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'The Bachelorette': Scoring heartbreak and drama with reality TV composer Brad Segal

Felicia Graham, ABC
Rick Rowell, ABC

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Believe it or not, "The Bachelorette" has been on the air for 12 years. That's a lot of tears, failed relationships and wilted roses. 

The high drama of the show has managed to hold audiences for more than a decade, but that drama — and the emotions and feelings stirred up in viewers — is highly reliant on the music cues included in each scene. Take the clip below:

The music moves from sweet and romantic to tensely dramatic, as Bachelorette Kaitlin Bristowe has to make her choice between the final two bachelors. Pretty heavy, right? The music anchors the gravitas of it all, and Brad Segal is the man behind that music.

A Juilliard-trained musician, Segal planned a career as a concert pianist. But a stint at a jingle company led him into writing music for commercials and reality TV shows, from "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" to "American Idol" and "America's Got Talent."

When Segal joined us on The Frame, he talked about his journey in becoming a composer for America's favorite reality TV shows, the underappreciated art of the underscore, and how he approaches different moods like "goofiness" or "manipulation."

Interview Highlights:

How did you find your way into composing for reality TV?

I would do these snippets of music, thinking I was going to be a songwriter one day. I had these cassettes and cassettes with endless takes of me doing little riffs — 12, 14, 20-second pieces of music — and as I look back on it, this was my education in composing underscore. Interestingly enough, that's where I went.

As a person who was playing music, studying music, and listening to music, at what point do you remember noticing a score, either in a TV show or a movie, and saying, "That's a good piece of music"?

Actually, I noticed a problem with commercials: many of them have a piece of music that fits, it has a beginning and an ending, but then I realized that frequently the commercial ends and the music just gets chopped off. I started thinking, Wait a minute, I could do that, I could write an ending that fits within that timeframe. That was my first experience with crafting something to be a correct musical idea that had a finite amount of time.

And then, as I started paying attention to the music on TV, I saw the different ways that music was being used. In sitcoms, where there are little bumpers, those are two or three seconds of music that do exactly what they need to do — end the scene, carry you over, and roll you into the next scene. You can even have a sharp ending or something that tails out. Again, there's a craft. And then I started focusing on the difference between classical music and underscore

What's the difference between classical music and underscore?

In classical music, you state your theme pretty quickly, you develop it depending on the form, and it goes through its different sections. In underscore music for television and film, you can hold a note for an extended period of time. Yeah, you have to do something creative with it, whether it's other instruments or percussion, but melody is something that's dangerous in underscore. The true art of underscore is that you don't know when it comes in and when it ends.

You work a lot right now in unscripted or reality television. In scripted shows, there's generally a hero, a villain, maybe a love story, but in reality shows like "The Bachelorette" or "American Idol," there are characters and a result. Tell us a little bit about this cue, titled "Demote," and what it's supposed to do dramatically within the show.

This cue was composed for "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette," and what tends to happen with this piece of music is that, as the contestant is not furnished a rose, he or she will have a little bit of an exit interview. This music starts as the contestant and the suitor say goodbye, and it'll walk them out, take them to the car, and frequently go through the car, all while the person is talking about why they don't understand what happened.

Both "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" are ostensibly about people falling in and out of love, so I want to talk a little bit about falling in love, or thinking that you're falling in love. Here's a cue called "Astonishing."

So this is like the "bodice ripper" of harlequin romance: you see petals on the bed, you see people getting undressed. Tell us about this piece of music.

Writing this type of music is awesome, it's fun, and you have set marks where you want to build it and keep building, almost to the point where the listener's expecting it to end but you want to just give it another beat or two. Then there are these nice breaks, usually for editing purposes — for this type of a big, sweeping intro, the picture editors might have a crane shot, or a helicopter circling over a mountaintop where the two lovers are standing together.

A lot of what happens on any reality show, especially "Bachelor" and "Bachelorette," is backstage banter. Do you approach the banter between men and banter between women differently?

No. Men can be just as cutting as the girls, and maybe one might choose different instrumentation if you know it'll be used specifically for a guy, and in fact, one of the really awesome, fun things about this type of work is that two or three different types of music can be auditioned under a scene and they'll put you in completely different places.

Let's say the goofy guy gets out of the limo and he's walking up to the girl and does some flips, because he's an acrobat and he wants to show her that he's agile. Sometimes it takes trying a few pieces of music to see what really makes the scene jump and stick out, and similarly you can have two women talking about why a third woman is doing something, and if you have a light tension piece, it'll obviously put it in that direction. But you could also have a more heartfelt piece, which might make you be more compassionate.

You don't know me well, but for the purposes of this conversation, assume I'm single, I've come on the show, and I've been kicked off after not lasting very long. I'm walking back to my limo and I'm a bucket of tears, so what cue are you going to play for John Horn as he walks off?

I have a feeling it's going to be a very strong, self-confident piece of music. We do not want to portray you in a weak way, so let's try "Burden." It's solemn but positive.

This is a little sad, but I'm going to get on with my life. This is not going to destroy, and this is NOT going to be the end of me.

No, you will continue. And you'll probably be back next season.

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