Let's assume a person in the heartland buys a nice home studio rig
and is competent on it. Is it enough to be good at writing pretty melodies
or are there essential rules that new composers should know about before
embarking on a career? And if so, what are those rules and where do you
You learn from making mistakes.
Of course, but isn't there a good book that spells it all out?
I don't know, there probably is, but I've never read it. You have to be
able to do more than just write a pretty melody, create an incredible
groove, or write a great lyric. All of these things come together in what
I do, because every script may call for one or more of these talents.
You meet people all the time who say, "Oh I've got an idea that would
be great for a movie theme"well what good is that? What am I going to
do with that information?
Right, let's run around Hollywood, knocking on every door saying, "Hey
we've got a theme! Do you have a movie that goes with it?"
Right, that's simply not how it works. A well rounded musical education
is really valuable. I don't necessarily mean you have to go to college
for it. Most of what you will learn of value, you'll learn in the street
from doing it; just going out there and doing it. I was lucky, I played
on so many records and with so many songwriters that I learned the craft
from observing and emulating. I had a deal with a friend of mine who now
lives in Nashville. He worked in a club at night and I worked in a club
at night, and after our gigs at one-thirty in the morning, we would get
together and record two songs. One for him and one for me. It was a challenge,
but we forced ourselves to do it. Neither of us would bag it because it
would have been too embarrassing to give up in front of the other. After
a couple of months, we'd done over a hundred songs. We both learned a
lot about the craft of songwriting. You know, there are arts and there
are craftsI do crafts. It's so important that you have the discipline
to do it, because if you don't have the discipline to do it for yourself,
someone else will, and they'll succeed in your place.
We always tell our members that they need to spend four or five hours
a night working on their craft, behind closed, locked doors. Even if that
means just sitting there just listening to the radio and looking at the
charts. At least they're learning what other people are doing.
And when you write the song, you've got to record it, because it's not
until you actually record it or perform it live that you can see where
the holes arewhere it doesn't flow or where the lyric loses the audience.
It's too easy to write a song and say, "Okay, that's that."
A lot of neophytes tend to worry more about the recording quality and
the production values, than the basic songwriting craft.
It's all important. You can't throw any of it out. But, I would say that's
the least of your concerns at the stage that we're talking about now.
The most important thing is that the song itself is there. Beyond that,
you've got to give some thought about how the kick drum and the bass player
are going to interact to move the groove along, and how that might differ
from verse to chorus. Those are the details about songwriting that will
come out when you record your material. Whether you've got a Portastudio
or a Pro Tools set-up really doesn't matter that much because this conversation
that we're having right now is not about selling it, it's not about broadcasting
it, it's about working on your craft.
When you're doing a show like "Seinfeld", do you score each episode
individually or do you create a library of cues that are different lengths
and different moods and fly them in where needed?
Each show is different. Some shows may need to be scored each time, others
may not. I used to score "Dave's World" based on the life of columnist
Dave Berry. Part of my job was to supply the music for whatever newspaper
column the main character was writing, and delivering to the audience
in the form of a voice over. Of course, that changed every week with the
different topics he was writing about so I scored them differently each
week. Sometimes the production schedule demands and dictates how I'm going
to handle the show. There are certain shows that don't lock an edit until
the night before the mix.
What can you do in a case like that?
There's no time to score to picture. You create a real usable, manipulatable
library of cues, so that when you get that tape in at midnight, it's a
music editing job at that point. And there are a number of shows that
I do that way. "Seinfeld" for the first several seasons, I did score.
First of all, the monologues had to be done individually because they
were all unique. I wanted to develop a library, a language of bass phrases
and little pops. After four or five seasons however, there were more than
a thousand cues, and eventually the monologues went bye-bye, so after
that it was largely a music editing job. Then I could concentrate my efforts
on the special material for each show which became more and more important.
The chase scenes are a great example of that.
Ah yes! George and the electric cart. Who could forget that?!
With new shows, if the schedule permits, of course I'll do special music.
I typically do fresh cues for "Will and Grace," but occasionally there's
an episode where the producers tell me, they need the extra time for editingno
How important is it to know how to work with time code?
I don't do anything without time code.
If you were stranded on a desert island, what five pieces of equipment
and/or software would you absolutely have to have to do your job?
Just to clarify, if I were stranded on a desert island, I wouldn't care
about doing my job (laughs)!
It would be nice to have a hammock, maybe a ladder to get the really high
fruit, but nah, it's my goal to be stranded on an island with my family
and not do music. But if what you're asking is what are the most important
pieces of equipment that I have to have if the place burned down and I
needed to start anew, Pro Tools would be a must, plus I would need a really
strong fast Mac with a big expansion chassis so that I could run Pro Tools,
Vision, Sample Cell. Those things get the music done. 50% of the job around
here is getting the music done, the other 50% is organizational. And for
that, my guys have created an amazing program we call "Super Tracker."
Does it categorize everything...?
Yes, and it's connected to a scheduling calendar and to an archive data
base of back-up CD-ROM's. Back-up is so important. All gear eventually
goes down, and you've got to have back-ups. And that's all connected to
the CD burners. Handling information is a real important part of what
we do around here. We're doing twelve shows this year which generates
the need to do the invoicing, the AFM contracts, the SAG and AFTRA singer
contracts, and certificates of authorship and licensing agreements. So
I would say that the fourth piece would be File Maker Pro, which is where
we store all this information. Give me all those things, and I could do
business right now.
What's more important, having the latest, coolest piece of gear or
being compositionally strong?
Both. I don't care how good you are, if you don't have the right gear,
it's hard to do the job well. Iëve made an observation that I'd like to
share. The nation's top music schools put out amazing musicians, and send
these kids out here by the busload. They have incredible tapes, great
CDs and demos they've scored. Very impressive. They get out here and land
their first job. Unless they have the technical savvy, their own equipment,
and the skills to use it, how are they going to do that first job? At
school, they're nested in a cushioned support environment where they can
write for a small orchestra and the recording majors record it for them
and the musicians play it for them. When they get to Los Angeles, they
don't have that supportthat "net" to catch them. The number of kids
who come out here with great musical skills, but no way to get it out
there on their first job is epidemic.
What's the recommended prescription?
You know the A/V geeks who always had studios in their house? I'll take
one of them, before I'll take the musical genius. Because for survival,
who am I going to bet on. Two people going after the same jobthe musical
genius and the guy who has the little studio set up. There's only $500
for this little job. How's the orchestral genius going to do the job?
He can't, but the A/V geek can. He'll take that job in a heartbeat. He's
the guy that recorded all those projects for the genius.
What if the A/V geek can't write a great melody?
They can all write great melodies. There are so many incredible amazingly
talented people out there. Think about it, who's the best musician at
your high school; maybe there are three great musicians at your high school.
And how many high schools are there in your town? A bunch of them, and
each one has someone who's the best. Then they go up to college, and it
gets a little tougher. Still, there are maybe 50-60 great music schools
in the country. Think about it, each one of them has someone who's clearly
the superstar. Well, there's 50-60 superstars getting off the bus that
day. Come on, that's a long line.
Haven't they also learned Pro Tools at school and Sample Cell?
You would think so, but they haven't. Those classes are offered, for example
at Berklee, but they're not mandatory. They will let people with film
scoring degrees come out here and not know how to use these wonderful
Who do you ultimately answer to when working on TV showthe music
The director or the producer?
Who tracks you down and hires you for commercials? Is it Kentucky Fried
Chicken or their ad agency?
It is almost always the ad agency. I don't pursue lots of commercials,
because it's kind of a departure from the way my "machine" is set up.
Meaning your business machine?
Yes. My whole machine is set up to do episodic TV, and it's very well
oiled, and it's very well organized. To stop to do a one-off project like
a film or a movie of the week or a commercial, requires me having to have
a slow week, which doesn't happen a lot. During the summer, I do some.
But generally, the short answer to that question is that if we do a commercial,
it's the agency that calls us.
Where do you go from here? Can you do this when you're 75 or do you
need to diversify and develop other revenue streams? What's the long-term
picture for your career?
Yes, everybody needs to develop other revenue streams, because we can
count on nobody. Personally, I don't plan to do this for much longer.
I'm doing a lot of it now, so I can be a full time soccer coach and PTA
guy in the future.
Any business advice for folks who'd like to do what you do?
You've got to be a business person. So many great musicians become poor
old people. It's very sad to see. It's very similar to being a professional
athlete. While you're making the money, invest it intelligently and put
it away. It's so easy to be blinded by the success of the moment.
I used to have
a guy I worked with who moved up to Canada. We had a little deal that
whenever things were going really great, he would come up to me at the
conductor's podium in the middle of the session and pull my sleeve and
say "Don't get used to it". And I would do the same for him. And we knew
what that meant; this could all go away tomorrow. Let's face it... how
many 75 year old composers do you know are doing this? How many 50 year
old composers do you know doing this? There's a limited half life to be
the cool guy in town. The only reason I'm able to be a composer is because
I'm really a better businessman than I am a composer. Can I do this when
I'm 75? I don't plan to do this beyond, say 45.
How old are you now?
40. First of all, the phone is going to stop ringing at some pointit
just does. There will be some new, hot kid that's just gonna kick my butt.
But, I've got amazingly talented people working with me, and I take good
care of them, pay them well and I groom them and make sure they understand
what they're doing. And then I give them shots. They're the future. I
plan to have people better than me doing it.
And you'll be the guy who owns the playpen and provides the toys and
the building and all the business systems so they can concentrate on making
Yeah, either that or somebody with lots and lots of money who wants to
sit in my seat will buy my company. And you can print that.
No problem. Do I get a finder's fee (laughs)?
There's got to be someone who wants to sit in this seat. To have the opportunity
to choose the jobs, because that's basically what happens. Before the
first note is written, I have to decide which series we're going to work
Based on which ones you think have the highest probability of success?
Yep. Or it could be a case of a series needing a particular kind of music
that's perfect for me or one of my staff. It can be for a number of reasons,
but somebody's got to be responsible for making those decisions.
So you really don't yearn for the glamour of doing films?
I'm very happy doing episodic TV, so I don't yearn to do other things.
I don't want to start my life over to do filmsI'm happy doing this,
it's really cool. Every week I do 10 or 12 episodes of different shows
with different styles of music and different people. If you get on a bad
film, you're on a bad film for three or four months. If I get on a bad
episode, so what? I'm doing ten others this week.
What excites you?
I've got a wife and kids, and I get excited about that. The music and
the TV shows facilitate that; it enables us to live in a nice house and
play with toys and go on vacations. I know how fortunate I am to make
enough money that I can afford to pay some wonderfully talented people
to take care of the details for me so I can have more time with my family.
Would you recommend this career to your kids?
My kids are so young that we would have to ask the question in ten years.
To see how their personalities develop?
And see how the industry develops. This industry is changing so much.
What do you want on your tombstone?
I'm going to be cremated. I don't think like that. My monuments are already
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