James Harvey from The World’s Finest recently had the opportunity to talk with Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion and Kristopher Carter, otherwise collectively known as Dynamic Music Partners, about the their upcoming major Dynamic Soundtrack Records release, Teen Titans Original Soundtrack – Volume One! This team of award-winning composer/arranger/conductors has scored countless programs – including a wealth of superhero favorites outside of Teen Titans, from Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series to The Spectacular Spider-Man and Young Justice and countless works in-between! Even if you don’t know their names, you know their work.
Continue below for the interview and for more details on Dynamic Music Partners’ exciting Teen Titans Original Soundtrack – Volume One soundtrack release, coming July 21, 2022 from Dynamic Soundtrack Records!
Photo #1: Dynamic Music Partners, Producer Glen Murakami, Mix Engineer Mark Mattson
Photo #2: San Diego Comic Con signing event
WF: The original Teen Titans series has long been adored by fans, what can you tell us about this soundtrack release?
Lolita Ritmanis (LR): We couldn’t be more excited that the music from the 2003 original Teen Titans series is finally being released! Throughout the years this has been the most frequently requested by the fans. This 98-track volume is a comprehensive dive into the original scores from the thirteen episodes of Season 1: “Divide and Conquer,” “Sisters,” “Final Exam,” “Forces of Nature,” “The Sum of His Parts,” “Nevermore,” “Switched,” “Deep Six,” “Masks,” “Mad Mod,” “Car Trouble,” “Apprentice, Part 1,” and “Apprentice, Part 2.”
WF: What was your approach and experience like when scoring that soon-to-be-classic first season of Teen Titans?
LR: During the era of composing music for Teen Titans, for the most part we each scored individual episodes, with the exception of the very first episode: “Divide and Conquer,” which we split amongst the three of us.
Michael McCuistion (MM): We had live musicians on every episode, ranging from electric guitar to theremin to electric violin. It’s now a retro sound because it was 20 years ago, so the synth sounds and electric drums have a vintage eclectic feel.
[Series Producer Glen Murakami] gave us a very long leash when it came to creative approach for the score for each episode. Musical references from Glen were very, very broad; he said during one of our early spotting sessions “It can be anything! Whatever seems fun and right for the episode.”
And each season had a story thread, and for that there were some themes. Slade. Terra. Trigon. Most themes were about the villains (oddly!) rather than the heroes.
LR: Although we had worked on other series that Glen Murakami was involved with, Teen Titans was his baby. Over the course of five seasons and over the 65 episodes, Glen had almost magical powers to inspire creative freedom in the choices we, as composers made. He not only gave us the green light to try new things, he actually encouraged choosing the path less taken, unleashing in many ways pure fun in the process of composing.
MM: Most episodes were self-contained stories, so those had specific scores rather than following an overall series approach for instrumentation and tonality. It was open season on styles, with everything ranging from guitar pop to Baroque classical to British rock to Brazilian mambo to flamenco to vocal jazz – an extremely broad palette of styles and colors. And that was just the first season!
We were just getting started in Season One; in future seasons there were even more styles of music introduced and an ever-expanding palette of sounds and styles mirrored their ever-expanding adventures. But, at the end of the day, everything always ended up being about pizza!
WF: What was your process like when scoring episodes on Teen Titans?
KC:Teen Titans (and Justice League, which we were scoring concurrently) was a transition period for us from an informal association of three more-or-less independent composers into a tightly integrated collaboration. Once our mentor Shirley Walker transitioned from animated television to focus on feature films, we continued our work with Warner Bros as independent artists. We composed separately on each episode, which meant one or two of us would be incredibly busy while the others were waiting for the next turn. Ultimately we decided that our energies could be better spent working at the same time and began splitting composing duties on each episode of a project… Legion of Super Heroes was the first project we scored officially as Dynamic Music Partners and we’ve been working together on most of our projects ever since.
WF: With all that in mind, how did you decide on the direction of the sound of the series?
KC: Glen Murakami had a very personal, individualized vision for the series, incorporating anime elements as well as his own unique aesthetics. Apart from broad strokes: a raw, indie, guitar-leaning sound, he wanted each episode to explore its own musical identity. In fact, he explicitly said he didn’t want us to know his favorite things we created for the series so we wouldn’t feel compelled to repeat ourselves! Accordingly, each initial spotting meeting was a brainstorming session of, “what haven’t we explored yet, and how does this episode spark something unique to try?”
LR: Music production was quite involved. We always had an array of live musicians, often more than one guitar player, woodwinds, and specialty instruments as called for by the needs of an individual episode.
WF: When it comes to your already incredible resume, what makes Teen Titans stand out among your other works?
LR: Cool, fun, sophisticated, genuine, are words that describe Teen Titans to me. Everything about that series holds up to this day as just a gem with an absolutely unique point of view, while being very relatable to all generations.
WF: How important is the score to the series’ first episode? Does that episode essentially establish the show’s musical identity, or will we hear something a little different by episode 13?
KC: Glen had a specific request for the first episode: Make the first cue sound like Batman Beyond (the immediately-preceding series we worked on), up to the end of the teaser, then Bam! Gonna hit the viewers with an entirely new music style in the Japanese Pop/Rock theme song (performed by the perfectly-cast Puffy AmiYumi), and once we return to the show, we’re off on a new style: youthful, punky, quirky and rock guitar-driven. That general concept guided us through the entire season, and on to the entire series, but the boundaries of those ideas was so broad as to allow the score to explore some pretty far-out fields. I suppose you could trace the route from episode 1 to 13 by way of Google Maps with the routing set to “as circuitous as possible!”
WF: What was the trickiest character theme to come up with? Who was the easiest? Did the show’s lighter tone make it easier or harder to create the right sound for each character?
MM: It’s interesting that you say the tone of the show was lighter…it may have started out that way, but give a listen to “Masks” or “The Apprentice, Part 1” and see if you still feel that way! Glen’s confidence in us gave us the ability to go virtually anywhere and draw upon any style or mood for inspiration. I was always really excited to go with my gut feeling when conceptualizing the music for each individual episode. So really the trickiest part was to make sure that there was always something unexpected and interesting around the next corner for the viewers, a musical approach that would amplify a unique facet of the Teen Titan’s world, their nemeses and their current predicament. And that was also the part that was most fun for me as a film composer.
WF: Any stand-out memories from scoring the first season, such as favorite Teen Titans highlights?
LR: My “smile from ear to ear” personal favorite musical moments of Volume One, without a doubt are found in the series premiere episode “Divide and Conquer.” Michael, Kristopher and I cover quite a bit of ground, from edgy (now sounding weirdly retro-hip) guitar driven grooves, to funky – vocal jazz infused selections, to creepy – creative sound-design elements highlighting “Slade” one of our main villains.
As for my solo episodes in Teen Titans Original Soundtrack – Volume One, I have been asked numerous times for the music from the episode “Sisters,” the episode where Starfire’s sister, Blackfire comes to earth. Alien robots start attacking Starfire and of course, Teen Titans have to protect her. The music has moments of sisterly sweetness, but then turns on a dime to reveal what really is going on under the surface. A 180 degree departure is the music I composed for the episode “Forces of Nature,” again about siblings, this time about two supernatural brothers “Thunder” and “Lightning”, who later become honorary Teen Titans. The score plays on nature – and the power of nature (thunder and lightning) through the use of ethnic drums and almost a Cirque du Soleil vibe.
“Switched” and “Deep Six” musically cover “creepy puppet music” to zombie music and rock opera.
KC: “Nevermore” was not only a wacky-while-dangerous exploration into Raven’s mind, but a wacky exploration into an Eastern-inspired meditation theme smashed together with heavy metal guitar playing up the danger. Two episodes, “Car Trouble” and “Mad Mod” started a trend I followed over the course of the series of decade-inspired scores, with “Car Trouble” featuring 1950’s doo-wop vocals and horns, while “Mad Mod” was grounded in 1960’s rock.
MM: I remember spotting my first episode with Glen, “Final Exam,” and we were talking about the opening infomercial. The idea was that this showcased a very elite academy that was extremely selective about their students, very highbrow, so I ended up writing a proper classical piece that was a really unusual juxtaposition with the imagery of weapons and explosions. Even the tempo was slow and stately rather than fast and action-like despite the battles on the screen. It seemed to create more questions that way, questions that would be answered in the episode that followed (and that musical theme became the Hive theme in the battle sequences later on too). It was a great intro for me as a composer into the world of the Titans and what was truly possible with such a wide spectrum of expression. Later, in “The Apprentice, Pt. 1,” Glen wanted the feeling that Robin was descending into a very, very dark place, so we agreed all the melodies would go downward throughout the whole story. By the end of the episode it sounded so dire – a great cliffhanger for Part 2 that followed!
WF: Here’s a different question: Can you share with us one thing you learned to do while working on Teen Titans? Perhaps picking up a new instrument, or using a familiar one in a new way? Did the series inspire you to try or do anything new, musically?
LR: Believe it or not, I am only now fully embracing the concepts I learned about creativity during the era of working on Teen Titans (for Glen Murakami.) When I am given a longer leash, it generally comes a surprise! If I could speak to the composer I was back then, I would say: “Enjoy the longer leash! Have some fun! Just go for it! You may not hit the mark every time, but you will absolutely be serving the project through unabashed, unfiltered creative energy!” I hear it in the music, but I remember how stressed I was at times putting myself out there and wondering if the music will be approved. It is all about collaboration and trust. We had that with Glen.
WF: What’s the planned release schedule for Teen Titans? We know Volume One arrives this summer, but is there anything you can tell us about future releases?
MM: At this point all we can tell you is that we are planning to release as much of our music as possible from the series. We don’t have a set release schedule; we’ll make announcements when there’s more on the way. We’ll be keenly watching sales of the first volume, and the interest we see in volume one could help us determine details about future releases. Since we’re releasing this ourselves we really appreciate your help and the help of all the fans on social media in getting the word out there so as many people as possible who love the show will know that this music is finally becoming available to enjoy.
WF: As we wrap this interview up, and in addition to Teen Titans, are there any other recent or upcoming works you’d like to shine a little light on?
KC: We are thrilled to share that we scored the upcoming Warner Bros. animated movie, Batman and Superman: Battle of the Super Sons. We loved working with director Rick Morales on this beautiful story, packed full of heart, family and overcoming obstacles through teamwork. The movie drops Oct. 18, 2022. And, in the grand tradition of Vaguebooking and NDAs, we are just now wrapping work on a wonderful movie that is going to be incredible to talk about… when we’re finally able to!
The Teen Titans Original Soundtrack – Volume One soundtrack release arrives July 21, 2022, from Dynamic Music Partners and Dynamic Soundtrack Records, and is available to purchase from your preferred digital retailer. Sign up for the DMP mailing list at the form below to be notified of future releases…AND, as a special bonus for subscribing, you’ll receive a PDF guide with episode-specific track info!
Teen Titans selected credits:
Music by: Lolita Ritmanis, Kristopher Carter & Michael McCuistion
Score orchestrated, conducted and produced by: Lolita Ritmanis, Kristopher Carter & Michael McCuistion
Music Recorded and Mixed by: Mark Mattson and Mako Sujishi
Label: Dynamic Soundtrack Records
All music published by: Warner-Barham Music, LLC (BMI)
Album mastered by: James Nelson/Digital Outland
Synthesists: Lolita Ritmanis, Kristopher Carter & Michael McCuistion
Guitars: Greg Herzenach, Paul Jameson, Gabriel Moses
Woodwinds: John Yoakum
For more on Dynamic Music Partners – including details on past, present and future works, along with news on forthcoming releases and appearances – check out their official website! On social media, be sure to follow them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube!
Check out this quick clip from “Teen Titans!”