Music on 'Top Model' elevates the drama


When the producers of "America's Next Top Model" set out to capture the musical flavor of the modeling world, they didn't have to look any farther than the show's lead judge/executive producer Tyra Banks. The onetime supermodel not only took a hands-on role in charting a musical direction for the show, she lent her singing pipes to its catwalk-strutting theme song.

"Tyra's sensibility is urban-flavored and fashion-forward -- in music, too," observes Emmy-winning composer Richard Wolf, one of the main suppliers of music for the show through his company the Producers Lab. "On the first few episodes, Tyra would give us feedback like, 'This cue is working, but you could raise up the bass' or, 'If you take out the flute, that would be perfect.'"

Tyra might have dropped the needle on the record, but from day one it has been music supervisor Matt Kierscht's responsibility to keep the groove going, and it's been no easy task. "ANTM" is packed front to back with music -- none of which is scored to picture -- with anywhere from 140 to 150 cues per episode covering a diverse array of styles, from hip-hop, rock and pop to dramatic film-style underscore. When the show makes its seasonal foray to an exotic locale, the musical palette grows even wider, incorporating indigenous styles and instruments into the contemporary, beat-heavy sound.

"It's a learning curve, because you're not really sure if a certain cymbal is from Taiwan or China, so you have to make sure that any type of sounds you use are authentic," says Grammy Award-winning producer Les Pierce, who co-wrote the show's theme with David Thomas and provides music on an episode-by-episode basis via his production house ToneDeLux.

In addition to the Producers Lab and ToneDeLux, Kierscht also calls on a number of up-and-coming indie bands and hip-hop producers, which helps keeps costs down and gives the show a fresh, cutting-edge sonic flavor.

"A baby band might be good at doing that one kind of sound, but if there's something very specific I need, that's when I call someone like Richard," Kierscht says, "because he can just change gears and do something completely off-topic and unexpected from scratch."

Like any other reality program, "ANTM" has codified segments that appear in every episode, such as the deliberation, the elimination and the farewells, each with its own musical flavor.

Wolf says that the elimination segment is the biggest challenge for the composer "because music plays a very important role in building the tension in that context." But what he likes most about the show is its sheer volume.

"They play the music really loud," Wolf says. "I don't know if anybody really notices it except for music fans like my daughter, but for people involved in the music it's very satisfying."