In this exclusive interview, we visit with Tom Rory Parsons, the man responsible for the stunning original music for the Small Town Horror Podcast. Tom was gracious enough to answer our questions as well as provide some music samples for you to enjoy.
Small Town Horror Theme Music
How did you get your start with music?
Tom Rory Parsons: Well back in 2007 I suffered from panic attacks every day, I was bullied an awful lot through my school life and I have Aspergers Syndrome. I began to use music as a way of over coming my anxieties and social difficulties. Artists such as David Bowie, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Muse, and Gary Numan were some of the artists who really pushed me into music. The following year I took up guitar and I had a few lessons. I was practising guitar at home for about two years until I decided I wanted to try a music course. I studied two years on a music practice course which had lessons such as music ensemble, business and song writing. I found these two years incredibly hard as I was also discovering who I was, getting into relationships, trying hard to fit in with the classes and I even had to take a few months off for personal reasons. On the course, I learned how to song-write; I began by just playing guitar and singing. I knew I was an awful singer and I also lacked the confidence to perform in front of people but at end of the two years I managed to get most of the work done in the last few weeks. I suddenly understood some things, not just about music, but about life, I was starting to grow up at age 20. On one of my final days on the course I performed in front of about 100 people, singing, playing guitar and piano, performing one of my original songs and also covering David Bowie and The Killers.
After this, I did a 3-year degree course in Music performance and Technology. This would be a brand new adventure as it was in a location I was unfamiliar with and it would also mean 46 miles of travelling every day. The first module I did on the course I did terribly however, making such a big mistake made me work harder over the course of the 3 years and I ended up with a 2.1. I entered a new relationship between my first and second year of the course which certainly increased my confidence, my social skills and found someone I could share my love of media with. My boyfriend introduced me to audio dramas and showed me the ones made by Big Finish. It was strange how I had been a Doctor Who fan for almost 12 years at that point and never been made aware of the audios before. I was pleased to hear that it had the original actors voices and that it had music and sound effects. So for my big project on the third year of my course, I decided I would work on an audio drama. My boyfriend wrote the script and I took on the roles of composer, sound designer, editor, actor, producer and I rehearsed with the actors nearly every week and recorded them in the college studio. It certainly was a challenge and I worked with nearly 15 actors over the course of the project. I knew I had to be firm with my actors, I knew how serious the project was to my final grade and I was very intent on getting it done. I had never acted or been a sound designer before this so I was learning most of it as I went along. I look back now and think I have done so much better work than this but I feel it as a huge learning experience. I have spent most of my life watching films, TV shows and games and to stick those elements to my love of music seems quite fitting.
Spine-Chilling (From Diary of a Madman)
How did you get connected with Small Town Horror?
TRP: Well I posted in the Audio Drama Production Podcast group to see if anyone needed any music for their projects. I received a message from Daniel Burnett (editor of Small Town Horror) and he said he had recently spoken to someone named Jon Grilz and they were working on a horror podcast together, and they were looking for a composer. I then spoke to Jon who explained his plans for the show. Myself, Jon and Dan didn’t realise how the big the show would get with it now having over a 1000 likes on Facebook, lots of Patreon donations and people writing massive reviews of the show just feels so unreal. I am also glad that I don’t just have two colleagues, I feel I have made two new friends as well even though one lives in Australia and the other in America and I am here in the UK.
What are some of the different things that you have to keep in mind when writing music for fiction podcasts? Are you involved with the actual story process, or do you work the music around the script?
TRP: I don’t think I have read a Small Town Horror script since the very first one. There are no musical cues for me in the script and I look forward to hearing them and feeling the emotion of the character through Jon’s voice rather than reading off the page. I know others feel differently but I feel much more emotion through sound then through text. The music I have always put in place myself and I think only on 2 or 3 occasionally have I been asked to change something music-wise. Me and Jon discussed early on that he felt the music should be on the voice over parts when Ryan was alone and not when the characters are interacting with each other, however, I have added music to dramatic moments in the show and also to certain flashback scenes and scenes were Ryan is being tortured. I really felt they had to be there and there hasn’t been any complaints from Jon or Dan. Music in itself tells a story and I wanted the listeners to feel the sadness, paranoia and fear Ryan feels. I have composed about 40 pieces of music for the show, not including the short stings. I have used certain pieces of music for certain locations or when we encounter a certain character in the show. I won’t tell you what those are or it may spoil something. In terms of being involved with the story we leave that to Jon, occasionally he will ask us about something or we may suggest something if we feel something needs tweaking or maybe change a line slightly at the most.
A New Dark Path
One would think writing and recording music for podcasts would be similar to scoring a film. Are there any special considerations for scoring music for podcasts that would be different than film?
TRP: Well I would say there are a few differences, firstly podcasts are all sound and you can’t really have long stretches with just music as people will switch off whereas a film you can have longer stretches with just music and no dialogue during big action sequences for example. Also a lot of my pieces for Small Town Horror usually only consists of one or two instruments sometimes 3 and are not complex. Some of the music I work on for my Music for The Media course where we compose to video requires much more complex pieces with 20+ instruments and require some very strict hit points.
What are your future plans for your music, such as standalone releases not associated with the podcast?
TRP: Well I am still working on Jim Robbie and the Wanderers which is another podcast. I jumped on board that show at Season two episode seven and have been working with them ever since and I also worked on their re-release of episode one. I also have three stories coming out next year for Pulp Pourri Theatre and I am also now working on music for a video game but I can’t tell you too much about that yet but I am composing some medieval music for it.
Any plans for OST material for Small Town Horror being released in the future?
TRP: Not at the moment, it’s not something we have really discussed.