Subjectify interviewed Ted Lasso composer Tom Howe about his score for season 2 of the hit Apple TV+ show. This season saw the inclusion of new musical motifs for many of our favorite characters as their stories progressed, and Howe not only talked us through the development of some of those, he gave us clues to help spot them.
Composer Tom Howe has worked on over 100 projects, including Ted Lasso EP Bill Lawrence’s last network drama Whiskey Cavalier, films including both Wonder Woman and Professor Marston and The Wonder Women, and, best of all, The Great British Bake Off. It’s through Lawrence that he came to be a part of Ted Lasso — co-creator Jason Sudeikis had wanted his close friend Marcus Mumford (of Mumford and Sons) to be involved in the music for the show, and so Howe and Mumford were introduced as possible collaborators. It proved to be a good match, and Howe went to visit Mumford’s studio to work out some potential sounds.
Howe stayed ten days with Mumford, a period that he describes as more like making a record than anything else, as at that point, the pair did not have much footage from the show to go off. However, as Mumford had visited the Ted Lasso set and spoken at length with Sudeikis about the characters, they were able to commence their work, putting together a number of sporting riffs, emotional cues, and the like, some of which were thrown out once they worked on the episodes in earnest, and some which were good fits. But before any of that, they succeeded in writing the perfect Ted Lasso theme song, which they wanted to have a “transatlantic” feel, somewhere between London and Kansas in its sensibilities.
This iconic tune, which informed the rest of the sound of the show, was nominated for an Emmy – Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music – and was covered by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco for use in Ted Lasso’s second season. Unusually, the scores for both season 1 and season 2 have been released as soundtrack albums, and while Ted Lasso also utilizes a wide range of artists for its rather genius song choices (“Jerk It Out,” “Beware of Darkness,” “Karma Police,” “Down By The Riverside,” just to name a few) the popularity of Howe and Mumford’s soundtrack albums speaks to just how much Ted Lasso’s unique musical score matters to the overall atmosphere of the show.
Tom Howe joined me recently for a very educational conversation regarding his work on Ted Lasso season 2, including the recognisable recurrence of Jamie Tartt’s redemptive theme, creating a soundscape for Ted’s anxiety, and his musical alarm bell that foreshadows Nate’s descent. He also shared insights into how unusually collaborative and thorough the Ted Lasso team truly are when it comes to putting the episodes together, and he offered some tips about helping keen viewers to identify the musical motifs that represent each character.
Can you talk a little bit about the process of actually scoring Ted Lasso? When in the edit do you come in? When is it decided when a scene needs a piece of score, or a song from the musical supervisor, or just the diegetic sound? At what point do those decisions get made and who do you work with on that?
Well actually, Ted Lasso is a very collaborative process in that regard. Obviously, for season 1, we were in lockdown and so everybody got on Zoom, and that actually kind of continued, because Jason was in London and we were in LA, and now a couple of people are out there in New York. People are sort of all over the place. But we have a schedule with a spotting session and the episodes are roughly spaced out every two or three weeks. They overlap slightly, but we all get together on a Zoom and we watch the episode down.
It may not be the finished edit, but it’s a kind of work in progress, and literally, we go scene by scene and we stop it and people go “Do you think it needs music here? And do you think it should be score or song?” And then someone’ll be like “Oh, I think it should be score” and it’ll be, it’s obviously a Keeley and Roy scene, or Roy’s theme here, and it’s kind of sad, and sometimes it’ll be “We need a song here” and Jason [Sudeikis] is very specific about that and he knows, often, what he wants.
So how many people would be involved in a session like that? Would it be you and the musical supervisors and would it be just the showrunner, or the writer of the episode or the director? How big is that conversation?
Well, normally, it’s just you. Often you spot with the director on your own, you know? Just the two of you, or sometimes there might be a producer there, or on TV obviously you get a showrunner and maybe an editor. But in this, without exaggeration, there’s probably twelve people on the Zoom.
It’s the editors, the music supervisor, the music editor, Jason, Kip [Kroeger] the producer, there’d just be all kinds of people across it. And normally, you would go to an edit suite, you’d sit down, you’d have like, two hours, and it would be a set time in someone’s day. But this is very relaxed, and it can go on for a very long time — or a short time, but Jason, last time we were doing it, he went off in the middle to get his takeaway because he was in London and it was late at night and then he comes back and he’s having something to eat and a drink, and someone else is getting theirs, and it’s all very [casual,] but people prepared to do it for a long time and talk things over for a long time to make sure that we get it right, really.
What does that say to you about the way this show is made, compared to other shows that you have been a part of?
That everybody’s opinion is valid, I think. Brent Findley, who’s an amazing sound guy, he’s on these spots too, and he will… You’d think that I would, but I don’t often work that closely with the sound guy [for creating wider soundscapes] and that’s the interesting thing. I don’t often get to be involved with those people’s work. We all meet and we know who each other are, but we’re not talking together about scenes and who’s going to be where.
But in this, because everybody’s involved — and a good example is an action football sequence — he might say to me “Hey, look, at this point, I’m going to really ramp the crowd up and it’s going to be really loud here, so you maybe want to do something not too big there, but here, I think we’re going to play it pretty dry and therefore the music needs to be…” and so we have all those conversations too. In the past, it’s been most of the time when I’m scoring something, the sound effects and the dialogue are in and keyed, and I have to just fit in around that.
This is fascinating, because this is kind of why I asked about at what point are those choices made, but this sounds unusual. I’m not experienced in that element of production, sound, at all, but that feels like not quite the norm, which seems to be the same thing that everyone who works on Ted Lasso keeps saying about their various departments: that it’s quite unusual with how hands-on it is, and how collaborative.
I mean, I’ve just finished a film and I’ve done the score. I don’t know who did the sound, it’s good, but we never had a conversation, so I’ve just had to dip out of the way of that and not be there when that’s really loud or do something away from that. But, as you say, Ted Lasso is unusual in that there are conversations about that, or I might say to Brent, “Hey, listen. I really want to do this thing here, can you do…?” And he’ll go “Don’t worry, I’ll do something else, I’ll put it…” And even down to — the whole thing’s mixed in [Dolby] Atmos, obviously, I mean most people watch it on a small screen, but you know, they’re spinning things around, and the height of the crowd, and they’re doing some incredibly clever things in that department.
I’ve definitely heard it. Despite the fact that we’re not really often watching it on something with the right kind of sound system to catch that, there are parts of that I have noticed even on a home setup. What was the first time on the show, maybe it was the pilot, or a bit later, where you knew that the score for a moment or a character really had to make an impact, or create a feeling or a psychology that was going to be very important in the long run? Do you remember a particular first moment of “I know that this needs to lead to an emotion for the viewer?”
I mean the pilot, or episode 1, it isn’t [a true pilot] because it was actually picked straight up for a run. But in that first episode — and it’s actually a very short cue, which makes it tricky to get, sometimes the short cues are harder than the long ones because you’ve got no time to say something, you don’t want to kind of throw too much information in that short space — but there’s a bit where he turns up in London and he goes to the ground and he touches the grass on the pitch and then he gets kicked off, and that’s the sort of first real statement of his theme and it’s quite… I mean this sounds counterintuitive when I say it, but it’s sort of almost cinematic really. It’s an epic, but a quiet epic, if you know what I mean by that?
From 00:07, listen to the introduction of Ted’s theme as he arrives at Nelson Road.
But it states his tune and that was an important moment musically in terms of saying “Okay, well, that is his tune, and that’s the sound, and that’s going to come back when we’re doing sporting stadium type moments.”
I could probably ask you to point out the themes or the little nuggets that you’ve threaded in for nearly any character, but given that we’re talking about Ted Lasso season 2 now, the one that really stood out to me right from the start of the season, in a way that kind of shocked me — because I will admit, I don’t have the best ear for picking up repeated motifs, but this one, I heard it the whole season — was, on the soundtrack the title is “Leaving the Studio,” but it’s the sympathetic Jamie theme during season 2?
First heard when he is exiting Good Morning after speaking with Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield, and it was so gentle and so sort of revealing, that I think that, Phil Dunster’s amazingly nuanced performance aside, that piece did maybe more work than anything else to immediately and subconsciously set up this sympathetic character when people didn’t really know where he was going to be for the rest of the season.
And I noticed that it repeated several times during the season, even really low down in the finale when he decides to give Dani the penalty. Like, very low down in the mix of that scene, I picked up the melody of that?
And I was wondering what that particular theme was like to kind of create, or what you guys knew you needed to do for that Jamie arc in season 2?
Jason gives you the overall arc, the syuzhet for the whole show actually, all the seasons, so you kind of know what’s going to be happening later on, but I knew that Jamie was — even though he was kind of being a bit difficult and a bit of a playboy — that he was actually hurting, and that later on, he was going to have this confrontation with his father, and what else would be coming. So I knew that it had to have a heart, an emotional beat to it, and the piano has just become a sort of key instrument within Ted Lasso, but it’s also the way it’s recorded.
So on that track, the piano is an upright piano, but it’s micced in a way where you hear all the pedal and the movement on the chair, and so it’s got a kind of rawness to it that kind of feels… a sort of realism to it, I suppose, rather than like a sample on a piano. So it’s not a perfect sound, in an intentional way, but I then weave his motif throughout the season, as you say, and used it in different ways, and it’s even in the final cue when he and Roy hug at the end [of the season 2 finale,] you get a little nugget of both their tunes together.
Really? There’s a clear transition between his theme and Roy’s at the funeral, the two conversations with Keeley bleeding in together, but I didn’t notice it in the hug! I’ll have to go and check.
It’s very fleeting!
I already thought it was a very subtle echo in the match, with you know, that growth moment when he hands the ball to Dani, but that’s an even busier scene at the end! I’m going to look out for that. That’s really interesting, because like I said, it’s not something that I’m very good at recognizing, but for some reason that tune stuck out, I think because it was so immediately kind and soft when a lot of people really didn’t know what to expect from Jamie’s character in season 2.
Jamie’s theme can be heard at 2:00 underlying his decision to hand off the penalty, and from 3:58, deep in the mix, Roy and Jamie’s themes are blended together.
Another thing that became really big in season 2 was Ted’s anxiety, and obviously there’s a lot of scenes with him having those issues that have all sorts of different soundscapes in them, with white noise or various things. What has it been like, scoring those moments in a way that’s meant to tell us about his underlying anxiety? Because I think the first time you really see it is in season 1, in that first press conference, but in season 2 it becomes like a much bigger deal. What is it like writing for that kind of mental torment?
Funnily enough, one of the cues that I did was a sort of white noise type cue that then bleeds into when he then leaves the stadium [in 2.06, “The Signal”] and Nate takes over and they have the win. But for me, coming up with the initial thematic ideas… Marcus and I, when we got together in the beginning before Ted Lasso season 1 really kicked off, we came up with this Ted motif, and then obviously further motifs for season 2. But having those, it’s a way of almost like having a paintbrush you can then do anything with.
Ted’s theme clearly picked out on piano (“Lady Football”) and guitar (“Dad and Darts”)
So you’ve got you have some notes and a tune for a character, but you can arrange those however you need them to be whether it’s you know happy, sad, slow, fast, energetic and so scoring those sort of mental health moments, obviously it’s not going to be a fast thing, it’s going to be quite spacey, but I know what the DNA is going to be because I’ve already established it earlier on in season 1 and season 2 in other areas. So it’s just guided by the picture really, and what’s on screen, and the editors did a brilliant job throughout, in post, as well.
That’s a good way of telling you something is wrong, making it a bit discordant, like if you’re looking at a picture but it’s warped in some way. Are there any other particular favorite little twists or repeated motifs that you snuck in, intentionally put in, that were important character moments in retrospect, where we should go back and look at it as a pattern? Like maybe for Rebecca, during her villain arc, or Nate’s downfall, or anything like that? Are there any moments that you did musically, story wise, that should have given us a clue to something?
With the Nate one — [in 2.05, “Rainbow”] when he takes his parents out for their anniversary in the restaurant and he doesn’t get the table he wants and he goes into the bathroom and he spits in the mirror and that’s the first time we see him not being nice really.
Getting that definitive message that there’s a problem, yeah.
Yeah. I got a motif going which you hear there for him and it’s just a little fleeting thing, you then hear it again when he takes over on the field when Ted has his panic attack, and it then features from that point on in various ways, and I’m sure it’ll feature in season 3. But it’s again having that kind of DNA, to be able to just say okay, this is his, and his tune happens to be a sort of descending thing, in terms of he’s on a downward spiral.
Finding those little moments where you can quote a bit of somebody’s motif in the right setting, it can then just help knit it all together as it moves forward. But that is where I tried to establish his [season 2 arc.] Because you’d heard it before that, on mandolins and guitars, but it sounded very different there, because it was suddenly low down and it was just like “Whoa, what’s happened to this guy?”
Nate’s descent theme is audible at 1:30. Note: at the very start of this clip, that’s Roy’s theme fading out, because this scene transitions from a meaningful Roy moment.
Do you have particular methods for establishing what the characters need musically, or what you want their themes to be? Do you have a particular way that you approach your feelings to the character or the writer’s feelings to the character or anything like that? How do you know what they need?
The thing about writing film and TV music is it’s very collaborative, right? Obviously I have an opinion about what I think the character needs or what I would like to do, but the editors, Jason, Bill [Lawrence], Kip, these people have been on it for a lot longer than I have when I get to see it for the first time. Melissa [McCoy] and AJ [Catoline] who are editing, by the time I see the first draft, they’ve been on it for weeks, so they know literally when someone’s breathing in and out, when their eyes shut and open, down to literally milliseconds.
So it’s important, always, to have a group conversation about what people think the character needs and bounce ideas off each other before you then go away and say “Okay, I’m going to try and achieve X, Y and Z with this theme or this piece of music.” When you’re doing film and TV, the music is serving a higher purpose and it’s part of an overall product, if you like, no, product’s the wrong word, but an overall vision. It’s very important to basically take on board other voices, like Jason’s, who is literally — he’s across everything, even down to probably what they’re all having for lunch.
Have there been moments, in those collaborative conversations, where something changed? Like what we were talking about at the start, a silence versus a piece of score versus a song, where originally it was going to be one thing and then they changed it to something else or has it all been pretty much set as it went?
The bit that springs to mind is the very end of season 1 when “You’ll Never Walk Alone” comes in. That was score, and then it got swapped out and it’s still us, Marcus is obviously singing, but that was a brilliant decision to have that come in, definitely. We had a whole thing going on that went on to the end that was in that same sort of emotional area, but the impact of having that was a great, great, decision.
Obviously a meaningful moment in terms of the impact for football.
I mean, Marcus’s voice, he’s got one of the greatest voices. There’s so much emotion in his singing, and I think having it come in there so exposed, all the sound effects disappear there. It’s just this piano and Marcus’s voice, it’s very effective.
Marcus Mumford covers “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel over the unhappy ending of Ted Lasso season 1. The song is the anthem of Liverpool FC, but has been performed at other commemorative moments in football as well.
That’s very cool. It’s interesting that that particular choice was made later on, rather than planned, especially if you then had to go and record it. At what point do you go into season 3? Are the first few episodes in that process at the moment? Or is it not locked yet for your work?
I’ve met up with Jason a couple of times and talked about things, and they are filming now. The edits will probably… I’ll probably get involved later in May, and it’ll be a rough cut and there might be something specific that needs to be done before then, I think, from the conversations I’ve had that maybe is needed for something on camera but until there’s actually picture for me to look at, usually I don’t start.
Not in terms of spoilers, but what did you mean about doing stuff on camera, versus after?
I may need to write something that then needs to be filmed, so for that, obviously I’ve got to do it before that happens, if you know what I mean.
I have no idea what that could even look like on this show. I don’t even know if you could give me an example of that from past seasons or something else…
I just did a film which was about a Pied Piper, and so writing the Pied Piper music that he was playing, for example.
So your tunes appearing diegetically? Original music that may be playing or being sung… Okay, cool, I have no idea how that would fit into Ted Lasso, but I’m keen to find out. How have you felt about the response to the music being released? Because I feel like it’s not that normal for television shows to release their scores on Apple Music, Spotify and other streaming services. Obviously the theme song is very popular, but I know quite a few people were very keen to listen to those albums with the score of the show. Some people love to listen to movie scores, but I haven’t seen that many TV scores released. Soundtracks, yes, like a mixtape of featured songs, but not scores.
No, I mean, I don’t get scores released. Films, as you say, it’s more common, but on TV, not remotely does everything I do get a soundtrack release. But Apple and Warner Brothers were very behind that happening in both seasons, really and I think that it helped that we you know you had the song with Marcus singing, and then in the second season, you had the Jeff Tweedy version, which hopefully draws people in to keep it on play and shuffling forward.
But I think the show, when you get something that has that big an impact, it’s obviously much more likely to have a release and hopefully much more likely for people to go and listen to it, but I’m always amazed on the Spotify stuff, you get these emails telling you that you’ve got X number of listens per month and I don’t know where they’ve all come from, but it’s sometimes a lot of people. Hans Zimmer gets around 300 million a month or something, I’ve not got what he gets, but you can get a lot of people from all over and it tells you where they all are in the world.
Before I let you go, I actually wanted to ask for a bit of advice or a tip for my readers if not myself! Like I said, I’m not that adept at always being able to pick up recursive themes. But because people analyze this show in a lot of ways, they analyze various meanings in the various small things that the show’s done because it’s so intentional, so what would be your advice to viewers or listeners who want to basically be able to pick things out and see more of the story? Are there any tracks on the soundtrack that you could say, you know, this is the main Ted theme, that one is the main Roy theme, you can kind of spot it here or just how to kind of train the ear to pick it up? I know that’s a bit of a complex question but I feel like people would like to know more. How can I help them be able to identify things like that?
Well the first season is mainly Ted’s tune. There’s an A and a B section and it’s more or less arranged from that. There’s the odd sort of outlying cue where it’s just there for energy, but most of it is the theme, arranged in some way. On season 2, some of the cues have actually got like — I think Roy’s name in the cue title, is in the track name, “Roy Limping,” or something like that.
“Roy’s Holiday” is his main heart theme stripped back to a simple piano version. It’s audible from 1:40 in this video. You can also hear it clearly here, in a different key, right after Jamie’s, as each of them declares their love to Keeley at the funeral.
There are a couple, in season 1 there’s the piece where he leaves the pitch when hurt and that one is one that I think recurs a bit in season 2 as well, and there’s another one for him too. But just in general, as a more novice viewer or listener, what would you like people to listen out for?
Well, most of the tunes always get a sparse arrangement at some point, like “Leaving The Studio,” Jamie’s theme. Roy’s tune gets a piano version and Ted, he gets a couple of his in seasons 1 and 2 where his theme is just on solo piano, and at times, like “Dad and Darts,” it’s just on guitars but I think Ted Lasso is actually — there are obviously some bigger sporting cues where the themes are woven in amongst it, but I think that because the music is so organic and it’s not huge in scale. It’s cinematic, but it’s not trying to beat you over the head with a brass section playing flat out or whatever, so I think it actually makes it easier to pick the themes out because they’re deliberately played in a slightly smaller, more intimate setting.