS’s Golden Boy, which was also a TV crime drama but totally different in tone. How was it to step back into the genre now?

NB: That was a little bit earlier on in my career as a film and television composer, so right now I have that many more years of experience and new tools in my toolkit. I think with the experience you kind of learn what works and what doesn’t work. And when you’ve had the chance to try things a lot of different ways, you can take more risks with the knowledge of how or why they may not work.

That has helped in this case—and the cool thing is everyone on [Prodigal Son] has been very supportive of experimenting, hence all the weird sounds and stuff like that.

PTV: Between the two, did you notice anything musically that’s common to TV crime dramas? Or because they’re so different, are they completely separate even though they’re in the same genre?

NB: Honestly, it was a very conscious thing for me to think historically about Golden Boy and other
projects I’ve done—specifically remembering how Blake, who was credited composer on Golden Boy, and I did things for that show. That was that show, so I had to focus on what Prodigal Son needs.

There may be be generic tropes of the genre, like there’s always some sort of propulsive element in the investigative scenes and things like that, but they can be done a little differently. One might be more synthy, and one might be more organic, like with the bone cutting and stuff like that.

PTV: You’ve also composed for real-life events in a number of documentary series, like CNN’s Decades projects. Does the composing process change for non-fiction?

NB: Yeah, it does. I think with the Decades series in particular, we weren’t trying to convey time and place necessarily with the music. For the decade of the Seventies for example, the music was not to sound like the Seventies. We went for a more timeless, orchestral approach and it was mostly to convey a general mood of the time and the events that were taking place.

We also made a big effort not to editorialize with the music. So we were never really supposed to make a villain out of anyone. It was more to convey the tone that they set for the time, and sometimes that can be challenging. But sometimes it can be really fun and come kind of naturally. It’s definitely a very different approach in that regard.

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Episodes of Prodigal Son air Mondays at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on FOX. If you’ve missed any of the season so far, you can stream episodes now on Hulu.