Thirty-Five Years From Today

Spring 2013


As we move into the New Year and resolve to read more, eat better, exercise more and promise to direct ourselves more in our own careers, I begin to reflect on how many years I have now made those same resolutions in my own life. Some years have been better than others in the follow through, but by the time that you’re reading this, we have now made it through a few months and we can probably evaluate how it’s going up to this point in 2013.

Although I had done an isolated project or two beforehand, my career, for all intents and purposes began in 1978, which in November will be 35 years. That’s 35 years of resolving to do all the things that I hoped would propel and sustain me to where I am today. I wonder where we will be as a business 35 years into the future, in the year 2048, and where we’ll be as individuals navigating it. Those resolutions that you made a couple of months ago will have a direct bearing on your particular situation, and I feel strongly that the overall landscape will be a good place and an environment where our contributions as composers and lyricists will be recognized and appreciated.

What can we say for certain? Unquestionably there will be more of us working in the business down the line. 35 years ago, there were probably around 60 composers doing all of the work when I broke in. There were feature films, three network stations and no cable. There can only be more opportunities moving forward. The medium we record on and the means of delivery will be different. I began recording on three-stripe magnetic tape. A tape operator—in the beginning, my future engineer, Tim Boyle– would have to re-rack the picture for each take and the process was necessarily laborious. On the positive side, the film was projected on a huge surface and it made me feel like I was really accomplishing something when I was scoring the Fonze on a two-story screen at Stage M. Even the spotting sessions were held in a small movie theatre.

It is inconceivable how fast time flies. It seems like just the other day I was moving from Amherst College to pursue a career in Los Angeles. What that means is that there is no time like the present. It is imperative that you not waste a single moment. There are two routes you can take and depending on your own personality, you’ll know what’s best for you. I left myself open to exploring different avenues regarding my creativity and was open for any turns that the road might take in that endeavor. During a summer in France, I began writing songs with Tom Shapiro, who has become one of the most respected and celebrated songwriters in Nashville, and he is still going strong. Together we must have visited every publisher in Los Angeles and made a concentrated effort to write every day and be proactive about getting the material out there, which by the way, involved sitting down with a piano or guitar in a publisher’s office. Even though our first credit was for songs for a feature entitled, The Only Way Home, the going was slow and it wasn’t until Tom moved to Nashville that his dream became a reality. Fortunately, about the same time he made that move, opportunities arose for me and my new partner, Howard Pearl as a result of a personal connection of Howard’s and using material from the movie as a calling card. We began composing for shows at Paramount, which sustained us for the next ten years. There are others who successfully stay directed toward one particular goal, be that a career composing for films or games or whatever your final objective might be. If you won’t settle for anything less, stay directed and there’s no doubt that you’ll fulfill that ambition.

The next thing I’d point out is the old adage that there is nothing as certain as change. I’ve seen it in my father’s career in the courtroom and watching as my daughter embarks on a career in journalism, the changes are staggering over what the paradigm was ten years ago and the changes are more than obvious in our business of media music. You must be willing to embrace a certain percentage of those changes that are going around, because you can be guaranteed, change is going to occur, and the business you start in will not be the same business as years go by. Many of these changes are good, but unfortunately some are lamentable. One of the topics that’s dealt with in this quarter’s publication of the Score, is the reduction of live recording here in Los Angeles over the past few years. It’s true; I used to follow my friend and concertmaster, Sid Sharp around Hollywood for as many as three sessions a day. Unfortunately, as the technology allowed more production to be done in the box, much of that work for string players went away. In my own case, ninety percent of the recording sessions I had for the first decade featured between 25 to 30 musicians. The reduction of the size of the band and the reduction of work has not been something that has been good for our industry and unfortunately, it begins to change the way that our music is heard and perceived when it is lacking the live element. One of my biggest hopes is that we can turn this trend around. It will take our communities banding together to find equitable solutions that can focus on the wonderful synergy between our two groups. I can promise you, the music will sound better and you will have the benefit of the experience that the players will bring to your projects. The byproduct will be sustaining the world-class studios we have available to us and, perhaps most importantly, it will make your life and career enriched in a fashion that is beyond words. One thing I can promise, 35 years from now, the value that live players will bring to your scores will not diminish.

From my personal perspective, perhaps loving what you do is the single most important element for your own well-being. Working in the studio with the world’s finest musicians and being able to create something new every time I sit down to write is a blessing. I continue to enjoy composing to the same degree I did 35 years ago. In counting my own good fortune, I also have been honored to serve this great organization over the last ten years. Not only has it been fulfilling, but I have also had the joy of seeing so many of you grow and flourish in your own careers. We are faced with many challenges that must be addressed, but I know that working together, 35 years from today our business will be better and our creative outpourings will be more inspired than I could imagine. I am certain that the Society of Composers & Lyricists will only continue to grow and serve our community well into 2048.

Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XXVIII, Number One, Spring 2013]