In The Mix

Scoring the Meaning

Toby Chu creates a musical landscape.

Dinah Eng
  • Lisa Corson

Toby Chu has been playing guitar and piano since he was eight, picking up the ukulele, mandolin and other plucked instruments along the way.

Today, he's turned that love of music into a thriving screen-based career, with more than 50 film and TV scores to his name. Chu has recently been scoring NBC's military drama The Brave and Freeform's sci-fi adventure Beyond.

While his work is often influenced by classical, world music and jazz, Chu tries to give each show a unique tone. After reading a script, he'll imagine different sounds and start to play with ideas.

"There are so many different levels of action in a show," Chu says. "There can be scenes with bombastic drums, or a scene with tense, rising tones. The Brave has a military theme, so the sounds are bold and powerful. The sounds develop out of what the story is telling me to do."

On the other hand, many of the scenes in Beyond, which wrapped its second and final season this spring, deal with nuanced personal relationships, he explains. There are many subtle, quiet, creepy moments that call for more orchestral, strange sounds.

Chu grew up in Washington, D.C., and studied painting in high school. He was an accomplished artist by his teens — selling his work to private collections — before an interest in music led him to study scoring and composition in college.

After graduating from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, he headed to Los Angeles with $100 in savings and soon landed an internship at Media Ventures, a film scoring company then owned by Hans Zimmer and Jay Rifkin. Grammy-nominated composer Harry Gregson-Williams (Shrek) later hired Chu. He learned the technical tricks of the trade and began his own career scoring films and TV shows.

After scoring FX's The Riches, Chu worked on small indie films, then began writing music for USA's Burn Notice and Covert Affairs, NBC's State of Affairs and The CW's Frequency.

"Music does all the things you can't do with pictures and words," he says. "For example, maybe bad news for a character hasn't come yet, but you'll feel it coming in the emotional turn of the music. Music preps you for the show's meaningful moments."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 5, 2018