Winter 2003


I know that inclusion in our organization has numerous benefits, in fact Ray Colcord wrote eloquently in last month’s Score about some of his personal reasons for being a member. One of the advantages, although somewhat less tangible, is the opportunity to discuss personal experiences with composers or lyricists who have successfully navigated this unpredictable and at times capricious career. I thought that this might be a good time to share with you some of my personal ideology in this endeavor. Regard it as a “pep talk” or my own locker room chronicles if you will.

Following college I could have tackled law and joined my father’s firm, but there was never a question in my mind that I wanted to pursue a career in composition, and as a side note, I never thought about not succeeding in that quest either. Many of you have had similar opportunities, whether it is family businesses or the fact that you may be multi-talented and have other options. Whatever your circumstances, I firmly believe that those of you starting today must have the same motivation and clear path that I did. The competition is far too intense for anyone to be undecided about whether a career in music is his or her calling.

I remember struggling for recognition when I first arrived in Los Angeles. Some time later I also recall the difficulty I had in convincing producers that I had the range to compose in more than one genre. Even now, the challenge of sustaining a viable career is a constant balance of creativity, salesmanship and quite frankly, “kick-ass” determination.

Nobody can give you a syllabus for getting started in this business, or even continuing a career once you’ve procured your initial job; every individual’s experience is unique. However, one thing that I have constantly striven for during good times or bad is keeping a positive attitude. This may seem basic, it may sound naïve or even contrived, but I can assure you that if you have that state of mind, you’re halfway there.

I recall arriving at the scoring stage to conduct my music to one of the final episodes of Happy Days. It was at the beginning of my career and I followed a composer to the podium that was completing another Paramount show. He was someone who I had long admired, however he was obviously unenthused, cynical and terribly bored with what he was doing. I told myself that if my attitude ever deteriorated to that point, then it was time to move on.

Now some might query, why this optimistic outlook when we are faced with such weighty issues? The answer is not cryptic. All the roadblocks aside, we are simply the most fortunate of all crafts persons to be able to write music and lyrics. What other discipline can have such a marked impact on the emotions of another individual. When one hears the opening strains to Max Steiner’s epic score to Gone with the Wind, what other art form could match the shear level of majesty this music inspires? How could another profession create the feelings that are elicited by Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s lyric to How Do You Keep The Music Playing?

As the chairman of our mentor program, I had the opportunity to meet and listen to the music of many young composers. As president, I am fortunate to have the chance to get to know even more of you. I can say without hesitation that our community, consisting of the established composers and lyricists as well as the new and evolving talents is the finest I can ever remember. Your creativity and unique perspectives are remarkable. So what will ultimately determine whether one succeeds or fails? I submit that it is as much a matter of how you perceive and present yourself, as it is a matter of talent.

I know that with very few exceptions, a director, a studio music head or producer will come back time and time again to a person who makes his or her job not only manageable but also enjoyable. Of course you must have the creative spark to deliver, but coupled with a positive attitude, which in turn enables the employer to have a positive experience, you can attain any goal.

As far as my own career is concerned, I have never enjoyed it at any time more than I am enjoying it today, primarily because of the great musicians I work with. (Read my upcoming president’s message: 2004 the Year of the musician). I would suggest watching BT, who will hopefully be the guest of this organization again in the future. Not only is he one of the most creative talents working today; he is absolutely passionate about his music and loving it all the while. I believe that this feeling of contentment is consistent with success in our field in more cases than not.

Following last year’s State of the Art conference I was approached by a fellow colleague who visibly didn’t share my undaunted optimism. It was apparent that my Pollyannaish perspective on our business was amusing to him. Although I make no concessions about my outlook, I also would not try to portray a career devoid of rejection and low points. Without going into specifics, my career has been riddled with episodes of rejection from time to time. However, by keeping a positive attitude—after some serious days of depression—I have found a positive way to change my perspective and rationalize these momentary setbacks. You will undoubtedly find these lows in your own careers; it’s the nature of this business.

If I’m looking at reality in rose-colored glasses, so be it. Perception is truly everything and I continue to deal with rejection in a fashion that allows me to shape negative into positive. In my opening caption, Johnny Mercer goes on to write, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative. I would encourage you to as well and to focus on the wonderful opportunity you have been afforded, which is the gift to create, and the fulfillment that you receive from doing what you do, which is ultimately commanding the magic and the power of music.

Published in The Score quarterly newsletter [Vol. XVIII, Number Four, Winter 2003]


Fall 2003


They can’t take that away from me. This classic Gershwin song finds itself in an ironic place during the opening days of my presidency. It seems that “they” will try and perhaps succeed in taking “that” away. Members of the SCL, along with Nancy Gershwin, with the aid of the Los Angeles Conservancy are currently attempting to save the Ira and George Gershwin house, where this song was written, from demolition in Beverly Hills.

Concomitantly, the issue of performing rights and whether “they” will take those away from you has presented itself as of late. This isn’t anything new, but it is an issue that is so germane to our livelihood that it is worth revisiting on a continuum. Although the following may have some interest to the seasoned veterans among us, this article is primarily directed to those in our membership that are new to performing rights.

When I began composing in the mid-seventies, I was successful in procuring a job on a hit cartoon series. The fact was, that I was thrilled to be composing anything for money and when the deal was presented and it specifically excluded the payment of performing royalties didn’t think too much about it. That was around 1976. Recently I was contacted by an SCL member who was faced with a similar dilemma. It would have been hypocritical of me not to tell him the choice I had made many years ago. However, what I also told him, and wanted to share with you, are some of my experiences in the years since that decision.

Looking at my July statement from my performing rights organization, I see that I am collecting money from the shows that I am currently composing music for such as Seventh Heaven and 8 Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter. For those of you just getting started, there is separate money paid for theme, underscore and feature performance usage. The amount that is distributed on these performances is based on several factors such as duration, time of day, and sometimes, less understood, the size of the network. I.e. Nickelodeon would pay substantially less than NBC, for an example. The SCL will be having seminars to explain these nuances and representatives from the various performing rights groups are always available to talk you through the specifics as well. The important thing to understand is that this is a separate stream of income from your fee for composing songs or score for an episode or show.

Money is generated from a number of sources. Initially it is collected on current episodes.Seventh Heaven plays on the WB Network, and the money is distributed nine months after it airs. The lag time is due to the clerical time in collecting cue sheet information and the work associated with logging it. Money is also distributed on rerun or syndication play. In my case, Seventh Heaven was played on KTLA, channel five, here in Los Angeles for two years and now it runs exclusively on ABC Family, who has been airing the show twice daily since last September. Additionally, the show is playing in a number of foreign countries. These performances also generate income.

Now this may or may not be any revelation. However, what I couldn’t fathom twenty-five years ago concerns other items I find on my statement. My first credited show, composed in 1978 with Howard Pearl, theme by Fox and Gimbel, Angie, recently came out of mothballs and played on TVLand. That means for work I did a quarter of a century ago, I still am receiving income. The series, Bosom Buddies, which introduced a young Tom Hanks, was gone in thirty episodes. However, as Hanks’ career began to flourish, the show reappeared in syndication and is there every time I open my performance statement. Now that series played in 1980-81.

I was contacted by my friend, Gayle Maffeo in the late 80’s about an up and coming comic. My partner, Howard Pearl and I were less than enthusiastic about this entertainer’s abusive and raunchy style, but were happy to be working with Gayle again. The comic ended up being Roseanne Barr and the series, Roseanne, has been playing consistently and generating income for more than fifteen years in network, syndication, cable and foreign markets.

This brings me to my point. There is no way that anyone can put a price tag on your performance income. If a company is offering buyouts of your performing rights, it is referred to as a direct license. Accepting a sum of money that may appeal to you because of your present situation in life will, in my opinion, be a shortsighted and ill-conceived decision in most cases. To reiterate, this is not your creative fee. It is your performing rights fee, not paid by the employer but collected and paid to you here in the United States by BMI, SESAC, or ASCAP depending on your affiliation. It would be misleading to say that all shows will become Roseanne or Bosom Buddies, however, I would submit that in my own experience, a significant percentage of my shows have had a life down the line.

There’s a larger picture here. Following a Broadway performance, Victor Herbert walked into a restaurant where a pianist was playing his songs. The year was 1914 and he was outraged that his music could be exploited without his permission and without being properly compensated for it. The same year, Mr. Herbert and a visionary group of composers and lyricists formed ASCAP. To this day, we as a community are compensated for our creative contributions in the form of performance royalties. As Arthur Hamilton states later in this publication, “those are writers’ rights, and they are sacrosanct, inviolate, off-limits, non-transferable.”

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, an entity that would ask you, as a creator, to sign away your rights is starting a wildfire. It can either be stopped at the source or, given room to build; it could eventually overtake the community–our community. The situation, left unchecked, could lead to an environment that soon would affect all of us. Soon there would be writers who not only give away their performing rights, but who would accept less and less to create music. We cannot let this happen. On an individual basis, I want to see that you are generating income twenty-five years from now, in 2028, on material that you are writing today. On a more universal scale you owe it to your colleagues and to the memory of Victor Herbert to say, They Can’t Take That Away From Me.

Published in The Score Quarterly newsletter [Vol. XVIII, Number Three, Fall 2003]


Spring 2003


As the new president of the Society of Composers and Lyricists, I follow in the footsteps of some of the most esteemed members of our community. I do not take this responsibility lightly, and I will attempt to continue the forward motion that Ray Colcord and his predecessors so ably put in place for me.

In preparing this inaugural president’s message, I contemplated on the vision that I wanted to set forth to you as a member of this organization. Perhaps the most important concept that we all should keep ever present in our minds is that we are members of a fortunate and select group. Regardless of the challenges that we are confronted with, we should all marvel at the talents that we possess to allow us to call music our profession. To be able to compose a piece of music or write a lyric is a gift that must be treasured. The fact that we can make a living at something so artistic is nothing short of remarkable. I can think of no other aspect of the filmmaking process that has such a profound result on the final product. A simple phrase or a chosen chord can alter the entire impact of a scene. A song crafted for a specific moment can add an element that is so profound that it transgresses any other aspect of filmmaking. These are unique talents that we should protect and not diminish. As we go out into the community, each one of us is an ambassador to our profession. I can guarantee that respecting your abilities will help you achieve the confidence that it will take to succeed.

Currently we are at a crossroads that presents challenges that I personally haven’t experienced during my twenty-five years in the business. There are numerous aspects of our profession that I intend to explore as my tenure evolves. One of my goals is to continue to stress the value of what we do to the community at large. As we accept assignments for little or no compensation or if we are inclined to give away our performance rights as a condition of employment, we are lessening the value of our creative services. Although our organization has frequently explored the topic of performing rights, I feel that there are still those who have little or no clue as to the worth of our copyrights. This must be a high priority of mine. I will do what I can to lend my expertise to those starting in the business, and perhaps through my own experiences, many of you can avoid some of the pitfalls that I have encountered over the years. Although I have the greatest respect for those who have mastered electronics, and fully appreciated the artistic vision it takes to execute a electronic score, I feel that the lack of live musicians, particularly in television scores, has had a detrimental impact on our profession. I have said many times before that the contribution of incredible musicianship to my career is impossible to put a price on. Artistic interaction between the composer and the performer adds a dimension to your work that nothing else can achieve. I hope to have more programs to expose you to the endless wealth of talent that currently exists here in Los Angeles. Unless we nurture and support these great performers, the talent pool may diminish and I assure you that our profession will suffer.

Ray Colcord started a great tradition last year of honoring the genius of those who preceded us. Ray’s and my ideology are totally in sync in preserving the legacy of those wonderful creators whose work is the cornerstone of our profession. I urge you to become more aware of their contributions as we continue to pay homage to them. I am so proud to have those of you among us who, although not songwriters or composers, are invaluable to our organization and will benefit from many of our activities and have an opportunity to join with us on many common goals. You are artistic in your own right and we welcome your support and applaud the important role you play in our careers.

Our organization has elected the finest board of directors that could have been assimilated. Each is an expert in his or her own right. I am proud of their willingness to serve and will call upon them to lend their knowledge, particularly in areas in which I am lacking. Laura Dunn will continue her service to our group as the executive director. I am excited about the prospect of working with her in the new offices we share with Chris Young and the Film Music Society, a wonderful preservation group that I encourage you to find out more about. Finally, my biggest hope is that as we face the challenges before us we can garner a sense of camaraderie. I truly believe that through this we will achieve a unification of purpose that will make us stronger and more effective as we continue to do what we do–create music. Over the coming months, I look forward to meeting with many of you, either at one of our exciting events or privately during office hours that I will be establishing at our new headquarters.

Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XVIII, Number One, Spring 2003]