Musicians Montana Marks and Justin Barad break down the claymation series’ score!
Trick or treat!
How did these compositions come to life? We caught up with Justin and Montana to find out.
Marvel.com: How did you two get into writing music?
Montana Marks: I grew up in a musical family. Growing up into middle and high school, we never had a TV in our living room, instead my parents set up a whole band studio practice room—so it was always kind of around.
It slowly worked its way into my life. I slowly started to do music on the computer and it went from there.
Justin Barad: I was classically trained with violin, piano, and guitar—and my father was always a musician. I think I took violin the most but I definitely wanted to know more about piano. I didn’t have a lot of time both of those lessons but I tried my best.
I didn’t take it much further beyond high school, but I did start playing in fourth or fifth grade, so I got all those years of great exposure to the classic training.
Also, in the house, I got inundated with lots of music. My older sister would always make me dance to ‘80s music and Michael Jackson, things like that, so I guess I had some rhythm. My dad loved The Beatles, so he would always play that and more of the classic rock, so I got a good amount of exposure to all that growing up.
Then we moved to a city in New Jersey—Closter, New Jersey—and I explored my new town. There was this computer shop down there—you know the old dusty computer shops in the ‘90s? I found this program, Mix Man Studio Pro, for Windows. I was sort of a nerd so I thought, “Okay, I’ll give it a shot.” I brought it home and it was this loop-based audio program where you press a button on your keyboard and it starts to play a drum loop or a vocal sample. I went off to the races after that. I knew I had a knack for it and I just started to look for all the different ways I could make music with computers after that.
I starting making my own hip hop beats. In between eighth grade and the end of high school I think I made over 200 rudimentary hip hop beats. I actually ended up making an album with an MC buddy of mine.
Once college came around, I turned to DJing because it felt like a way to be social. I kind of missed making music myself, but I just loved the social element of spinning other people’s music. I did it in college and grad school and I actually ended up doing it more professionally. But I always knew something seemed missing because I wasn’t making my own tunes.
Then about four years ago I bit the bullet and said, “You know what, I want to go back to it.” So I just spent hours and hours reading and watching tutorials. I think one of the hardest things—especially when you are no longer a kid and are in your late 20s—can be admitting you need to go back to the basics. I watched YouTube videos by 15 year-olds, teaching me how to use this software. You have to be humble.
Marvel.com: What drew you to scoring in particular?
Justin Barad: I think it can be easy to make a derivative cookie-cutter EDM track that energizes people. I think that making music that scares people feels a lot more fun.
When I said I was classically trained, I took lessons in violin and piano, but I never really learned how to compose music. I never really took it that far. Something about the atypical structure of score appeals to me. You don’t really have to sit in that box of intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, verse—that kind of thing.
I think scoring evokes more emotions in people than typical dance music does. And that has been what I like about this project too; it’s spooky.
Montana Marks: It felt different. Over the years, I did a lot of electronic music. Then I thought doing something different would be kind of cool. That opportunity produced itself in score and I took it.
Marvel.com: How did you two first come to work together?
Justin Barad: Montana is one of my best friends—and we actually met in college. I studied chemistry and he studied music business. I took an elective, because I couldn’t stand all the math and chemistry, called “Computer Music Synthesis,” which was actually a required course for his line of studies. I thought it would be us making cool beats, but it did not end up that way. It became more like, “How does a piece of silicon in your computer make a ‘boop’ sound?”
Anyway, I met him in that class, we ended up linking up, and I learned more about music through him and our friendship.
Montana Marks: We have been collaborating and sending stuff back and forth for a couple of years now. I’m not really sure how long exactly but we’ve been playing around with music together for a while.
Marvel.com: How did you end up hooking up with Marvel for this project?
Justin Barad: Merit gets you some places but—for better or worse—it can be all about who you know. I happen to be friends with Dan Fink [Director of Development] since I was 11 or 12. He always knew I did music, so when this project came along for him, he called me. He said, “Look, we can buy some stock music, but I know you like making tunes and I think this would be really fun for you so go ahead and make a demo.”
At this point, I hadn’t done any scoring. I had only made, like, R&B and electronic and more hip-hop stuff. So he asked, “Can you do it?” and I said, “I don’t know, let’s see if I can.”
I called up Montana and said, “Dude I think we should give this a shot.”
Montana Marks: We had to submit this little demo to Marvel and show them that we could produce what they wanted. We made a little short demonstration score and sent it over. They liked it, so we just went ahead from there.
Marvel.com: Going into VENOMVERSE, what did you know about the project? Did you know the characters? Did you watch the shorts beforehand?
Montana Marks: We didn’t really know a whole lot. A lot of it kind of came once the contracts got signed.
We didn’t know if we would have sound effects or would have to add them. All we really knew was that it would be claymation with a dark theme.
I remember seeing Venom in the movies and stuff like that. I didn’t have as much familiarity with him as I did other Marvel characters, but I knew about him a little bit.
Marvel.com: While certain motifs exist throughout the Venomverse shorts, each has been tailored for the characters or action contained within. When composing music for each individual episode, how do you find the right tone for each theme? How do you get it just “right”?
Justin Barad: When we started—with those first five stories about the transformation of the character—I think that went to a very obvious beating, driving mutation; something scary. It felt really fun to do that first half. Like, when Gwenpool gets mutated, we hear this really interesting atmospheric drone of being in alone in a dirty apartment and then that transitions into music. Those first five were all really scary.
Then it became a little more subtle when we started on the second five, with Eddie Brock in the alleyway. The way the claymation artist focused on the character before he went to this alternate universe…it felt despondent, desperate, and yet heroic. He fought someone who needed to be fought. So it needed something a little less spooky.
Montana Marks: From the get-go, we tried to create a sonic palette. So from the first of each series, we would go in and be very loose—bringing in whatever instruments we felt we needed and really playing with it. And then the first one kind of dictated the sonic palette of the rest of the series. As the series went on, we might add or take away a couple of instruments, but we’d keep the same sonic palette in there and just play with their composition or their melodic tones.
And we got a lot of guidance from the Marvel crew. We would send them stuff and they would send us notes back and we’d tweak it. I know that one of the first ones I sent in, I think I hit it too hard with the horror movie sound and then I changed that a little bit.
But yes, we went for a kind of subtle, dark, creepy theme that doesn’t really intrude too much on the claymation.
Marvel.com: Has everything you’ve done for Marvel been released at this point?
Justin Barad: Well the project was 10 shorts and they’ve all been released, but the culmination of it all is actually two full two-and-a-half minute tracks. One song that encapsulates the universe of Part 1 and one song for Part 2.
Listen to Justin Barad and Montana Marks’ VENOMVERSE score on the Marvel SoundCloud now!