Today we are here with the team from The Black Piper, the creators of the Kaladin album on Kickstarter. It's a fantastic look into the behind-the-scenes process and the backstory of the album, and their plans to come. Joining me today are Sae Sae Norris, Producer and Creative Director; Michael Bahnmiller, Composer and Producer; and Richard Williams, Composer and Coordinator.
The Kaladin Kickstarter ends Monday, September 25th. For more information on Kaladin, check out our preview on it.
The following has been edited for length and clarity.
17S: How nervous are you now that Kaladin and its Kickstarter is in the wild? How's the reception been so far?
Michael Bahnmiller: It's always a little nerve-bending to release something you've put your heart into! With Kaladin, we all had an overpowering sense of optimism about what would happen, but when the campaign was ready and we went to "press the button", the knowledge that thousands of people would now be listening to our music, looking at our profiles, seeing who we were and what we've done - it definitely gave us pause!
But I also knew that we have an amazing team and we were prepared!
The reception has been overwhelmingly positive! People have been reaching out to us from all across the world to express excitement, not only about the music and the art but also about the concept. We weren't sure if people would get the idea of an original epic fantasy book soundtrack, so it's been thrilling and affirming to have people wondering why this isn't a thing already!
Sae Sae Norris: Basically I feel the same way Kaladin is described as feeling during his first bridge run. This has been the HARDEST thing I’ve ever done, but it’s been insanely rewarding both personally and professionally. The film industry is full of vipers and terrible people who exist solely to use you up and throw you out. It’s also full of people who love to create art, and evolve technologically, and think outside of the box, and aren’t jaded, who know that family is more important than work. Time has proven this team to be the latter, which I honestly wasn’t expecting when we first started. I’m amazed at the tenacity, heart, integrity, and sacrifice my team has put in to this project. As its leader, I feel an insane amount of responsibility to make sure this is all worth it. And I can’t do it alone. We can’t do it alone.
This Kickstarter has been an incredible crucible and the amount of support we’ve had truly and literally has a physical effect on my well-being. When I’m feeling down or overwhelmed, I look to the Stormlight community because you are my tribe. You guys get it. You know what makes me tick and what inspires me. You feel, and wonder, and create, and jest, and hypothesize and your existence lifts me up. You peeps are my personal bridge crew and I couldn’t be more grateful to the support you’ve given to me and my team.
On a more practical note, we’re on track to make our first goal--but we really want to exceed that so we can start writing new music. Most of the Bridge Four sequences had to be left out until Goal 2 because of the budget. Using a 70-piece orchestra is extremely expensive. We’ve taken a lot of care to configure our orchestras (choosing how many of which instrument to hire per session) to maximize the emotional effect of the music they’re playing.
We need all the spheres and Stormlight we can muster to really flesh out the album and tell the musical story that we’ve been sitting on. You peeps have been paramount in our success so far, but we need all hands on deck for this last leg of the Kickstarter campaign.
17S: It sure seems like you've been Stormlight fans for a while. The tracks really do evokes the feel of Stormlight and the scenes they are capturing. Could you tell us how the team at Black Piper discovered Stormlight Archive or Brandon Sanderson?
SSN: Yay! An origin story question! Have I mentioned how much I personally relate to Kaladin? Because I do.
None of us knew each other at the beginning of this project. Well, I didn’t know anyone on the team. I had just wrapped on producing Flight From Shadow, the Wheel of Time fan-film. That shoot destroyed me. Physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally. What was meant to be an homage to two of my brothers (one who died and whose death I blamed myself for, and to my oldest brother, who got me out of my grief by introducing me to the Wheel of Time), ended up being one of the most corrupt shoots of my life. The “bigness” of the project just went to too many people’s heads and it poisoned my team. My friends, my film family, my network. The man I loved, the man who had saved my life that one time and literally carried me into the ER, had stabbed me in the back. And he planned it while I was at the book signing for AMoL, cos he knew I was a Sanderfan and that’s where I’d be. I genuinely considered suicide the night it all fell apart. It was my composer and brother-from-another-mother, Nate Drew (composer for the Hearthstone theme) that kept me alive that terrible night and just let me cry.
I was devastated and couldn’t even finish the WoT series. I stopped making films. I stopped writing screenplays and poetry. I stopped writing music. I stopped playing the piano and the cello and singing. I stopped reading. I stopped editing. I stopped teaching. My life turned into one big cremling and my fire was gone. My trust was gone. And I was thoroughly embarrassed that Brandon (who had helped with our marketing cos it coincided with the release of AMoL) and Jason Denzel could have witnessed any sort of drama, cos that’s just not how I do business, and I was (am) a hardcore fan of both of them. (I work with Hollywood A-listers all the time and don’t get nervous; but I get seriously tongue-tied and fan-girly around Brandon, his work means that much to me.)
I was approached to produce an Infinity Blade film, which already had half a million dollars of funding in escrow. We made FFS on $12k, most of it out of pocket. I could have made IB look like freaking Avatar and done it in my sleep for half a million dollars. I said no. Twice. I would not do another Brandon Sanderson project. It hurt too much.
So, a year later, Nate [Drew] recommends I give some producing advice to two composers who wanted to make an album. Cue a couple of Mormons meeting up in a Starbucks: a recent music grad with an ambitious dream, a final year grad savant that was severely under-appreciated, and a producer who had given up on everything.
Funnily enough, I wrote about this meeting in my journal and ended up using that journal as my Black Piper notebook. I had misgivings about getting back in the game but was so inspired when I heard their music. Something inside of my stirred, but it wasn’t enough. I told them their idea was cool but it was too vague and their music needed to tell a story. I blew them off for awhile after that, expecting them to take the hint and give up before they got hurt.
Then I get this email from Mike. “Hey Sae Sae, I found the PERFECT story to compose to! It’s called The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (have you heard of him?). It’s epic and spiritual, and everything we need to do! So I wrote to him and he said to contact his agent! What do I do?”
I think I had a literal heart attack when I read that. I just read that email over and over again, cradling myself and saying “Oh no!” Not Brandon. Of all the stories in the UNIVERSE Mike could have chosen and it was THAT one. I bought the book, the first book I’d read since that night. I read it in three days and emailed Brandon’s agent the second I was done with it. This was MY story to tell. And the universe kept shoving me in to Brandon’s work. I still don’t know why, but maybe it was time I listened.
I knew it would be expensive. I knew they’d say no. But I figured, if I got a solid no from Brandon’s agent, Mike would get off my back. They liked our pitch. They wanted to talk. Every time someone had the opportunity to say no to us in a way that would axe the project, they ended up saying yes.
I broke down the book and wrote a treatment, the first writing I’d done in years. We wrote some songs. I got to direct, something I didn’t think I’d ever get to do again. Mike, Richard, and Phil went to Prague and recorded what we wrote. I grew sixteen more ulcers. We were committed now. These were personal funds and now it was on me to make sure these kids could feed their families and didn’t get destroyed by the dark side of the industry. I vowed I would not let that happen to my team. Never again.
Then I got a seizure/stroke thingy and became paralysed on the right side of my body. We had to halt the project for a little over a year. DMG wanted the rights to the cosmere. They had more money than we did and we hadn’t yet inked the deal with Dragonsteel. Stuck in a wheelchair, with nothing, my hope started to fade. It was over. I knew my team would take what I had given them and boot me, just like before. I told them that I was no good and to leave and try to succeed without me.
They didn’t. They supported me, and worked with my damage. They said they needed me, and I realized that I needed them, and I needed this. DMG got the film rights but they said we could do our album anyway. That’s unheard of. (Seriously, peeps. Studios are not that gracious.) We were running out of money. Investors started coming out of nowhere and managed to give us just the amount of money we needed, when we needed it. At every turn, we thought this project would fail, but we put our heads down and our hearts in and we wouldn’t let it.
And here we are. It’s been one battle after another but more and more people come in and help us. They love the music, and the artwork, and the rewards. Our intense commitment to treating this like a true Hollywood project has been paying off. This is what we do, because we have to do it.
We don’t know if we’ll reach our destination. But that’s not what it’s about, is it?
This project gave my life meaning and purpose again. It reignited the spark of creativity that I thought I had lost. It proved that not everyone becomes corrupt when money and studios and names get attached. I found a fandom that I can enjoy. It feels like home. Brandon is like Dalinar. His words are important and they have united us all.
If we don’t make our Kickstarter goal, I honestly don’t know what I’ll do. But I know I won’t do nothing, not again. It would be the biggest forward fail of my life. But if we do succeed, and we can only do it with everyone else’s help, we will take this project and make like Fleet and just keep running.
17S: What's been the biggest challenge on making Kaladin?
SSN: I pretty much answered that from a personal point of view, at least. Logistically, I’d say our biggest hurdle has been the money. We have the team, we have the vision, we have the street cred, we have the inspiration. This whole experience would have been a whole lot smoother if we’d had the seed money to properly get this thing past development all at once, instead of in micro-chunks. As it was, all our funds came in increments, and took a LOT of effort and luck to get. We’ve calculated into our budget what we’d need to set aside from our profits to make a second album without all the bumps and hurdles. Hopefully, we’ll make it that far.
We’re really planning on a long-term business. The first project is always the hardest. We have a lot to prove, despite our contacts and experience. We’re basically starting a new genre, and being the trend setters is really difficult to do, especially in an industry where the big money bets on what they know already works.
So far, we’ve erred on the side of being over-prepared, but this is new territory for us. No one has done a book soundtrack like we’re doing it. And now we know why: it’s freaky expensive. We’re hoping that our formula for the book soundtrack is the one that will crack the code and open up the genre.
17S: What was it like recording with the City of Prague Orchestra? How much rehearsal do they do before it's recorded? I'd love to know more of that process.
Richard Williams: They basically have no rehearsal time, they are recording it live sight-reading. Recording with an orchestra is a much more interesting experience when you hear live instruments instead of the computerized mockups. I think it’s common as a composer to have a bunch of questions about your orchestration or to not be sure about if things are going to sound okay, but when you let the orchestra play it, more often then not, that goes away, and you’re just able to sit back and enjoy the beautiful creation. I must admit we had so much on our minds since it was our first time there that there wasn’t a lot of sitting back and enjoying, but we were working and making sure the music sounded as good as possible. The string players there are really amazing! I was amazed at how fast they were able to play my very fast and difficult music. I can’t believe how good they can sightread!
17S: Being realistic, how many tracks will be in the album if you only meet the first goal of 110,000?
SSN: If we only reach our minimum goal of $110k, then there will be 14 songs on the finished album.
- The Most Important Words a Man Can Say
- Sylphrena’s theme
- Honor Chasm
- Alethi Codes of War
- Chasm Kata
- Three Glyphs (Wind, Protection, Beloved)
- The Tower
- Thath (Justice)
- Shallan’s Lullaby: a bonus track to give Shallan some love and let you all know what kind of sound and feeling to expect from her album, should we be lucky enough to make it.
- Tarah: a bonus track devoted to the mysterious Tarah, who is only mentioned once in TWoK and once in WoR! Sae Sae’s only original track on the album, and a piano solo to boot. (If we can afford an orchestra later, we’ll add it)
17S: The Kickstarter, and the album, focuses on Kaladin and his struggles in The Way of Kings, but there was also the Shallan's Lullaby track. Are there any other Words of Radiance-inspired tracks?
MB: No. This album is all about Kaladin! We had just found Shallan's Lullaby by Alex Crandall on YouTube and thought it would be awesome to record and include it! So, it became a bonus track, and I'm so glad we found it!
SSN: Creatively, we are ready to go on a Shallan album! I’ve got the treatment, and the sample track lists, and am so excited to do it! But, due to the budget we were only able to tell Kaladin’s story on this album. Ideally, we’d like to end up giving each character their own album (if we can get permission, that is); Kaladin has his; Shallan will have hers and will include both her story in TWOK and WoR; Dalinar will have his, which shall include his story in WoR and OB, and so on.
To clarify, we do not have any other Cosmere albums lined up with Dragonsteel. Basically, if this album is a success, then we’ll be in a position to possibly negotiate further Cosmere albums.
Please help us get this campaign successful so we can blow your socks off with our next album! Shallan’s album will sound totally different from Kaladin’s, a little more like Danny Elfmann, Max Richter, and James Newton Howard. A lot more feminine, but powerful, and very dark and whimsical. I really hope we get the chance to do a Shallan album properly!
17S: Will you use (or have you already used) rare instruments to make the music sound more unique, as Roshar is a unique world?
MB: We've used some more unique synth sounds in the tracks. Synths are computer generated (or computer processed) sounds that we layer together with the live orchestral sounds. We are also planning on using a custom made set of bamboo flutes for Wandersail.
We are using "electric cello" recorded by the amazing Tina Guo for the Thath track, if you can count that as "rare"!
SSN: We’ve got the use of a sitar, and we’re literally creating a flute for Hoid to play during Wandersail because there honestly isn’t one in existence that can do what he describes in the book. But we’re patterning that after a Chinese design (a dizi is what I think we decided to go with), with a few flairs. Our synths are massively processed. The horns that you hear playing in Alethi Codes of War are processed into synths to create the crashing lightning of the Highstorm song, and represents the use of Stormlight. I really can’t wait to record the Parshendi and bring them in to the orchestrated music! Their use of breath, rhythm, male and female overarching each other, yet still somehow in unison, and all in a language that Kristina A. Bischoff created…yeah, I really can’t wait to do the Parshendi vocals.
17S: I saw you had to get the permission from DMG Entertainment [the people who own the film rights] to do this. Has there been any talk to use any of this soundtrack for stuff they produce? Have you had any discussions with them about it?
MB: DMG has been very gracious to allow us to do this!
Regarding using our music for their production, there hasn't been any talk of it, but typically film needs to be scored very specifically. It actually has much different considerations from what standalone music has. For example, the battle scenes will likely have a different pacing from what the Kaladin album has, they may be faster or last longer. Certain moments will happen at different times, and there are also a lot of nuances that a picture has.
The director also brings to the table a vision for the aesthetics and the music. He or she may envision something moving and touching played over a particular battle scene, where what we have is epic percussion!
Of course, we'd certainly be beyond thrilled to be considered to compose for something they produce, but as of yet, there has been no discussion!
17S: Which is the track you're most excited to hear with the full orchestra? For me, it's probably "Highstorm." I can't wait to hear the final version of that.
SSN: Man, that’s a tough one. I’d say I want to hear Highstorm, Alethi Codes of War, and Honor Chasm. The sheer bossness of Highstorm and its arrhythmic timing, the fun Celtic syncopated jig of Alethi Codes of War, and the heart-wrenching music of Honor Chasm that stops way too early... Do I have to pick one?
MB: I'd have to say Sylphrena! Philip Klein, who wrote the track, is one of my favorite composers and a good friend, and I just love this track. Just the mockup version of it takes me back to feeling like a child again, and he does it with such deftness that I forget where I am or that I'm not 6 years old and carefree. I can't wait to hear it all put together and mixed by the wonderful Casey Stone!
RW: For me, it’ll probably be The Tower. That song was written literally in 10 hours in one day. It was the day before we were to fly out to Europe. And I love the addition of the drums and choir that will be added, so I’m excited to hear the full version when its done! Highstorm is probably a close second. That was the song that I was amazed at how the string players could sightread such a piece.
17S: What are each of your favorite tracks and why?
MB: Well, Sylphrena, for sure! And Alethi Codes of War by Caleb Blood is just so fun I wish I'd written it! Oh, and Shallan's Lullaby just has the coolest arrangement - written by Alex Crandall and arranged/orchestrated by Sandy Schnieders. And Hearthst--- OK, you probably only wanted one track, didn't you?
RW: Hmm, besides The Tower, and Highstorm, I like Sylphrena’s Theme and 16 Seconds Pre-Death. Sylphrena’s theme has some really cool chords in it that really remind me of that Hollywood sound, and the song it self has an epicness that is in a different style than many of the other epic action songs on the album. So it’s nice to hear another angle in that way. I like 16 Seconds because it’s unnerving and intensely ominous at the same time. I like the chord progressions that happen in the song as well. It reminds me a bit of old classical influences how things morph with the chords. And I like the unnerving groans that happen towards the beginning. That adds to the ominous feeling that surmounts.
SSN: I honestly go through phases with the album. For awhile, I’ll be feeling it with Highstorm. It was so much fun to pull out of Richard the idea I had in my head. He was the perfect one to write the song. Then I’ll be feeling it with Alethi Codes of War (okay, this might be a favorite simply because it’s got the Celtic feeling and I’m a sucker for that). Then I get the feels with Hearthstone, which is satisfying to listen to because it really took a LOT of takes to get this just right. I wish you peeps could hear it with the male humming in the background. Sandra thinks we should go with a tenor, to represent Tien; and I think we should go with a bass, to represent Lirin working by himself. Either way, whatever we end up with, I know it’s going to hit us all right in the feels!
Thanks for joining us! Check out the Kaladin Kickstarter over here to back this project.