Brisbane Singer, Songwriter & Composer Jazz D'Arcy: What Bluey Taught Me

17 April 2023 | 3:22 pm | Jazz D'Arcy

That little blue heeler has given me a lot of things, from friendships and other job opportunities to advice, but the biggest one is how to be a better screen composer and music producer.

(Pic by Amelia Reid)

Two years ago, I was having coffee with a singer/songwriter friend, and while we were discussing the challenges and joys of songwriting, she asked me why I don’t call myself a music producer. I scoffed and said, "I would never claim to be a music producer; I’m solely a screen composer and songwriter".

But at that moment, she brought to my attention all the skills I had learned being a film composer that translated to music production. And how I was ignoring a big part of what I do. 

Back in the day, each person in the film music chain of command had a separate role: 

You had the composer with the ideas and musical notes, then the orchestrators, the orchestra, the engineers, the mixers, the masterers etc... You still see this in places like Hollywood, but in Australia, it’s commonly accepted that you have to be a jack of all trades. You create the theme, produce it, record the instruments and musicians; sometimes you are the musicians, then mix it, master it, export it and voila! An all-trick pony. 

Then, you also have to be versatile enough to conjure up whatever genre the show, episode or movie demands of you. As an upcoming film composer, you don’t have the luxury of having too much of "a niche". You must say yes to the gig and work it out like wildfire within the time constraints. 

Bluey is a musically unique TV series, as it never uses the main theme as an underscore. Not only is each episode a fresh musical theme, but it often explores a range of genres and styles to suit the on-screen games. For example, there’s a sitcom episode (Neighbours) and a couple of ska-inspired episodes (Taxi), some Kwela-inspired episodes (Spy Game), party tracks (Dance Mode, Musical Statues) and of course, the episodes with classical music (Bike, Mums And Dad, Sleepytime). 

I started working with Joff Bush on Bluey in 2018, right after graduating from The Australian Film and Television School, where I got a Graduate Certificate in Screen Music. Fresh out of university, there was an abundance of references and genres I needed to get familiar with… and fast. TV doesn’t wait for anyone. Every week was a new episode and a new genre to comprehend. 150 odd episodes - that's a lot of learning. 

I would go home and deep dive into the references we had chatted about in the spotting sessions (a weekly meeting where we discussed the spots where the music goes, along with feedback on episodes we were working on). This is where I got familiar with the playful, eclectic soundscapes of Shugo Tokumaru and the powerfully catchy hooks from the Violent Femmes

Or to consider the character of some interesting instrumentation like the autoharp and the versatility of the accordion, or even the fife and its inclusion in some old military classics like, The British Grenadiers. I also took time to really consider the dramaturgy of the true classics, Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky, and Bach (or Bark, as we like to joke).

I would study guitar production from the likes of George Harrison's My Sweet Lord to even some very left-field references like Pitbull (hey, some of the lo-fi production of the guitars was worth studying!). 

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Rain (Boldly in the Pretend) feat. Jazz D'Arcy | Official Music Video

Check out what the Bluey Music Team has been up to 🎶... ‘Rain (Boldly in the Pretend) feat. Jazz D'Arcy' Written and performed by Jazz D'Arcy & Joff Bush Featuring some of the musicians from the fabulous Bluey Band; Youka, Daniel, Andrew, Julia, Bob and Marly AND see if you can spot a special appearance from the real life Uncle Stripe (Dan Brumm). Directed by Byron D’Arcy

Posted by Bluey on Thursday, March 23, 2023

Hearing Joff’s score from the episode, Pool sent me into an analogue synth research spiral that ensured I checked (and continue to check) Gumtree for a DX7, Waldorf and the like on the regular. And how the magic in production is often found in using both samples AND organic/analogue instruments to bring a score out of the one-dimensional synthetic realm and into life (it’s all in the soundwaves, baby!).

Over time, I noticed the speed at which I could comprehend the brief to having a musical idea for it and then realised it was getting quicker with more flexibility. Each new episode added to the tapestry would inform my knowledge of screen music and music production that I have today. 

After five years of showing up every week to dive into a new musical challenge, I am excited to now spend some time "playing in the sandpit", so to speak. Fast forward to today, where I’m sitting on the floor sifting through the back catalogue of my songs that had been pushed aside for other things, assessing whether they’re going to make it into my upcoming debut EP. 

I’ve often felt a little guilty not giving time to those songs, keeping them trapped in a dark vault (AKA, the multiple little diaries kept on the shelf) as I pursue film music. However, in the lead-up to my debut EP and off the back of one of my tracks, Rain (Boldly in the Pretend) (from the upcoming sophomore Bluey album, Dance Mode), I’ve let those songs out to play and have begun producing them along with some completely new ones. 

In reality, the production dreams I had in my head when writing them all those years ago probably wouldn’t have been realised to their full potential without the experience of the last five years. It’s a thrilling prospect, using that experience to create an EP with lyrics that make you feel and music that makes you dance. 

That little blue heeler has given me a lot of things, from friendships and other job opportunities to advice (that was probably mainly intended for children - but I’ll take it anyway), but the biggest one is how to be a better screen composer and music producer. 

Reflecting on my conversation with that friend two years ago, she asked me a really important question. It’s easy to look at your skill set from your flaws because this job requires you to continually learn. You’ll never really "arrive", but you might get quicker and have more tools and space to play.

If she ever asks me again, I’ll re-introduce myself as a screen composer, songwriter and now, modestly, a music producer. After all, an idea can only get you so far; you need music production to finish the job. 

Bluey: Dance Mode is out this Friday. You can pre-save/pre-order the new Bluey album here.