Archive for March, 2012

March 28, 2012


Around 1995, I started composing instrumental music cues for production music libraries.  Unlike a work-for-hire, production music libraries have music that is available for a wide variety of applications and is non-exclusive.  TV or film producers can peruse the selections and make use of all or part of your compositions, for a fee.

DSM Producers was the first production music library to license some of my music for programs that appeared on HBO. Over the years, I’ve expanded my reach to include other production music libraries based in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle and London.  There are pros and cons to doing this type of work as a composer.

Because the music is not commissioned by a particular TV or film producer, you don’t know up-front whether anyone will use it, or when.  You don’t see the fruits of your labor right away.  You may wait months or years before finding out that a cue has been selected to appear on a TV show or in a film.  You normally don’t know that has a cue has been used until you receive a royalty check, unless you’re watching all the TV channels, all of the time.  Sometimes you never know the exact name of the show where your music was used.  Smaller companies don’t track this type of information.  You only know that you’re getting paid for “x amount” of a song that was used, for instance in China or Poland or Sweden.  ASCAP (Performing Rights Organization) is better at reporting details about where and how your music has been used.

Still, however, you can make some decent money composing this type of music — if you are persistent, self-disciplined and have other income streams on which you can rely.  And it’s awfully fun to learn where your music cues pop up.

In the last couple of years, my music was featured in 18 episodes of Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food.”  Since I happen to be a fan of the show, that was an unexpected treat.  As well, my music has appeared in 14 episodes of PBS’ “History Detectives” and 11 episodes of Travel Channel’s “Extreme …” series.  And other successes have been all over the map, from “The Oprah Winfrey Show” (Harpo Productions) and “Barbara Walters Presents” (ABC) to shows on VH1, MTV, Cartoon Network, Science Channel and many more.

My full-time composing/audio design gig at IGT keeps me busy and happy, but in my spare time, I hope to continue writing material for production music libraries.

March 25, 2012


I’m often contacted by music students who aspire to careers as composers and want to know how I got to where I am today.  That’s a long story, but to be successful as a composer and/or musician, you have to start with the basics, you have to love music more than anything, be willing to take risks and refuse to give up.

Watching reality TV shows like “The Voice” constantly reminds me of this.  To their credit, the judges on this show (Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green and Blake Shelton) are actually quite diplomatic, even when telling fledgling singers that they weren’t bowled over by their performances.  Still, there are some competitors who don’t get picked by even one of the vocal coaches and have to walk away with nothing more than a wish for better luck next time.

Rejection hurts.  But it’s a part of any creative career.  No one makes it to the top of their field as a singer, songwriter, musician or composer without having been told, at some point, that they don’t have what it takes.  Often, it’s simply a matter of not being in the right place at the right time.

Maybe it’s like the old saying, “That which does not kill you makes you stronger.”  I’ve been blessed with some great jobs, I’ve collaborated with some very talented people and consider myself truly fortunate to be making a living doing what I love to do, creating music.  But it didn’t happen by accident or without getting trashed by some pretty harsh critics. I won’t call them out by name — they know who they are.

And yet, this is not to say that all criticism is worthless.  You learn from your mistakes.  But you can’t take the trash talk to heart.  Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, believe in yourself and you’ll be surprised by what you can achieve.

March 11, 2012


As a teenager and young adult in upstate New York and Southern California, I reveled in being onstage, performing live as a drummer, and later keyboardist, for audiences in such diverse settings as school gyms, Navy bases and nightclubs like the famous Whisky A-Go-Go.  And of course, playing the occasional big concert for thousands of people was always a treat.  For many years, I toured the U.S. and Canada with a variety of rock bands and solo acts.  It was fun and rewarding, even when the venues were less than glamorous.

 But playing live is by no means the only way to influence or impact people with your musical talent.  If anyone had told me, when I was in high school or college, that I would someday be touring as a product specialist/clinician for musical instrument manufacturers such as Kurzweil or E-mu Systems, or scoring music for pinball, video games or slot machines, I’d have thought they were dead-wrong.  In some circles, that would be seen as “selling out.”  And in fact, I’ve occasionally run into old friends who’ve expressed disbelief or disapproval when I’ve told them I’ve been happy to move on and branch out.

 Music has tremendous power to lift moods, relieve stress or tell a story, whether you’re hearing it in a concert hall, at a trade show, on television or in an arcade or casino.  For me, it’s been surprising to see how and where my production music cues have popped up, on TV shows devoted to history, travel, food and so much more.  As such, I tell up-and-coming musicians and composers to seize every opportunity.  Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to experiment.  You never know where it will take you or how your work may be exposed to new listeners that you wouldn’t have otherwise reached.

ImageThe Norsmen was my first professional band.  We were all in Junior High together.  I am on drums.