Taking Pride in What We Do

Summer 2006


Former SCL President, and composer extraordinaire, Bruce Broughton and I met recently in Beverly Hills. Bruce has been active in walking the halls of Congress and getting to know some of the key players that can prove to be indispensable to our community should legislation become a last resort in protecting our rights. Our conversation covered a myriad of topics, and his insights are always enlightening and to the point. As we discussed the state of our society it became apparent that taking pride in what we do is the first step in addressing the complicated issues that are currently confronting us. This sense of confidence that we are, in fact, unique and we do provide a service that no one else can, creates a granite foundation that will serve us well in these uncertain times.

As we face the next phase of our evolution as an organization we will be faced with many challenges, some old and some new. Historically we have fought for recognition as a group of composers that have interests that are unique to our specific craft. This is often an elusive persona and can be confusing to even those that know us best. Until recently, a number of my own family members referred to me as a songwriter in social situations. I’ve done the best to instill in them the notion that, although I do write songs, the way that I have made my living for the last twenty-seven years is as a composer and my output is referred to as cues and underscore.

This becomes important and transcends simply a semantic or nomenclatorial issue when it comes to creating our own identity among those who can be great partners as we move forward into the coming decades and the new technologies contained therein. Among the newest matters that will need to be resolved concern how we will be compensated for our performances embodied in the shows that are available as video downloads on iTunes. Our performing rights organizations will contend, and rightly so, that these are public performances, and therefore should be no different than cable broadcasts and paid accordingly at a negotiated rate. However, the issue becomes more complex should these performances be equated to a CD download, which is not considered a performance and would fall beyond the scope of the PROs. These issues and other similar topics are challenges that those who began the Screen Composers Association in 1945 could not have imagined. Accordingly, we are obliged to create our own identity in the event that legislation becomes the only viable solution to some of these concerns.

I spoke to Congressman Adam Schiff at the ASCAP “I Create Music” conference recently about the SCL. I told him that as an organization we would like to begin a dialogue with his office and help educate him as to our particular needs. At another meeting where Congressman Schiff was in attendance, our friends at ASCAP arranged for a group of us to meet last fall with congressional members Howard Berman and Linda Sanchez. Hal David hosted a separate gathering for Senator Ted Kennedy last December that Bruce and I also attended. It is important that our community receive the recognition it deserves should it become necessary to call upon these individuals at some point to champion our cause. In the future, you may be asked to support receptions for candidates who are instrumental in protecting our interest in Congress. I would also encourage all of you to donate to the legislative fund sponsored by your PRO, as I have personally done for the last twenty years.

Songwriters have been effective lobbyists by performing their songs in intimate congressional gatherings. SCL past president, Arthur Hamilton has conceived of an idea which he calls “Knowing the Score.” If this program were to be implemented, it would bring a concert of our film music to the attention of key legislators in a similar fashion. We have been the beneficiaries of the progress that songwriters have made in creative rights protection for our industry at large. Naturally, we have numerous common goals, but with the advent of downloading first-run television programs such as Lost and Desperate Housewives, our interests have become more aligned with the actor, director or writer. My predecessor, Ray Colcord is planning an SCL seminar on technology in the near future which will explore some of the specifics of these issues and look to some of the experts in the field who may have insights into how we can better protect ourselves against these changes, many occurring at lightening speed. These are issues that you should discuss with your attorneys and agents and make them aware of the changing contour of our business.

So how do we go about raising the awareness of our profession? As I said earlier, the first step is having a genuine pride in what we do, which is quite remarkable when you get right down to it. Millions of people are watching television shows that encompass our work each week. Moviegoers all over the world are listening to our scores. The game industry is growing by leaps and bounds and the composers associated with these games are becoming celebrities in their own right. BMI and SESAC have taken composers such as Mike Post and Jonathan Wolf to Washington over the years and it has proven effective in, not only celebrating our work, but also raising the awareness of what we do. The power that we bring to the table, whether it is Thomas Newman for any number of his amazing feature scores, Russ Landau for his work on Survivor, or your talented board members Billy Martin and Garry Schyman for numerous impressive game scores, is immense and all adds to the credibility of our profession.

Judging by conversations that I have had with the non-musical sector, you may be amazed at the kind of mystique that your contributions have. Although all of us would like to be on the podium receiving that Academy Award, don’t ever underestimate the value that your own creativity brings to your individual specialty. It is beyond my comprehension that I could have sustained a career since 1978 in a profession that not only brings me immense satisfaction– as much so now, as when I started– but as Elmer Bernstein so eloquently pointed out, can bring so much joy to so many people on a regular basis.

As I meet more and more colleagues, I can say that I am moved by being part of community that boasts Stu Phillips as a member, who has created some of the most memorable television and film music over the breath of his career or Neal Hefti, who continues to inspire young composers such as Steve Greves. My friend, Brain Curtin, along with every member of our mentor program, are just at the beginning of their contributions to our profession, and I am not only personally excited by that prospect, as an organization we are empowered by it. Finally, we need to continue to take pride in what we do, because as I have said before, the by-product will be exuding an image that will be worthy of the noble profession that we have chosen as our life’s work.

Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XXI, Number Two, Summer 2006]