Steffan Fantini Talks to Examiner about Army Wives and Criminal Minds

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Steffan Fantini Talks to Examiner about Army Wives and Criminal Minds

CBS Television’s hit primetime police drama CRIMINAL MINDS bears some of the most intense, cinematic music that has ever graced the airwaves. The music virtually pulls us out our seats and into the program, luring us along with sympathetic resonance one minute and graphic horror the next.

The people behind the music of CRIMINAL MINDS are actually a three-man team of composers – Marc Fantini, his brother Steffan Fantini, and Scott Gordon. The trio has worked together so often, and their strengths complement one another so well, that you cannot tell who wrote which cues.

And even more shocking, the guys also compose the music weekly for Lifetime’s hit drama ARMY WIVES, which bears a musical soundscape that has almost nothing in common with CRIMINAL MINDS.

Read on, as we sit down with Steffan Fantini to learn how this “human machine” of music-making actually works.


If the world of television is so demanding to where you are essentially “on-call” 24/7, what would possess you to want to become involved in more than one weekly series?

[Laughs] First of all, I love music, and I get to express it, and I know that it is going to come out. When I was in the record business, I did a lot of great stuff. I’d work on albums; sometimes they would come out, and sometimes they wouldn’t. On a TV show, no matter what, it’s coming out, and millions of people are going to hear it. And that is really exciting for a musician.

Now, I have two partners with whom I work, so the load is definitely dispersed among the three of us. And we’ve gotten really organized and fast at doing it. So it’s really not as difficult as when we first started out. During the first season of CRIMINAL MINDS, to write a cue would take a lot longer than it does now, because we have more instinct and experience. The demands of the world of television don’t feel as heavy anymore; it just feels natural.

It’s really a team effort. For example, an episode of CRIMINAL MINDS will require 30-40 minutes of music per week, and ARMY WIVES will sometimes have as much as 30 minutes, though usually it is closer to 20-25. So we will just divide and conquer. After a while, it just becomes second nature.

When I get a scene; within a few seconds after watching it, I know exactly how the music should feel. And we also get notes from the producers and directors of what they are looking for. So, the combination of that and our instincts, everything comes together really quickly. If you’re starting out and not used to these crazy schedules, it can be a little overwhelming. But once you’ve been doing it for a long time, you are able to work much more quickly and have time to work on multiple projects.

Is there a specific division of labor between the three of you, or is it more like a support system?

Well, we all come from completely different musical backgrounds – I come from a singing background and playing in bands, as does my brother, Marc, and Scott also played in bands but came from an engineering background. So, when we look at cues at this point in our careers, it’s almost strictly division of labor. If the show requires 30 minutes of music, then we’re each going to do ten. And we randomly pick the spots we want to do.

With CRIMINAL MINDS, we don’t really have a sound that is the same every week. What they want is like a movie, so it’s basically like doing a feature film every week. So, each week, we create new themes for the bad guys and good guys and what we call a musical character. We have about five days to write the music, and we confer during the whole process. Everything is then mixed a couple days before the episode airs. We really just divide it up randomly and have a blast with it.

Where did the cinematic approach to television scoring originate for you? It seems to be a wave that is sweeping across the genre and really adding a bit of freshness to television.

Before we did television, we wrote a lot of music for feature films and learned the craft. And we simply brought that sensibility over to television. I constantly listen to movie scores and continue to learn new ways to incorporate that art form into our television work. I think the bar is pretty high now for TV, and I don’t think you can sit there now with a drum machine and a synthesizer and expect to get the result that people are used to hearing in a movie theater.

Our studios’ technical set-up and the massive libraries of sound all play into the textures and emotions we put into the shows. With CRIMINAL MINDS, we seek any means of creating terror – whether it’s taking instruments and distorting the sounds or playing a piano with a hammer. We really go for a non-tradition approach so when you hear it, it sounds original, not really identifiable, and really creepy. We do a lot of work to create textures and sounds that are indigenous to that show.

And I think that is one of the things that is key to the ongoing success of CRIMINAL MINDS – the fact that although you may be watching an investigative police show on the surface, the music lures you in and plays upon genres we are familiar with hearing in the theater.

I think you’re absolutely right about that. What we are told all the time by producers and directors is that we are another character in the show. The score itself takes on a personality.

When we got into television about eight years ago, there was really a lot of awful stuff being done musically. And we saw that there was a big space there for us to do some cool things, and I know we weren’t the first to think of it, but we do feel like we are contributing to its future somehow.

Something fun we recently did was the current episode we are working on. Matthew Gubler, who plays the character “Reid”, is directing it. He said that he wanted us to break away from the CRIMINAL MINDS sound and try something we’ve never done. And we were really surprised with the way it turned out. It should air in a couple of weeks.

And that’s the great thing about the show; every time there is a new director, we get to either raise the bar or go into a new direction where we wouldn’t have thought to go before. So, you’re never going to get a sound that’s repeated every week.

Remember the old STAR TREK show? It was probably my favorite show of all time, and I loved the music, but they really only had twenty pieces of music that they used over and over again. It was great for what they did, but that could never work for us. Every single piece is new and indigenous to the episode.

ARMY WIVES is very different. Their mandate there is that they don’t want anything that is not organic-sounding. We are allowed to look at orchestral sounds, but nothing synthetic. Anytime they sense something synthetic or metallic or anything that doesn’t sound like it comes from a real instrument, they’re not okay with it.

They want it to mirror the grassroots-iness and heartfelt-ness of the stories. It just feels right to have acoustic pianos, real strings, and acoustic guitars. And we’ve had a good six years to push and test the boundaries to see what works and what doesn’t.

Continue reading on Composer interview: Steffan Fantini on ARMY WIVES and CRIMINAL MINDS (Pt. 1) – National Soundtracks |