Winter 2005


Over the last year, our profession has gone through significant changes. Along with those changes, we saw the passing of some dear colleagues and friends, whose genius and influence on our careers can never be replaced. Our annual membership meeting in September celebrated the lives of Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein and David Raksin with wonderful tributes prepared by Ron Grant, Charles Bernstein, Ray Colcord and Jim di Pasquale. Earlier in the evening we were honored to have John Debney address over two hundred of us in the historic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel’s Blossom Room, where the first Academy Awards were presented in 1929. I know all of us were inspired with John’s perspective as our business moves forward in the fine tradition established by our forefathers.

My career officially began in November of 1978.Over the last twenty-seven years the landscape of our business has changed in many ways. For one, instead of the sixty or so composers that were doing most of the work, the numbers have grown into the hundreds, if not thousands. Instead of pencil and paper, computers and sequencers have allowed many of us to do our work more efficiently. Piano and guitar song demos have made way to fully realized productions. I remember presenting many a theme song live, in front of the producer, and that’s the way it happened for many of my friends, among them, Charlie Fox and Paul Williams on “The Love Boat.” Instead of three network channels and feature films, we now have a myriad of syndicated, cable, Internet and game outlets for our creativity. Nevertheless, despite these advancements, I would hope that we, as a community, value the same ideals as my colleagues did then; the pursuit of excellence in our craft should outweigh financial reward; integrity and respect for our fellow artists should outweigh profit margins.

The history of this organization is long and notable. In 1945, the Screen Composers Association was established when the need for fairer compensation for our work was deemed appropriate. The Composers Guild and later the Composers and Lyricists Guild of America was established when better work conditions were desired. During the mid fifties and early sixties, efforts to unionize led to certification by the National Labor Relations Board and a contract with the Association of Motion Picture Producers. Although this group was led courageously by such luminaries as David Raksin, Leith Stevens and Elmer Bernstein, our relationship with the studios began to unravel in the seventies and after an extended lawsuit, our group disbanded for a short period of time.

Never to be held back, this organization reorganized as the Society of Composers and Lyricists in the early eighties, largely due to the efforts of past presidents, Arthur Hamilton and Jim di Pasquale, and although we have been unsuccessful in reestablishing certification, we have grown to more than eight hundred members and are proud to boast an advisory board of the greatest names in the industry. We are proud to have included Charles Fox, Maurice Jarre and Thomas Newman to that list over the last year. I also am happy to report that John Williams has recently joined us as an honorary lifetime member, and I send out my thanks to Charles Bernstein for his efforts on our behalf in making these things a reality. Our SCL Ambassador program has welcomed in the talents of Earle Hagen, Ray Evans, Vic Mizzy, Ray Charles, and this year, Van Alexander and the Sherman Brothers were added to this distinguished list.

Proud partners in our quest for respect and recognition are our performing rights organizations. ASCAP, BMI, and SEASAC deserve our allegiance. Direct and source licensing presents a serious threat to undermining the way that we do business. From a personal perspective, these organizations have made it possible for me to educate my children and face the possibility of extended unemployment. They have been there when the SCL needed their support and they are there for you. The temptation to make deals beyond their scope should be avoided at all cost. The next phase will certainly be the doing away with performance income altogether.

Anyone that knows me at all knows that the secret of any success that I might have achieved in my career has been as a result of the employment of the finest musicians in the world, right here in Los Angeles. The talent pool is truly amazing, but unless we continue to incorporate these great talents into our scores, it will surely dry up. The union has bent over backwards to find ways to make recording here more affordable. The latest agreement will essentially guarantee soundtracks by making the first 15,000 units free from re-use fees, and there are more changes being planned.

Thanks to the efforts of composers such as Steve Bramson, Alf Clausen and Michael Giacchino, as well as informed and sympathetic heads of music, such as Cheryl Foliart, television shows have once again begun to feature our great instrumentalists. On Studio Tours, Ray Colcord and I took fifty members to three of the premier studios in town to demonstrate the venues where it could be done. Now I encourage you to get to know our fabulous musicians and find out more about the flexible rates and terms that are available to you. The RMA has representatives available to speak with you regarding the specifics and we are planning an informative seminar to get to the bottom of many of the myths and misconceptions that have pervaded our industry about financial ramifications inherent in employing union musicians.

There has been inquiry about what has been going on in terms of a New York presence for the SCL, and as a matter of fact, I have received a number of calls from members who have volunteered to facilitate this move. Historically, the CLGA had an active New York membership for a number of years. Board member Harvey Cohen and I have had the opportunity to visit the offices of ASCAP, BMI and SESAC and speak to a number of writers about the possibility of moving forward with the SCL on the East coast. There are many talented composers and songwriters in New York. Although their focus is somewhat different than Los Angeles, their needs are similar.

On December 13th (which may have passed by the time you receive this issue) we have planned the first SCL NY event, an evening with John Morris, featuring the screening of one of his most beloved films, Young Frankenstein. John’s career has been closely associated with Mel Brooks, having composed the music to such classics as Silent Movie and Blazing Saddles. We’re hoping Mel will be able to join us as well.

Recently a member who I have a great deal of respect for was wondering, “What could the SCL do for me?” Although a valid question, I must say that it seems that the perspective of that question was reversed. Everyone within our membership has an important role to play in our organization, and although there are many things that the SCL can do for you, such as educate, enlighten and inspire, I challenge you to become more involved with our group and see what you can do for your colleagues. Each of us can become an ambassador as we move forward in our careers. The power to project a positive image about our profession and ourselves can only make us stronger as we move forward.

The joy of making music is overwhelming in my own life. It was the reason I chose the path I did, rather than the quick and easy route, which in my case would have been to follow in my father’s footsteps and pursue a path in the legal profession. Nevertheless, that joy comes with a price. Our employers are quick to play one of us off another and ask us to do our job for little or no compensation. Since we don’t have the protection of a union, every move that we make affects our community as a whole.

Finally, my vision has been for all of us to join together in camaraderie, irrespective of union status. Through the power of numbers we will be able to face the challenges that are before us. Inherent in this ideology is a respect for our colleagues that manifests itself in upholding our own standards and professionalism. By having respect for our profession and ourselves, we will exude the confidence that will reestablish the minimums that we richly deserve and will in turn evoke the respect within the community at large that we so rightly deserve.

The message included material excerpted from my remarks at the Annual Membership Meeting on September 13thin Hollywood, California.

Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XX, Number Four, Winter 2005]


 Fall 2005


In June I had the opportunity to go to Nassau in the Bahamas with my wife, Cheryl and my son, Matt. Although enjoying a wonderful family vacation on a beautiful island can’t be discounted, the motivation of this issue’s presidential message is to acquaint you with a person who had a great deal to do with my decision to pursue a career in music and suggest that you make that call today to those that have inspired you.

This last year is a testimonial to why we should celebrate and communicate with our talented icons. I only wish that I could have had more in depth conversations with David Raksin, Elmer Bernstein and Jerry Goldsmith and let them know what a special place they played in all of our lives through the professional dedication they brought to the art of film music. David and Elmer’s vision and uncompromising stewardship of this organization has been a humbling experience for me as I learn more about their valiant efforts on our behalf.

I lost my great friend and mentor, Albert Harris at the beginning of this year. I know that many of you had the opportunity to study with him before he moved to New Zealand some years back. President of ASMAC, an accomplished composer, and the arranger and orchestrator for many talented artists, he taught me much of what I know about film scoring. I was fortunate to learn the basics and benefit from the knowledge of his long and fruitful career in film, where he worked with Victor Young, Earle Hagen and my good friend, Joe Harnell. Early in my musical evolution, I had attended several of Dr. Harris’ sessions at CBS Radford Studio when he was composing for the William Conrad series “Cannon”. While observing, I had the opportunity to meet many of the great musical talents of the day such as Veryle Mills, Pete Jolly and Kenny Watson. I had planned to call Dr. Harris on numerous occasions, but couldn’t quite find the time.

In the summer of 1966, my parents took me on a trip to the Bahamas, where I met one of the island’s great calypsonians, Count Bernadino. I was in awe at that early age to find that someone could achieve so much joy and passion from writing and performing music. He was the ultimate entertainer, master of the steel pans, and had been christened the Count by winning a highly respected competition among all island entertainers.

After spending much of the fifties in New York City, performing in venues such as The Rip Tide Club, the African Room and even Carnegie Hall, Count Bernadino returned to his Bahamian home in 1960. He composed calypso songs for John Kennedy and England’s Prime Minister MacMillan during their visit in 1962 , and was performing at the Nassau Beach Hotel when I met him four years later. Although my musical career has followed its own path, he has remained an inspiration to me. In fact, through all the summers over the past forty years, his recordings have been an underscore to my visits to my family home in Oklahoma City, and my children have grown up to the Count’s music.

Some of you are aware that I have recorded two albums as personal projects that are purely for the joy of doing it, with no commercial and certainly no financial incentive. Starting a year ago, I began recording a third, which was to be a collection of the Count’s timeless material, paying homage to his artistry and the love that he taught me always to have in my own music, separate and apart from the career that it has ended up being for me.

Many studio hours over the last year have been spent with my amazing musical team, in studios such as Capitol “A”, Firehouse and Martinsound playing old records from my trip in 1966 and listening once again to this seminal figure in calypso music, all the while trying to stay true to the essence of these recordings. What began to transpire as we recreated these songs over the past months was a genuine fulfillment, not tied into financial gain, but an affirmation of why I pursued music in the first place.

As plans for our trip began to crystallize, much to my amazement, I found that at eighty-one, Count Bernadino is very much alive and well and still performing in Nassau. Fortunately, he is as honored and respected in the islands as would befit a man with his talent and vision.

Our trip was filled with days of getting reacquainted, learning about his life and most importantly, joining him as he performed as many as three engagements a day and realizing how much of a creative force that one can be in their eighties; an inspiration in its own right. I was able to get the Count into a studio and actually record him on several of the tracks that I had been working on, amazingly enough on Digital Performer at a small studio near Paradise Beach. The session was imbued with a magical feeling, not unlike having the opportunity of collaborating with someone like Louis Armstrong and seeing how the years had added to the reinterpretation of the songs I knew so well. Always the calysonian, the most difficult part was teaching the Count the way he had done the songs in 1966, as they had evolved dramatically in the last forty years, and he rarely does anything the same way twice.

So I encourage all of you to make the calls and let those people know in your own lives how much they mean to you. One of the big joys that I find in our SCL Ambassador program is acknowledging great talents and demonstrating the respect that we have for them. The program is a testimonial to how we have learned our craft from their example and will continue to be inspired by their wisdom.

The SCL has established wonderful relations with Ray Evans, who gave us such classics as “Silver Bells,” and “Mona Lisa,” and Earle Hagen, who’s classic themes and underscore will be playing as long as there is a medium to showcase them. Ray Charles will always live in our hearts with his wonderful contributions to vocal writing and the variety show format. Vic Mizzy, whose clever mastery of the television theme is only surpassed by his sharp wit, will hold a special place in my memory of our events. Each one of these men has as much to offer today as they ever had.

Too often, we fail to recognize those who have made an impact in our lives, whether it is a teacher who motivated us, a great composer or songwriter who has inspired us, or even a close personal friend we haven’t spoken to in awhile. Each of us has those persons who have played a great role in making us who we are today. I can tell you that Count Bernadino was amazed to find that I was out there for forty years and had been finding inspiration in his creativity. Hopefully each of you will find the time to re-unite with your own Count Bernadino, and reap the rewards of doing so.

Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XX, Number Three, Fall 2005]


Summer 2005


It has come to my attention that one of our colleagues has recently rescored a film that was released in 1965, his music replacing the original by Daniele Amfitheatrof. As of this writing, this film is in theatrical release incorporating previously unseen footage; the promotional campaign proudly touting the new score. It will also be available on DVD in the near future, which will showcase a “cleaned up” version of the earlier film with the new score, and may or may not include the original version in its unaltered state. These details, in my opinion, are secondary to the greater issue, which involves the dangerous precedent that was put into motion here.

There are a myriad of issues at hand, making it difficult to know where to begin, but let me start from the humanistic framework that has everything to do with why many of us elected to follow this treacherous career path in the first place. Just as a fine artist leaves behind for posterity his paintings, sculptures, or craft pieces, the work that we as composers and lyricists, musicians and engineers will ultimately leave behind is our heritage. It’s remarkable to see the California landscape as painted by Granville Redmond or William Wendt in the early part of the century. It’s a snapshot of our pristine wilderness, seen through the eyes of two of our most talented artists. In the same way, our legacy will be our compositions and songs.

Now if the concert hall is your domain, then hopefully orchestras will be playing your works long after you are gone. However, if you have made the conscious decision to compose music for visual media, then the film, television program or game that incorporates your life’s work will forever be your legacy; your place in history along with the project it accompanies, and just like the great landscape painting it will also be a historical record of the time and place that it was conceived; or so we thought.

I’ve always felt that the unique quality that we bring to a project is our individuality, so there may be some value in putting a face to a name, and the original composer may not be familiar to you and unfortunately he is no longer around to defend himself. Elmer Bernstein prefaced his Film Music Notebook interview of the summer of 1975 with these words about the composer. “Daniele Amfitheatrof is one of the distinguished figures in the field of motion picture music. The greatest period of his activity in the field was as a contemporary of such composers as Franz Waxman, Max Steiner and Erich Korngold.”

Daniele’s mother was graduated from the Imperial Conservatory of St.Petersburg in piano and singing under a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakoff. Mr. Amfitheatrof started composing at age fifteen, and enrolled in the Conservatory in Petrograd Russia in 1916. His father was sent to Siberia on more than one occasion for writings against the Czarina and Rasputin.

He worked as a ballet pianist at the Kirov Opera House, moved to Rome where he studied with Ottorino Respighi during the time Respighi was composing “Pines of Rome,” and actually saw him put down the score from sketch. After composing numerous pictures in Rome, Amfitheatrof came to the United States, the result of being tipped by the Italian Foreign Department that the war was coming. It was during this time that he guest conducted the Koussewitzky orchestra in Boston in the late thirties. He came to Metro in 1939 and scored, “Lassie Come Home” and worked on a number of pictures there, was on contract at Universal and scored numerous pictures for most of the studios in Hollywood including many with Abbott and Costello. His numerous credits include “Wagon Train,” “Song of the South,” “Fraulein,” “ Angels in the Outfield,” and the movie in question, “Major Dundee.”

In fairness to presenting as many facts as possible that might be germane to this particular situation, I must report that this decision has been defended by some in suggesting that the director of the film was dissatisfied with Daniele Amfitheatrof’s score. However, the truth is that the director was not allowed to finish the film, so as one colleague astutely pointed out, the same people who let the director go were probably responsible for hiring the composer, thus making an objective view by the director tenuous at best.

If it is in fact the vision of the director that is being called into account here, considering that he is deceased, the one thing that can be said with complete confidence is that regardless of whatever historical speculation can be made, he most certainly can’t put his blessing on this new score. I would also submit that despite what is being publicly reported, some individual at a studio level felt that either the original score was flawed, out-dated, sonically archaic or just wanted to put their mark on this re-release, which is unconscionable to my way of thinking, and what speaks directly to the larger issue.

The composer who took this recent assignment most likely approached this film as an excellent opportunity to further his career. No doubt he delivered a credible score that was well received, and afforded employment for a number of people. On the other hand, I would hope that the decision to accept this rescoring was an unconscious one. Left unchecked, this practice could undermine the very heart of what we as composers and lyricists do.

To play this out, it is not inconceivable that a few years down the line, one could feel that employing a contemporary score could enhance the marketability of a 75-year re-release of “Gone with the Wind.” What about someone who deemed the string section approach to “Psycho” too limiting and felt a larger orchestra would have been the better call or perhaps consider “E.T.” with an electronic approach. Let’s take songs for a moment. How about re-placing “The Windmills of Your Mind” in “The Thomas Crowne Affair” with Limp Biscuit, or “Butch Cassidy’s” bicycle montage with Korn. Of course this sounds ludicrous, and although not terribly insightful, it is in fact what we are opening ourselves up for if we don’t exercise the integrity to refuse to accept these assignments.

The best-case scenario is that the creative community at large will intervene and become strong partners should this fail to be an isolated incident. In every case, a film or television show is the end result of the hard work of many talented people. It would be inconceivable that this blatant disregard for the original copy written work wouldn’t trigger an outrage from our creative partners and speak to the larger issue of intellectual property preservation.

One of numerous handicaps of our not having attained union status is that there are ultimately few things that we can do in situations such as these. Therefore, it is beholden on us to uphold our own set of standards, while taking the moral high road. Granted, it is difficult finding jobs that at times seem elusive, but we owe it to our colleagues to use good judgment as we traverse the challenges that confront us. Let’s not rewrite history, because in the end it is our history that we rewrite.

Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XX, Number Two, Summer 2005]


 Spring 2005


As we move forward into the New Year, we should set forth goals to strive for as a society, much in the same way we do in our own lives. Regretfully, the older one gets the faster the days go, each month becoming a shorter percentage of one’s life than the month before. My beloved teacher, Albert Harris demanded that I project into the future, maybe five years and state what and where I wanted to be. Strangely enough, that conversation was thirty years ago. Nevertheless, I still have goals, and I know how fast five years will fly by now. As your president, I follow in the footsteps of a person that had more goals and aspirations for this organization than I can count. Ray Colcord is still impassioned about seeing the SCL gain more respect within the industry. I too have dreams of what we can do and our vast potential, but it will take the combined energies of all of us to achieve our mutual goals.

Since I began my tenure, two years ago, several concerns have come to the forefront of the work place that need to be addressed. How to best solve problems such as erosion of performing rights and advancements in technology that make composing music easier for the neophyte are never easy to resolve, but nevertheless they are topics that need to be reckoned with. It should be a personal goal for each of us to do what we can to make ours a stronger and more regarded profession as we navigate issues such as these.

One area that requires the most attention is the subject of performing rights. My president’s article of a year ago spelled out the risks in direct licensing your compositions. No one can put a value on your work when it comes to buying out future performances. You most likely will settle for far less than you would ultimately receive, and you could even be giving away a fortune, as was demonstrated to those of you who attended our membership meeting last spring. Even more onerous are the companies that would demand that you assign away your rights for no compensation, as a condition of employment, as it were. Unfortunately, as much as we would like for these issues to go away, we are hearing reports that composers and songwriters are being pressed for their compliance in these areas on a continuum.

Most of you are cognizant of the fact that this organization, through the valiant efforts of many of our most celebrated colleagues has fought for unionization at two different times in the past, most recently about twenty years ago. A great deal of time and money was expended by our membership to little avail. Ultimately, we were deemed independent contractors, not employees. Whereas other guilds such as the actors and directors are protected by collective bargaining, as a result of this decision, we unfortunately are relegated to fend for ourselves. The good news is that I have received numerous positive reports from rank and file members regarding perpetuating the integrity of our profession. Several composers have refused the deal when it came to giving up their rights, and ended up getting the job despite it all.

There is one basic fact to consider here. It is nothing less than immoral in our current situation to be asked to settle for signing away our rights. We have historically been paid far less than other crafts for our contribution, the main argument from the company’s stand point being that we received generous back end compensation for our work. If this in fact is their argument, then under no condition is it acceptable to sign away our rights. It must be our responsibility to stand up as a community and refuse to be unfairly treated in these areas. Those of you who have read my previous messages know that it should be always handled tactfully, but in the end you are representing not only yourself, but also our profession as a whole. If we accept these conditions, it will certainly work to diminish our respect within the larger community.

You should be aware that as an organization we are working to put into place a larger presence in Washington. A group of us met in November with Congressmen Howard Berman and Adam Schiff, and Congresswoman, Linda Sanchez. We are striving to create our own unique identity, apart from songwriters within Congress, as the legislators can become valued partners as we move forward, even in introducing bills that could aid us in dealing with a myriad of creative rights issues. Our valued supporters, ASCAP, BMI and SESAC are committed to helping us in this endeavor as well.

With your input, we are striving to extend the influence of the SCL into other locales such as New York City. I had the opportunity to meet with a number of talented composers and songwriters while in New York in June, and there appears to be a significant base of interest in the SCL, not just from the film music community, but from the theatre composers and lyricists as well. Not only do they contend with a number of the challenges that we share in common, but they are faced with copyright ownership issues, that left unchecked could erode a long standing way of doing business that could have detrimental effects on their livelihood.

As we continue to grow, our numbers will aid us in increasing our respect within the larger entertainment industry. We have seen a significant increase in membership over the past few years and I would hope that it would be a personal goal of yours to enlist your colleagues in our cause so that our numbers continue to grow.

It has been a goal of mine to instill a sense of comradeship within our profession. Although we compete for many of the same jobs, we share a common bond in the ability to create wonderful words and music. Therefore, as a member of this extended family we should strive to enhance the work environment that great composers such as Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein and David Raksin put in place for us. The joy that Michael Kamen and Michel Colombier exuded was magnetic. Think of how they would have liked their legacy to be perpetuated.

Each of us will face challenges in the coming year, both personal and professional; it’s simply a part of life. It’s how we cope with these challenges, as an individual and in a larger sense, as a community that will determine if we can continue to move forward. Forward to make our profession more respected and viable and in turn, making our lives more enriched, more productive, and more fulfilled.

Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XX, Number One, Spring 2005]


Winter 2004


Words to live, or build a career by

This article was conceived some months back while making my way around my personal version of Walden Pond, otherwise known as the Arroyo Seco. I originally had the idea to address a topic that many members queried me on. It was a subject that I had a great deal of interest in as I was starting my own career, that is, how to get from point A to point B. It was then that I had an idea. Why limit this issue’ s scope to my window of experience, rather, why not call upon a few of my esteemed advisory board members to pass along some of their thoughts as well? These would not only be words that I would personally be anxious to ponder, but words that would have been the Holy Grail to me when I was first exploring this precipitous career.

Well, what transpired was nothing less than inspirational. Four of the most distinguished individuals in our community were generous enough to share their thoughts with us. No more insightful and moving lyric has been written than Marilyn and Alan Bergman’s to The Way We Were. No more lyrical and moving melody has been composed than Alan Menken’s, A Whole New World, for Aladdin. No more electrifying, gripping and celebrated theme song than Lalo Schifrin’s Mission Impossible, and no scene was ever more ably scored than the sailboat sequence from Violets are Blue composed by Pat Williams. And so it is with great pleasure that I include their wisdom in this issue’s article.

My first entertainment attorney, Denny Bond once recounted a story concerning the venerable actor, Danny Kaye being cornered by an aspiring actress at a Hollywood party and posed the question, “Mr. Kaye, how do you get started in the world of motion pictures?” His somewhat flippant response was, “my dear, if you have to ask you most certainly will never get started.” Now his dismissive attitude concerning launching a career isn’t my style, however I think that too often one expects some hard and fast rules that somehow miss the over-all arc of what we should be about as aspiring composers and lyricists.

No one can say you will meet producer “A”, who recommends you to studio music head “B” who is impressed with your demo reel and hires you to compose music for x number of shows for x number of years at studio C. Nevertheless, that is how it happened for Howard Pearl and myself at Paramount Studios. However, the process is far more telling than the mechanics of the end result to my way of thinking, and in the long term it is twice as valuable. It was interesting that my talented colleagues mirrored my thoughts in the way they addressed my question. As this article evolves, I will share a few of my personal tenets, but let’s go to the top of the class, in alphabetical order, first the SCL’s great friend and ASCAP President, Marilyn Bergman. Ms. Bergman’s lyrics have captivated us all. I continue to marvel at her mastery of her craft. She writes:

“Alan and I are often asked to give words of advice and/or encouragement to “entry level” composers or lyricists. The point we are always sure to make at the outset is that given the difficulties that await (access, rejections, etc.) unlike most endeavors, this choice of one’s life’s work must be because one has no other choice but to write – because one has to. You have to need to express yourself through music or lyrics in spite of the sea of hardships you might be wading into. The rewards – both in pleasure and profit – can be great and certainly can keep you in pursuit. So, in answer to “which comes first, the words or the music?”. I’d say the dedication to the craft.

I’ve always felt that lyrics are not written, they are rewritten. So the ability to be ruthless with your work is vitally important. Often, you must labor through draft after draft to arrive finally at something that seems effortless, with one word appearing to follow another with inevitability. (The blood, sweat and often tears are then worth it.)

As far as any other “advice”: I know of no better words on the subject of lyric writing than the “Notes On Lyrics” contained in Oscar Hammerstein’s book “Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein.” (Published by Simon & Schuster, 1949). This book with these amazing 48 pages (to say nothing of the extraordinary lyrics which comprise the book!), has been like a bible to Alan and me. We re-read them every few years just to keep us honest! There are numerous books on writing lyrics, how-to books. Most of them we find wanting (to put it kindly). This short chapter of Hammerstein’s is worth all of them put together and then some in my opinion.”

I concur with Marilyn’s sentiment on having to write. I came from a family of attorneys and educators with no musical pedigree what so ever. Initially starting on a trip to Europe, collaborating on songs with a then unknown, Tom Shapiro, now one of BMI’s most celebrated writer’s, culminating in attending a James Taylor, Carole King concert a few years later in rural Massachusetts, there was never a moment of indecision from those years forward for me about the course my life was going to take.

Alan Menken chose to explore a number of points that he has shared in the past with his students. I know of no other person who has exemplified any more acutely the heights that are attainable with an inexhaustible work ethic and dedication to your craft. Of course few are blessed with Alan’s gift of melody, following in the footsteps of such craftsmen as Richard Rodgers. Mr. Menken writes:

“These are some thoughts I often share with students and young writers. Some may find these thoughts simplistic or ethereal. But they have sustained me throughout my life and career.

  1. If you want to compose, compose. If you want to write lyrics, write lyrics. Make it your first priority; your only priority. Don’t take other jobs thinking they’ll lead to your ultimate career goals. They seldom do.
  2. Think of your composing or writing career as you’d think of the priesthood. It’s a calling. Whether you make $1 or $1,000,000 doesn’t matter. Don’t take jobs for the money. Ironically, in the long run, you’ll end up making more money.
  3. Write what you’re passionate about. Music is not logical or reasonable. It’s a medium for feelings that defy logic and reason. A great song is like falling in love. It should sweep you away, regardless of whether it makes sense or appeals to your literal mind.
  4. At the same time, don’t be afraid to write in a recognizable or derivative form. Music is a vocabulary, as specific as any language. You may think you’re copying the style or even the content of another piece of music or a lyric. Chances are you’re not. Celebrate specific forms, past and present. Your unique voice as a writer comes through more than you know. And when the listener gets what you’re up to, they enjoy it more.
  5. You, as a listener, are most likely what motivated you to become a writer. Use that part of yourself to judge the quality of what you’ve written. If you love it, chances are there’s an audience that will love it too. Don’t give up on your material. Don’t allow second-guessing what others might think to block your creative flow. Be patient and wait to find the listeners who respond to what you write.
  6. We, as creative artists, are mediums. Artistic expression is what we do with the life force that flows through us. Think of music or lyrics like the water that flows from a spigot. We can only turn on the spigot and catch and shape what flows through us. And if you use the force of the stream, the unique personality and power of your creative talent will assert itself. If, however, you dam up the flow or hold back the stream, it damages you and it hurts your art.
  7. Don’t fall so in love with your work that you lose the ability to rewrite or even throw it away entirely and start again. Rewriting is an incredible tool. It either proves you right or leads to a better outcome. In the end, it’s not really about any individual work, it’s about you and your talent.
  8. Think of writing as digging for hidden treasure. Your early work, as good as you may think it is, represents the dirt you clear away to find the gold. If you don’t “dig” a ton of “dirt” you never get to the gold. And the gold is worth the wait.
  9. Writing music and / or lyrics is something many people can do. The difference between a mediocre song and a great one may seem very slight and very subtle. But it’s very real. Don’t become discouraged and allow yourself to compete with other’s material just because it’s “successful”. The only success you want is one that’s uniquely yours and one that will stand the test of time.
  10. A successful song or a successful piece of music reveals itself nearly immediately. Don’t overvalue anything that only reveals itself through repeated exposures. Music and lyrics are meant to be viscerally powerful in the moment; to make you cry or laugh or dream. Anything shy of that is a waste of a very powerful medium.
  11. Collaboration is an absolute necessity for effective writing. Use the “listening” of your collaborators to motivate and shape your writing. Write to please them. Write to surprise them. Write to show off for them. The better they listen, the better you’ll write. Listen to and respect their criticisms. If you disagree, go ahead and write what they suggest anyway. You never know; maybe you’ll prove them wrong and maybe they’ll prove to be right. Either way, you win.
  12. Be aware that you never really know in advance what the result of a writing assignment will be. Often, the most important work comes from assignments you weren’t really excited about. The important thing is to always move on to the next assignment, the next project, the next collaborator, the next idea. And write write write write write.”

Lalo Schifrin has led a celebrated and charmed life, and for good reason. From his early days as one of jazz’s true innovators to his success in television and film, he exemplifies the best of the best. Mr. Schifrin writes:

“The following is my advice to young aspiring composers:

  1. Study formal music composition from its foundations: Harmony, Counterpoint, Fugue, Form, Orchestration and Analysis. Investigate the scores of the great masters
  2. Explore the techniques and procedures of 20th Century music: from the French Impressionists through the national schools of different countries in which composers exploit their traditional music. Also, study those composers who transcended this nationalism and created a universal idiom out of their roots (Bartok, Stravinsky, Ives, Copeland, etc.). Investigate the secrets of 12-tone and Serial music. This is going to prepare you for the post-Webern school in the second half of the 20th Century (Boulez, Berio, Stokausen, etc.). Olivier Messian’s compositions deserve a thorough analysis. Get acquainted with Aleatory procedures, especially of the Polish Schoo
  3. Carefully avoid becoming a diatonic cripple.
  4. Study the different techniques of electronic music.
  5. Become familiar with Minimalism and related schools.
  6. Listen to Jazz, Blues, Rock and the contemporary and alternative tendencies, including Hip Hop.
  7. If you want to become a film composer, get acquainted with plays, operas, and Broadway theater music in order to get a sense of drama, tragedy and comedy. Try to understand the problems of actors and stage directors. When you see feature or television movies, try to analyze the nature of the composer’s contribution, but also become aware of the audiovisual counterpoint. The work of Directors of Photography should not be ignored.
  8. Don’t be afraid of chromaticism. Once again, avoid becoming a diatonic cripple!”

Mr. Schifrin seems to suggest a discipline that I ascribed to early in my career, and should probably re-visit today. I learned from my great teacher, Albert Harris to allocate a portion of every day to a number of tasks. I would schedule two hours a day to dissecting scores, in fact reducing orchestral scores down to three or four lines. That allowed me to get at the spine of the composition or orchestration. His next assignment was to have me compose in the style of whoever’s work I might be perusing, “so if someone were to find this manuscript, they would think it a lost work of Debussy, Gershwin, Tschaikowsky, etc.”

Pat Williams’ has created some of pop and jazz’s most beautiful arrangements. One would be hard pressed to find a greater exponent of mood and texture. He has also composed some of my favorite television themes over the years. I was pleased to be able to include his thoughts in this article. Mr. Williams’ writes:

“In terms of thoughts for an entry level person, the longer I am in this business, the more difficult of a question that becomes, but I’ll give it a stab.

It seems to me that success is part of a process, rather than a goal. The learning process never stops and the composers I most admire all understand that. Viewing one’s career in this light helps to soften the blows of rejection and frustration that we all encounter and it also contributes to a more rewarding and emotionally fulfilling career. I think we can always remember there is the “music business” and then there is the “music” and it’s very important to stay in love with the latter so we can handle the former.”

There is a common thread in Pat, Marilyn and Alan’s ideology that I deeply share. That is, do it for the love of the art and financial reward will most certainly follow. If your goal is to make a lot of money at the expense of our craft, then please, for the sake of your colleagues and those who came before, do it somewhere else. As I wrote in the last article for The Score, ours is a distinguished profession that I feel is at a crossroads. I would hope that all of us could band together as a community. It is only then that can meet our challenges, united in an uncompromising love and passion for what we do.

As far as your own careers, I will make a prediction. Absorb these words of advice, never stop learning and keep a positive outlook and we’ll be hearing from you one of these days as well. I’ll leave you with the great Erol Garner’s words to me many years ago at the St. Regis in New York, “write what you feel and feel what you write.” Good writing to all of you.

Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XIX, Number Four, Winter 2004]


Fall 2004


A Bridge for Tomorrow

Since my last writing, we have lost two of our dear colleagues. Fred Karlin, who left us in March, fortunately also left us with many wonderful scores and such beautiful melodies as For All We Know and Come Saturday Morning. Ironically, my friend and fellow Amherst alumni also created a definitive documentary on Jerry Goldsmith, our brilliant advisory board member, who passed away on July 21st. The Goldsmith family unselfishly invited to his service, not only those who knew him personally, but those friends he never met, but whose lives were touched by his genius as well. I saw many of you there and we mourn the passing of this giant talent who inspired us all. The family’s willingness to share this difficult moment speaks not only to their generosity, but also to an inherent understanding of the dramatic impact that Jerry’s life and his music had on so many people.

Much more has been written about Jerry’s accomplishments than I am qualified to document, in fact I would direct you to the Film Music Society website where our friend Jon Burlingame has written wonderful pieces on Jerry and Fred Karlin as well. What I would like to touch on here is the legacy that Jerry has left to our profession. I would hope that we as a community could carry this legacy forward as a testimonial to his place in time and in music.

Jerry’s first film was Black Patch in 1957. It wasn’t long before Hollywood discovered his uncanny ability to find innovative approaches to enhance the films and television works that he scored. He was a composer’s composer in every way. From his haunting approach to the Twilight Zone series, to the lyrical folk imbued score to The River Wild to his early experimentation with electronics in such movies as The Reincarnation of Peter Proud, his technique was always novel, while masterful on every level.

Jerry’s agent, Richard Kraft remarked that each person had his or her own favorite Jerry Goldsmith score and they were rarely the same. I would submit that there was good reason for this; each was totally unique. The film noir sensibilities of China Town were 180 degrees removed from the chilling textures he employed in Poltergeist, which were far removed from the psychological dramatic underpinnings of Basic Instinct. But isn’t this versatility at the root of what we should be about as composers? Far too often we are inclined to take the safe way out. I know from my own career that if something has worked in the past, I am inclined to re-visit that same approach again when dealing with similar subject matter. Of course the temp tracks haven’t made our lives any easier in this regard, but Jerry refused to be drawn in to the easy path and this is part of the reason that his scores will forever be one of a kind gems in cinematic history.

In the last issue of The Score I wrote about such luminaries as Max Steiner and Bernard Hermann. Jerry Goldsmith has taken his rightful place as a prominent member of this royalty and it wasn’t by mere accident. He studied with Miklos Rozsa, himself one of the first generation of gifted composers for cinema. Jerry’s love for his craft was not only all encompassing, it was uncompromising as well. It was essential that he be the very best that he could be and not settle for less. It was important for him to keep up the high standards that were passed to him; it was important for him to be the standard bearer for our profession.

I found it fitting to be brought into a conversation with a young composer who was participating in a film music workshop. It was the evening following Jerry’s service and the composer was anxiously awaiting the first performance of his work by a professional orchestra. It was apparent that he took great pride in his composition and was excited about embarking on this great career path.

Jerry Goldsmith never lost his love for his profession. He was interested, even during his final bought with cancer, in continuing his life’s work. I believe it was not only as an act of self fulfillment that he refused to give up, I believe that it was equally important for him to pass this respect for his craft and his profession on to the future. He taught his son, Joel the art of composition, and he is ably carrying-on in his father’s footsteps. However, Jerry has become such a pillar of creativity and professionalism in our filed that it is beholden on us to carry on this legacy as well. Let us all be caretakers of the pride and excellence that he passed to us.

Growing up around my household, it was a tradition to gather from time to time to read poetry. We would pass the books of verse around the room and eventually, over the years, one or two would become favorites. I believe that my mother, Mary Lou’s choice, entitled A Bridge for Tomorrow by Will Allen Dromgoole is appropriate to share with you, as it sums up to me the love that Jerry Goldsmith had for his profession and so unselfishly shared with all of us.

An old man, going a lone highway,
Came at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast, and deep, and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fears for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim, near,
“You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again must pass this way;
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide—
Why build you the bridge at eventide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head;
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me today
A youth, whose feet must pass this way
This chasm, that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be—
He, too, must cross, in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building a bridge for him.”

Jerry, you built it well.

Published in The Score quarterly newsletter [Vol. XIX, Number Three, Fall 2004]


Summer 2004


Victor Young and Irving Berlin were two of the most prolific and gifted artists of their time. Jerome Kern once said that “Irving Berlin has no place in American music—he is American music”. Irving Berlin, whose career spanned eight decades and gave us such classics as “God Bless America,” “Always,” “Easter Parade,” and White Christmas” and Victor Young whose inspired scores for such movies as The Uninvited, and Around the World in Eighty Days and such standards as “When I Fall in Love,” will forever be a part of our cultural heritage and their timeless works will forever be a part of the American repertoire. I chose to write about their genius and their milieu because we owe them and their contemporaries a debt of gratitude for setting in place the high standards that we should all strive to maintain, and for making ours such a celebrated profession.

During the last two holiday seasons I have been involved with historic reenactments in support of the Heritage Square Museum off the Pasadena Freeway. In the role of William Perry, a businessman and lumber baron I help impart some of the early history of Los Angeles. During breaks from performances I had the opportunity to spend time at the Charles Lumis House, El Alisal, which is across the street. I found that Lumis had single-handedly saved the California Missions from deterioration and helped preserve much of early California heritage, including early sound recordings in establishing the Southwest Museum.

I believe that we, as composers and songwriters owe it to the legacy of our talented forefathers to keep their spirit alive in much the same fashion. I feel that a thorough understanding of the past can help us as we proceed into the future. Not only will it aid us creatively to understand what has come before, but also it may help in giving ourselves and our industry the respect it deserves.

Our profession unofficially began in 1895 in Paris. The Lumiere family presented one of their early movies to the strains of a solo piano at the Grand Café. It wasn’t long until ornate movie palaces were being built to showcase silent films accompanied by marvelous orchestras. The father of our esteemed advisory board member, David Raksin, was the conductor of such an orchestra at “The Met” Theatre in Philadelphia. Although the conductor wrote original compositions from time to time, huge libraries of concert pieces existed and were employed at the conductor’s discretion. The moods were generally indicated, and he had a great deal of latitude in choosing the music except in the instances where a specific piece was called for.

As of late, in my quest to save the historic Ambassador Hotel, where six Academy Award ceremonies were held, I have also become familiar with our own movie houses that miraculously still exist. Over the past three months I have found myself on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles on a regular basis. Seeing the absolute majesty of such landmarks as The Million Dollar Theatre, The Los Angeles Theatre, The State, and The Mayan leads one to only imagine what a special experience attending a movie was. These houses were filled with avid moviegoers, in fact it has been estimated that sixty-five percent of the American public went to the movies on a weekly basis in the years around 1938.

Recently I have been reading Roy M. Prendergast’s book Film Music, a Neglected Art, which I understand will soon appear in a newly revised third edition, and Elmer Bernstein’s Film Music Notebook, which is a Complete Collection of the Quarterly Journal from 1974 to 1978. The latter is published by the Film Music Society and I would encourage all of you to not only join this wonderful organization, led by our friend Chris Young, but to order your copy of this book, which chronicles the history of our profession through in-depth interviews by Elmer Bernstein.

Over the past few years the ever-evolving technology has enabled many to join our ranks with its ease of operation. In fact, a painter left my house a few minutes ago and was telling me how he has been working after hours writing convincing material at his computer without really understanding anything about music. Although I applaud his energy in pursuing a muse, I fear his cavalier attitude does not bode well for the perpetuation of a glorious craft.

Ray Colcord, my immediate predecessor and a believer in the tradition set forth by the founders of this organization, established our Hall of Fame Awards that we will continue, along with the SCL Ambassador program created during this administration. I think that it is good to remind ourselves of the time and preparation that some of these gentlemen brought to our craft. The triumvirate of Max Steiner, Erich Korngold and Alfred Newman certainly defined the “Golden Age of Scoring,” and for good reason.

Max Steiner is widely recognized as one of the father’s of our craft. Born in Vienna in 1888, his first operetta was published at the advanced age of 16. Word of Mr. Steiner’s talent reached America and Florenz Ziegfeld brought him to New York City during World War 1, where he remained for fifteen years as the conductor of the Ziegfeld Follies. In 1929, one year after the advent of sound, he was invited to come to Hollywood to conduct the score for Rio Rita, a musical for RKO Studios. He became the Musical Director for the studio and continued in film for the remainder of his career. In 1935 he became the first composer to win an Academy Award; his achievement was for The Informer, directed by John Ford. Filmmaker and composer, Robert Rodriguez challenged our community to demand to be brought on during the formative stages of a project. This was just the case with the score to this film. Max Steiner imbued The Informer with Irish folk melodies that were planned out in pre-production meetings with Mr. Ford. From King Kong to Gone With the Wind to Casablanca to A Summer Place, Max Steiner’s contributions to our profession are legion. His melodies continue to move and inspire me and he will always have a place at the top of any list that recognizes the best.

Another of our Hall of Fame inductees was Bernard Hermann. Considered by many to be the master of macabre, he brought his own style to a business that theretofore had been steeped in the mid-to late nineteenth century idiom of Puccini, Verdi, Strauss and Wagner. Prendergast writes that when the early film composers were confronted with dramatic problems they merely looked to those composers who had solved almost identical problems in their operas. Hermann, on the other hand, incorporated unique combinations of instruments in his palate. Once again, in the case of Hermann’s first film, Citizen Kane, completed in 1940, he was brought to the project early and was present during the production of the movie, sketching much of the music as the movie was being shot. Mr. Hermann writes, “the film was so unusual technically, that it afforded me many unique opportunities for musical experiment. It abounded in musical montages, which were long enough to permit me to compose complete musical numbers, rather than do what is ordinarily done—cut the music to suit the film”. Of course his oeuvre is legendary, from the haunting, The Day the Earth Stood Still to his atonal masterpiece, Psycho in 1960.

There is hardly time within the confines of an article such as this to list all of the songwriters and composers that we should be forever indebted to, but as I have said before, we are all ambassadors of our profession and we owe it to our craft to know as much about who came before as we do to keep abreast of the new trends. We are all walking in the footsteps of these legendary talents and we must continue the tradition they so ably passed to us.

Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XIX, Number Two, Summer 2004]


Spring 2004


It was 9:00 a.m. I was stranding on the conductor’s podium at Stage M on the Paramount Studios lot in late November. Although I had previously composed music for a few scattered projects, this was really my entrée into the world of film scoring. I was nervous; who wouldn’t be with twenty-five of the greatest musicians in the world sitting out there preparing to play my music. Carl Fortina, contractor and legendary musician in his own right, had assembled the finest orchestra that one could have imagined that day for Howard Pearl and me. As I waited for the picture to be racked up on the mag machine and projected on a twenty- foot high screen I could hear the oboist playing fragments of the opening cue; even that sounded good. Then my preparatory clicks flashed out as quick bleeps of light at around a metronome marking of 120 beats per minute, known in the Knudsen lingo as a 12-0 frame click. Eight quick flashes later and I was on my way, reveling in a fantasy world that continues to this day.

That was the black and white of it. But what was even more moving and emotionally stimulating was the incredible sound that emanated from this wonderful orchestra. One or two players, such as Brain O’Connor and Gary Herbig, were just starting their illustrious careers, but far more of the chairs were filled by seasoned veterans, some of whom had worked with the likes of Bernard Herman and Alex North. The brass section was filled with the same personalities that had graced my favorite scores by Earle Hagen, Lee Holdridge, Bruce Broughton and Charlie Fox. Pete Jolly was on piano with several other legendary jazz greats such as Ted Nash sitting just beyond my baton.

This is truly what music continues to be about for me. We are fortunate as composers to be sitting in the center of the universe for world-class performers and the amazing thing is that we have total access to these talents to enhance, embellish and add life and breath into our creative outpourings.

Regrettably, our business has taken a dangerous turn since my career first started, particularly in the world of television music. It is a twist that does not bode favorably for the well being of our profession. As the orchestras began to shrink, so did the scoring budgets as well as our respectability within the film community. Unfortunately, with the disappearance of the live orchestra on our scores, our value as a community was diminished. In the worst case, the perception is that anyone can basically do our job, trained or not, and it has come to the point that that a company that we considered to be one our closest partners advertises that their technology can supply music without the cost of an expensive composer.

The purpose of this article should in no way be construed to be an anti-technology treatise, but rather should be regarded as a realistic over-view, taking into account the evaporation of an integral component of our scores, without which our craft is being denigrated, and for good cause. Let’s take the case of one musician and look at the time, preparation and education that goes into making oneself accomplished enough to compete in this arena. The hours of practice and dedication over years to bring him or her to a place good enough to be called a studio musician is nothing less than staggering.

My guitar playing is adequate, but there is no way to describe how the talents of a Laurence Juber or Tim May enhance my final product. I’ll be the first to say that without the great Los Angeles musicians, my career wouldn’t have made it past my first job. Armin Steiner, engineer extraordinaire, says that the key to the emotion in music is a group of instruments that are physically moving air. As convincing as some of the synth orchestral sounds may be, they simply don’t move air. My piano playing is fine, but give me a break, or rather give me Jim Cox or Mike Lang. The rockability, sensitivity and over-all interpretation of these two, or an artist such as Ralph Grierson can simply not be summed up in words, and the over-all impact that these sorts of talents could provide to your work can not be over emphasized.

So as with everything else, it in many ways it comes down to the bottom line and the margin of profit. I can’t tell you what to do with your own budget except to tell you how I approached mine over the years. As cavalier as this may sound, I have rarely thought about the money as I was progressing through my career. My concerns have been foremost about my music and making sure that every score was as good as it could be. In virtually every case, I personally made the decision to put as much as possible toward the end product, and as those in the decision-making positions saw the pride I took in assuring the best sound possible, they were more inclined to hire me again and again.

Before the advent of package deals, the orchestral numbers were already decided and until fairly recently a situation comedy could justify a twenty to twenty-five piece orchestra, and dramatic shows even more. Thanks to certain producers and heads of music who have respect for the creative input and richness that an orchestra can bring, there are noticeable exceptions to the low-ball packages that have become far too prevalent in our industry.

We only have to look as far as the top composers within our community who are scoring films that employ huge orchestras to see the value they bring to the screen. There is no justification for the erosion of the live orchestra within the television and cable community except budget. The only way to turn this tide is for all of us to do what we can to stress the value of live players to our scores. My hat goes off to young composers such as Michael Giacchino, for continuing the fine tradition of scoring set into place many years ago. These scores, incorporating the fine talents of our local musicians will unquestionably stand the test of time and be fine representations of our craft for years to come.

The musicians union has recently put into place competitive rate schedules for areas such as game music and pilots that can work hand in hand in facilitating the use of live musicians. Nevertheless, as reasonable as these rates are, they won’t be low enough for some producers and that is why it is crucial for us as a community to do what we can to be advocates of employing these fabulous talents in our scores.

So let 2004 be the year of the musician; get to know as many of them as possible. I am going to personally make an outreach to Musicians Local 47 and RMA members to join us in our special friend category. It has long been a dream of mine to have an orchestra associated with our group to perform your works and further elevate the visibility and value of film music. Perhaps this isn’t too lofty an aspiration for sometime in the future. If we fail to take advantage of their unique talents, Los Angeles will no longer draw the best players in the world, as the motivation to locate here will no longer be driven by our great profession. My career certainly has been better for them and historically our craft owes them a sincere debt of gratitude.

Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XIX, Number One, Spring 2004]


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]