Moving Forward From Here

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]