Composer Profile: popTuna


popTuna's B.Z. Lewis and Monica Pasqual

Photo: Tom Erikson

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BZ Lewis and Monica Pasqual, the co-founders of popTuna, are still riding high from their two wins at the 38th Annual 2008-2009 Northern California Area Emmy Awards for their work on local news station KPIX''s (CBS) “Eye on the Bay” (Outstanding Achievement for Promotion-Program-Single Spot) and ongoing work with local station KCBW''s image (Outstanding Achievement for Promotion-Program-Campaign).

“It''s just all these people singing the theme to KCBW, the 44 station here in town,” Lewis says of the latter win. “And we have some electronic music and all these people singing along to it. Monica sang a stinger on there, and the camera people would go around and play that music and then people would have to sing along. So the cool thing about it was it was this musically interactive thing and they have people singing along on camera. It was so much fun. It was just one of those projects that was a lot of fun to do and it got the station a whole lot of traffic and a lot of business, which is cool. Well, maybe not a lot of business [Laughs].”

Local, National Work Abound
While the majority of popTuna''s work comes from local business—their back yard—the company is also composing music for national clients. One of their favorite gigs is composing for documentaries as opposed to a 30-second spot because “there''s so much work in a 30-second commercial, and it seems when we get a documentary, we have to score an hour of something that always seems to go much faster; it''s bizarre. Usually, directors are so willing to accept whatever you hand them; there are very few revisions. Whereas with a corporate commercial spot, there''s revision after revision after revision, and you have to please so many people along the chain of command.

“We also do a lot of work with John Hopkins,” Lewis continues. “Say they''re having a fundraising dinner or they''ll have a dedication ceremony and the challenge there is to create music that is not emotionally involved in a strange way. The music behind whatever they''re presenting has to be compelling, but it can''t be emotionally manipulative.”

How would a composer go about doing that? “Who knows! It''s one of those things where you just sit there and make it happen,” Lewis responds. “Not to say it''s emotionally devoid; it''s just that it can''t be too much one way or another. And coming up with music that''s both cool yet stays out of the way emotionally and supports the material—that''s the balancing act. But between Monica and myself, we pull it off pretty well.”

In fact, the duo has quite a composing system, having worked together since 1996. “We''re pretty lucky in that we can spend a lot of time doing what we do best, which is just writing music,” he says. “There''s not a whole lot of administration work, so that''s nice. It''s not like we''re this huge company that has 100 people under our belt that we have to take care of; it''s just the two of us. She''s a piano player and she sings; she''s in a band called Blame Sally. They got a record deal from this company called Opus. I chiefly run recording stuff and play guitar, but we both write, which is sort of odd; you don''t hear a lot of that going on these days. If one of us is stumbling on a part, the other one is there to fill in the gap, or say, ‘Hey, how about this?'' Or I might have a pretty clear picture of how I want to go about something and she''s got totally opposite ideas, and we struggle with that and we come out with something much better than either one of us could have done alone.”

Welcome to the Studio
Working together—creative ideas sometimes clashing—would seem to make their Studio 132 (Oakland, Calif.) a bit cramped, but the facility is spacious and offers a gear list that is expansive yet contains the essential pieces to get their job done, as well as local bands coming in to record. The Oakland location broke ground in 2007 (the studio was originally located in San Francisco, but after getting married and starting a family, Lewis thought a more suburban setting would be best), with the help of studio designer Chips Davis and acoustician Bob Hodas. The facility is on the ground floor of the house, and is large enough to accommodate a control room, a drum room, a vocal booth and another amp closet. “I wanted to make sure I had a big control room because that''s where I spend all of my time,” Lewis explains. “We have some light coming in, which we didn''t have before [at the S.F. location]. You can get up, record in the control room, pace around—it''s nice having a big control room.”

Featured in that room is a Yamaha O2R, which Lewis describes as “old-school, but at the time [I purchased it], it was the thing to have. I keep saying I''m going to get a nice analog mixer at some point, but the ability to have recall [on a digital console] is great—to be able to recall a mix by hitting a button.” Lewis also works on Avid Pro Tools HD3 and monitors on Mackie HR824 and Yamaha NS-10Ms. Most of the effects are onboard the Apple G5, though there are some nice pieces to be found. The mic closet is stocked full of Shure, Neumann, Audix, AKG, and Sennheiser models. When the mood strikes, Pasqual will compose on such keyboards as the Roland XP-80, Proteus 1 and 3, and Orbit.

Lewis mans the Pro Tools system, but comes back to his “analog” roots by snatching up his favorite axe to jump-start the creative juices. “There''s so many things at my disposal now that one of the best things I can do is just pick up my guitar—whatever guitar is laying around—and start messing around with that,” he explains. “I''m a guitar player by nature, so that''s what I go to. It''s the music that matters; how you get there doesn''t matter as much. It''s just whatever your idea is, is the important thing.”

Check out popTuna''s latest work—a Guitar Hero videogame version of God of War''s piece music involving drums, bass and guitar—at Also check out popTuna's Reel-Exchange profile.