VARIETY IS KEY TO COMPOSING

If you’ve ever said, “I wouldn’t be caught dead composing [insert your least favorite musical style here]”, then you’re probably not going to make a living as a full-time composer. That’s not to say that you can’t excel in your chosen style and become wealthy and famous. It simply means that the majority of composers are usually challenged with creating music in genres that are either new to them or that they actually dislike for one reason or another.

In the case of being faced with something that I’ve never done before, I had never created an eight-minute overture in sonata allegro form for a live symphony orchestra. Yet my good friend Gabriel Sakakeeny asked me to do just that for the American Philharmonic – Sonoma County. It was a big challenge to learn how to arrange music that I had written for video games and put it into a format that is centuries old.

Then there is the inevitable project that uses a musical genre that you don’t care for. When I was playing live in the ’70s and ’80s, there were tons of club and concert venues across the U.S. and Canada that hired live bands to perform every night. Then came the disco era and these venues could draw big crowds by simply hiring a DJ to spin dance records. Naturally, it became harder for a live music act to play enough shows to make a living. I always thought the musicianship on some of these records was outstanding, but they were taking work away from me. So I viewed disco music with a fair amount of contempt.

But fast forward to today. In my job at IGT, I get to create and arrange tracks in a very wide variety of styles. I am currently working on two games that have licensed disco tracks. When I was told about it, I smiled and said, “Yes, I can do that” when the producers asked. The game designer knew how much I disliked disco and now teases me by calling me “Disco Duane” (with a smile on his face, of course).

But after copying, arranging, performing and producing every last note of these songs, I have a newfound appreciation for the genre. Both “Fire” by Ohio Players and “Disco Inferno” by The Trammps are extremely well- written, performed and produced records that were chart-toppers in their day. I learned a lot about funk rhythm and style that I will certainly use in other projects in the future. The down side, however, is that now I can’t stop humming “disco inferno, burn that motha down …”

So if you’re planning on being a composer for a living, continue to learn about and explore other styles of music. Even if you don’t care for the style, it will give you a larger composing palette that will come in handy and increase your value in the future. Next big challenge for me – opera!

If you’d like to see how many different musical styles I’ve taken on, the credits page on my Web site will give you a pretty good idea.

http://www.duanedecker.com/credits.html

Here’s a picture from my high-tech solo act.

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