It is with a certain degree of nostalgia that I write this final President’s Message. I hope that there has been a thing or two that I’ve been able to impart in this column that has given you insight into our community or encouraged you to reach that next level in your respective careers. I thank Lori Barth for her dedication in putting together this world-class publication and providing an outlet for my thoughts over the years.
Of the things that I’m proud of, nothing has pleased me more than hearing about all of the new and talented members that have come into our organization over the past years. I’ve met so many of you who have come to Los Angles to seek your dreams, like I did so many years ago. Your passion, drive and talent have been an inspiration to me. I’ve also been proud to watch as interns from our mentor program, such as celebrated Nashville songwriter Chris DeStefano, move into a prominent places in the industry and my friend, Michael Giacchino move from a newcomer into the leading role he now serves in the film composing world.
It seems like only yesterday when I attended my first SCL meeting at the urging of my agent, Stan Milander. There were just a handful of us in the room, including Arthur Hamilton, Jim Di Pasquale, Bruce Broughton and Charles Bernstein, but somehow I knew that this organization was going to play a special part in my professional career. Many years later, Ray Colcord had to lobby me several times before I accepted the leadership role that ended up being the most fulfilling position of my life. To interact with a group of professionals who can engage and reason together, is critical to our well being as a community and the opportunities that you have afforded me have helped me learn and become more well rounded in return.
Serving with the talented board of directors present and past has taught me what a diverse and talented group of composers and songwriters we are. The time and effort that they have expended in furthering the advancement of our profession has been inspirational. To single out any one person is by its very nature exclusionary, so suffice it to say that like a wise athlete who surrounds himself with superior colleagues to improve his game, I have had the benefit of some of the most talented and informed people sitting around the table who have informed and educated me along the way.
I am proud to have seen the growth in our organization over the last decade. Not only has the prestige of the Society of Composers & Lyricists grown globally, but we also continue to attract the brightest of the new wave of composers and lyricists into the organization. I have you as members to thank for the outreach that you have done to encourage your fellow creators to join with us, and our educational partners around the world who have helped us in this endeavor as well. Executive Director, Laura Dunn has shared my vision of uniting our community and welcoming new members to join our quest to expand our organization, and I thank her for this.
Seeing the progress that we have made in enlisting the New York community has been a high mark for me and it was always an ambition of mine that what we are seeing now would one day come to pass. The talented steering committee, under the leadership of Joel Beckerman has done exceptional work in uniting their fellow creators through world-class events over the past few years. I know that their presence will only continue to flourish as years go by. It is a vibrant community and they are playing a dynamic role in growing this organization.
Honoring those that have made substantial contributions to our profession was another ambition of mine. Seeing the Ambassador program come into existence and we, as an organization, have the opportunity to celebrate the careers of twenty-five exceptional talents has been a joy. The significance that they have made to the world of music cannot be underestimated and their genius will be a bench- mark for the future of our industry for years to come.
Fostering the relationships of the Performing Rights Organizations has been important, not just as a means of staying financially afloat, but most importantly as valued partners in an ever-changing world, where our interests run the risk of marginalization. I believe the SCL has been the ideal catalyst to bring ASCAP, BMI and SESAC together to work in tandem as we explore the challenges and intricacies of intellectual property.
I am pleased to welcome in an energetic new Board of Directors and look forward to participating with them and you as we continue down the path with this great organization. My good friend, Ashley Irwin is taking the helm and I know that we have many exciting things in store for us in the coming months. I must say that having my wife, Cheryl and my children, Matt and Lauren by my side cannot be underestimated. There were sacrifices that they necessarily made over the years that I dearly appreciate.
Finally, along with all of the challenges that we face in the ever-evolving digital world, there are opportunities out there to create like never before. I am confident that the platforms available in every arena, from movies, to television to games and beyond will sustain careers for years to come. I’m proud to continue my role in, not only creating beside you, but also doing what I am able to do in protecting our rights and seeing that we are compensated fairly for what we as artists do. Thank you for this rare opportunity to serve this organization as your president.
Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XXVIII, Number Two, Summer 2013]
As we move into the New Year and resolve to read more, eat better, exercise more and promise to direct ourselves more in our own careers, I begin to reflect on how many years I have now made those same resolutions in my own life. Some years have been better than others in the follow through, but by the time that you’re reading this, we have now made it through a few months and we can probably evaluate how it’s going up to this point in 2013.
Although I had done an isolated project or two beforehand, my career, for all intents and purposes began in 1978, which in November will be 35 years. That’s 35 years of resolving to do all the things that I hoped would propel and sustain me to where I am today. I wonder where we will be as a business 35 years into the future, in the year 2048, and where we’ll be as individuals navigating it. Those resolutions that you made a couple of months ago will have a direct bearing on your particular situation, and I feel strongly that the overall landscape will be a good place and an environment where our contributions as composers and lyricists will be recognized and appreciated.
What can we say for certain? Unquestionably there will be more of us working in the business down the line. 35 years ago, there were probably around 60 composers doing all of the work when I broke in. There were feature films, three network stations and no cable. There can only be more opportunities moving forward. The medium we record on and the means of delivery will be different. I began recording on three-stripe magnetic tape. A tape operator—in the beginning, my future engineer, Tim Boyle– would have to re-rack the picture for each take and the process was necessarily laborious. On the positive side, the film was projected on a huge surface and it made me feel like I was really accomplishing something when I was scoring the Fonze on a two-story screen at Stage M. Even the spotting sessions were held in a small movie theatre.
It is inconceivable how fast time flies. It seems like just the other day I was moving from Amherst College to pursue a career in Los Angeles. What that means is that there is no time like the present. It is imperative that you not waste a single moment. There are two routes you can take and depending on your own personality, you’ll know what’s best for you. I left myself open to exploring different avenues regarding my creativity and was open for any turns that the road might take in that endeavor. During a summer in France, I began writing songs with Tom Shapiro, who has become one of the most respected and celebrated songwriters in Nashville, and he is still going strong. Together we must have visited every publisher in Los Angeles and made a concentrated effort to write every day and be proactive about getting the material out there, which by the way, involved sitting down with a piano or guitar in a publisher’s office. Even though our first credit was for songs for a feature entitled, The Only Way Home, the going was slow and it wasn’t until Tom moved to Nashville that his dream became a reality. Fortunately, about the same time he made that move, opportunities arose for me and my new partner, Howard Pearl as a result of a personal connection of Howard’s and using material from the movie as a calling card. We began composing for shows at Paramount, which sustained us for the next ten years. There are others who successfully stay directed toward one particular goal, be that a career composing for films or games or whatever your final objective might be. If you won’t settle for anything less, stay directed and there’s no doubt that you’ll fulfill that ambition.
The next thing I’d point out is the old adage that there is nothing as certain as change. I’ve seen it in my father’s career in the courtroom and watching as my daughter embarks on a career in journalism, the changes are staggering over what the paradigm was ten years ago and the changes are more than obvious in our business of media music. You must be willing to embrace a certain percentage of those changes that are going around, because you can be guaranteed, change is going to occur, and the business you start in will not be the same business as years go by. Many of these changes are good, but unfortunately some are lamentable. One of the topics that’s dealt with in this quarter’s publication of the Score, is the reduction of live recording here in Los Angeles over the past few years. It’s true; I used to follow my friend and concertmaster, Sid Sharp around Hollywood for as many as three sessions a day. Unfortunately, as the technology allowed more production to be done in the box, much of that work for string players went away. In my own case, ninety percent of the recording sessions I had for the first decade featured between 25 to 30 musicians. The reduction of the size of the band and the reduction of work has not been something that has been good for our industry and unfortunately, it begins to change the way that our music is heard and perceived when it is lacking the live element. One of my biggest hopes is that we can turn this trend around. It will take our communities banding together to find equitable solutions that can focus on the wonderful synergy between our two groups. I can promise you, the music will sound better and you will have the benefit of the experience that the players will bring to your projects. The byproduct will be sustaining the world-class studios we have available to us and, perhaps most importantly, it will make your life and career enriched in a fashion that is beyond words. One thing I can promise, 35 years from now, the value that live players will bring to your scores will not diminish.
From my personal perspective, perhaps loving what you do is the single most important element for your own well-being. Working in the studio with the world’s finest musicians and being able to create something new every time I sit down to write is a blessing. I continue to enjoy composing to the same degree I did 35 years ago. In counting my own good fortune, I also have been honored to serve this great organization over the last ten years. Not only has it been fulfilling, but I have also had the joy of seeing so many of you grow and flourish in your own careers. We are faced with many challenges that must be addressed, but I know that working together, 35 years from today our business will be better and our creative outpourings will be more inspired than I could imagine. I am certain that the Society of Composers & Lyricists will only continue to grow and serve our community well into 2048.
Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XXVIII, Number One, Spring 2013]
Hal David, who passed away on September first, was arguably the most recorded and celebrated songwriter of his time in American music, and his songs captured the heart and soul of that era. Songs such as Alfie, A House is Not a Home, Do You Know the Way to San Jose, One Less Bell to Answer, Close to You, What’s New Pussy Cat, Walk on By, Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head and Say a Little Prayer will live in our hearts and will continue to live in hearts as long as a song is sung. Although his technique was seamless–so effortless, that it appeared the words simply flowed from his genius like a fountainhead–as well as his wonderful love lyrics, his messages were often profound and dealt with the uneasiness of the world he was experiencing.
I was fortunate to sit on the ASCAP Board of Directors with Hal for over three years and he was truly a mentor. On many occasions, I had the wonderful opportunity of walking him to the apartment that he shared with his lovely wife, Eunice on 53rd Street. We would talk about many things, but it gave me the rare opportunity to discuss songs with him. I told him that one of my favorites was The Windows of the World. He told me that he was deeply troubled about the Viet Nam war and how it was impacting so many young men and women’s lives. He told me that it was hitting home in his own family and was concerned about his son and the role that he might have to play in it, and it was in this context that he wrote:
The windows of the world are covered with rain…
When will all those black skies turn to blue?
Everybody knows when boys grow into men
They start to wonder when their country will call.
Let the sun shine through.
His collaborator, Burt Bacharach played this song as his final tribute to Hal at his memorial service. Ironic that the timeless subject it addressed is still as relevant today.
Perhaps one of the seminal moments in my life was when Hal told me one day, “let’s make a stop before we head back to the apartment.” We got in a cab and he told the driver to stop at 1619 Broadway. In a few minutes we arrived at the famed Brill Building. We took an elevator to the sixth floor and headed to the end of the hallway. It was here that he and Burt produced some of the great songs of their illustrious careers. Hal showed me where Burt’s piano was situated and it didn’t take much to envision the magic that flowed from that office during their days with Famous Music. Although their most celebrated era began with the discovery of the young Dionne Warwick, as a pre-teen I was captivated by listening to the classic songs that came from their early years such as Blue on Blue, Only Love Can Break a Heart, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, True Love Never Runs Smooth, Wives and Lovers and Be True to Yourself among many others that were realized in this small room.
As well as the prolific life of a creator, Hal decided to devote much of his later years to championing the cause of the songwriter and composer as president of ASCAP. After serving as its chairman of the board, he continued his strong role of advocacy, and it was during that era that he and I became friends. I was fortunate to see Hal in that position, not only on the board, but also on trips to Washington, D.C. Hal’s presence in a congressional office was always a welcomed one. He was able to articulate the salient points of the moment and enlist support from both sides of the aisle. He was the most convincing spokesperson that we, as a community, could have hoped for. I remember on one trip to Washington, Hal was a featured performer at the yearly event that ASCAP hosts, We Write the Songs. At the end of the program Hal, Jackie de Shannon and an auditorium full of members of congress were singing What the World Needs Now is Love. This one moment united the group in ways that speak legions to the power of music and song as it celebrated the importance of our craft and moved our agenda forward in such an effective way.
In saying good-bye to a member of our community, it is always difficult, but Hal’s passing touched me in a deeper way than most. Perhaps it’s in knowing that the leadership and passion that he felt is something that only comes around once in awhile and in recognizing that there are so many mountains to climb and challenges to address that would benefit from his wisdom. I know it would be his hope that each of us does his or her part in helping shape the future of our industry. I will miss his creativity, his guidance and leadership, but most importantly, his friendship.
What the world needs now
Is love sweet love.
It’s the only thing
That there’s just too little of.
What the world needs now
Is love, sweet love—
No not just for some
But for everyone….
Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XXVII, Number Four, Winter 2012]
I was honored last May to be asked by ASCAP to join with several esteemed creators to participate in their 2012 installment of We Write the Songs. For the past four years, under the aegis of the ASCAP Foundation, a concert has been presented to members of Congress and their guests at the Library of Congress for the purpose of celebrating the joy of music and song and reaffirming the value that music and lyrics have to our society as a whole. Thankfully, as demonstrated by the number of supporters that we have on both sides of the aisle, our craft that is not shackled by political boundaries. This year’s participants ran the gamut of genres and styles including such favorites as Melanie and Ray Parker Jr. As well as my good friend, Stephen Schwartz, I was particularly privileged to stand next to Irving Burgie, the writer of Jamaica Farewell, as I had recorded two of his songs with the great calypsonian, Count Bernadino in the Bahamas a few years ago.
My mission was to demonstrate the work and thought process that goes into creating a piece that accompanies a specific visual rendering and sets the tone for a television program that may run as long as ten years. I thought that I would share with you, many who may writing their first theme, some of the points and anecdotes that I shared with the audience that night last May.
Unlike a traditional song, a theme song must get to the point, make it’s case and complete it’s thought in a short space of time; kind of like a three act play in the space of a minute. The two themes that I performed, Roseanne and Home Improvement were originally about that long, but unfortunately, my current theme to The Secret Life of the American Teenager is confined to a shorter duration. There was a moment when one network wanted to do away with theme songs all together, but what they learned was that it served a huge function and was well worth the short amount of time that it took away from advertising. It signaled to the guy in the kitchen that the show he wanted to watch was starting up in the family room. It adds a familiarity that is intangible and that identifies the program in a way that only music can.
In the case of Roseanne, the producer of the show came to me and my then partner, Howard Pearl and said, “guys there’s this new comedienne that’s going to do this domestic goddess routine,” and he told us a little about how Roseanne, John Goodman and the kids were going to interact. There was nothing to suggest that this was going to be the hit show that it would become. What we came back with couldn’t have been more off base. It was this kind of electronic dance piece with lots of synthesizers. Matt Williams the creator told us in as gentle way that he could, that this really wasn’t going to cut it; it was too slick and didn’t have any of the earthy elements that were needed to introduce these rural characters. Well, knowing that the job was on the line, we did our best to get inside the soul of the show over the next couple of weeks. We added a harmonica, a dirty sax performed by Gary Herbig and took the producers to the most rocked out studio that we could find, a place called Sound City. Dylan and the Band had recorded there and it was imbued in rock n’ roll residue that gave it the authenticity that we were looking. I didn’t shave for a couple of days, wore an old tee shirt and took my most beaten up guitar into those worn walls, snuggled into an industrial park in Van Nuys. Well, the musicians and I started playing and looping the piece around and a short while later when we came into the recording booth, the response was immediate, “now that’s more like it!” I’ve been happy that Roseanne has seen the longevity it has, since its premier almost twenty-five years ago.
Home Improvement came around a few years later. Once again, Matt Williams was the creator and this time he took me with him to the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles so I could actually see this other comedian work in front of a crowd. Tim Allen was without a doubt, the funniest guy I had ever seen. He kept doing these cavemen grunts and it became apparent that night how I wanted to score him. I had recently been to the Red Earth festival in Oklahoma and witnessed all of these tribal drumming routines where ten or twelve Native Americans would sit in a circle and hit these big drums, and I knew that channeling the essence of that texture was the underpinning that would make it all work. Tim played the host of a tool show, though at home he was absolutely incompetent in any kind of home repairs—much like myself–but he wanted More Power! So with these ingredients in hand: tool sounds (I probably incorporated twenty different ones), lots of drums and percussion, a power guitar lead featuring Laurence Juber, with a flute representing Tim’s wife Jill’s feminine touch and finally Tim’s grunt, I put the whole package together and in this case was successful the first time out. I remember that we recorded this in Evergreen; a studio owned by one of the greatest theme writers of all, our SCL Ambassador, Charles Fox.
I’ve volunteered to judge in the Emmys the last two years, and am happy to say that the theme song is alive and well and thanks to the advocacy of past SCL president, Ray Colcord, it is still being duly recognized. There is some excellent work being done out there, much of it by our SCL membership. Our first SCL Ambassador, Earle Hagen was one of the pioneers of the theme song, and I know that his vision has a lot to do with the fact that we’re still watching most of the shows he was associated with, such as the Andy Griffith Show. Undoubtedly, with the intense competition among programmers there will always be a move to shorten the time it takes to get from one program to another, but the theme song sets the stage and introduces the program in a way that only our craft can.
Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XXVII, Number Three, Fall 2012]
Recently I was at a meeting that featured Congressman, Howard Berman, a great supporter of intellectual property rights, and in the context of preservation of copyright, a voice from the crowd asked the Congressman, what he, as an individual writer, could do to help in this endeavor. As we reflect on Kennedy‘s iconic phrase, now proverbially written in the scriptures of time, asking not what your country can do for you, perhaps it’s worth investigating in these days of striking change how we can favorably affect the way that we are being compensated, while helping sculpt the way we are perceived within the industry at large.
At the end of January, further congressional action was tabled on two important pieces of legislation: PROTECT IP and Stop Online Piracy Acts. A hurricane of opposition came from internet companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter, and e-bay, which was steeped in misrepresentations that effectively squelched legislation that would have aided in combating the rising wave of piracy that has pervaded our industry and our work around the world. The misinformation disseminated about the legislation extended as far as leading some people to think that Netflix would no longer be available and that First Amendment rights would be stifled.
In a word, the voice from the Internet companies was louder than ours. My concern is that in moving forward, the ability to introduce legislation even more germane to our interests as songwriters and composers may have been served a severe blow. So how do we move forward? A letter to your member in Congress can do a lot to help spread our message as pertinent issues arise. From what I understand, the disproportionate number of letters and e-mails denigrating this legislation was staggering. It’s essential that we continue to help champions of ours in Washington instill in their fellow members the tenet that as creators, the fair compensation for our work is integral to keeping our small businesses afloat and families fed in these economically difficult times.
Besides the misinformation and misdirection embodied in their verbiage, the arguments submitted by those opposed to SOPA also ignored the fact that protection of our rights were put into place by the framers of the Constitution. In Section 8, the language so specifies that The Congress shall have the power “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive rights to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
In dealing with copyright advocacy, it’s important to separate the accessibility factor from being fairly compensated for our work. The ease in which the public has access to our creative outpourings is a good thing and should not be discouraged, but as we all know, it is indeed a two edged sword. Never has there been more of an outlet for our music and song, but the problem is that those who are using our music are finding every avenue not to pay us. It’s not an exaggeration that Internet companies are created every day that are using our repertoire as venture capital. In many cases, by the time that we have the opportunity to challenge their use of our music in the courts, they have profited from our work and evaporated into thin air.
In another matter critical to our community, a case heard last summer is still pending judgment in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. That case, regarding the background service provider, DMX, could have long term impact on whether carve out licenses can be allowed through the consent decree that both ASCAP and BMI operate under. In the past, the SCL has been a valuable resource in providing our members with information on the mechanics of the blanket license, which is part of what is at risk here. We are planning further evenings to help you explore your choices should you be asked to direct license.
I am pleased to report that our numbers in the SCL continue to grow. We have seen a significant increase in our New York membership over the past year thanks to the exceptional work of a dedicated steering committee headed by board member, Joel Beckerman. Our reach is extending to our colleagues in Australia, through their fine organization, AGSC, whose members are now receiving this publication and who I send out a hearty welcome to here.
I have spent time with our colleagues around the world, including advocacy groups such as FFACE in Europe, who have been instrumental in raising the awareness and prestige of film music in countries under their jurisdiction. Having a united community is essential in times such as this, and encouraging your fellow composers and songwriters to join our organization can have a significant impact on our influence, giving us needed power in spreading our message.
Another thing that is imperative to enhancing our voice is to continue to elevate the quality of what we do. Our adversaries would minimize the importance of our contributions. I even had a music editor indignantly summarize film composition to holding down middle-C on the keyboard. Naturally, we had an exchange of words regarding his disrespect, but it’s this kind of misperception that must absolutely be dispelled.
Recently the SCL held a well-attended symposium at the Musicians Union in Los Angeles, mirroring one that had been done two years ago in New York. The emphasis was put on the contracts that are available to the composing sector and was co-sponsored by Musicians Local 47 and the RMA. I have repeatedly said that I wouldn’t have advanced past by first job without the exceptional talents of the fine musicians of Los Angeles behind me. They have enhanced my scores for thirty years and your inclusion of live musicians will certainly aid not only the quality of your work, but also the quality of our profession.
Finally, we are in changing times; change in the way that we do our business, change in the way that our music is distributed and change in how we are perceived and what our contributions are worth. As we facilitate this change, keeping the spirit of camaraderie and collegiality alive will united us and help spread the vision that we want from our community around the world.
Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XXVII, Number Two, Summer 2012]