Archive for September, 2013

September 28, 2013

LOGOS

IGT Sign

IGT unveiled its new logo to the world this past week at the annual G2E trade show in Las Vegas. The photo above is the new sign in front of our corporate headquarters in Reno. As a composer at IGT, I have been aware for several months that the logo would be changing. But what I didn’t realize is how important a simple logo can be to identifying a brand.

IGT’s investment in branding made me think about how we perceive a product or service. So I decided to make a change to the Credits page on my Web site (http://www.duanedecker.com/credits.html) to be more in line with other sites that I respect. That included removing all of the tiny pictures of specific projects that I have worked on and replacing them with logos from some of the companies that have used my music.

As I started collecting the photos and arranging them on the page, I instantly recognized small images that meant something special to me. The more images I added, the more I realized that we all recall our own experiences when we see a familiar logo. I guess that’s where the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” came from.

Amazing how powerful a tiny graphic design can be.

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September 21, 2013

THE BEEF SONG

Years ago, when United Airlines began running a number of advertisements featuring music from George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” a lot of people began referring to this classic composition as “The United Airlines Song.”

Similarly, Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown” piece from “Rodeo” became widely known as “The Beef Song,” due to its inclusion in “Beef … It’s What for Dinner!” commercials.  Elmer Bernstein’s theme from the Western movie “The Magnificent Seven” has been referred to as “The Marlboro Song.”  And recently, I’ve heard people calling “Sexy People” (recorded by Arianna featuring Pitbull) “The Fiat Song.” It is said to contain portions of the Italian song called “Torna a Surriento” composed in 1902 by Ernesto De Curtis.

I’m not putting Pitbull in the same category as Gershwin, Copland or Elmer Bernstein, but my point is that licensed music on TV commercials often ends up being associated with that product rather than the person or persons who created or performed the music.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?  That, of course, depends on your point of view.  If you’re a music teacher or someone who appreciates fine music, it can be shocking or upsetting to realize that many consumers have no real knowledge of the significance of the music or the composer.

For the composer, if he or she is still alive and aware of the misunderstanding, it can probably be offensive or else simply regarded with mild amusement.  Keep in mind that when a major company licenses the use of music in its commercials, the composer (or his/her estate) does make a lot of money.

I remember being very surprised — and turned off — the first time I heard Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” featured on a Cadillac commercial.  As a kid, or young adult, I thought of Cadillacs as cars that rich old men drove.  Thus, how could Jimmy Page and Robert Plant “sell out” and allow this music to be used for such a purpose?  Or as Jack Black’s character in “School of Rock” might protest, “What happened to stickin’ it to the man?”

Presently, I would be lying if I told you that I wouldn’t be thrilled if one of my compositions got picked up for use on a major ad campaign.  It could enhance my reputation and yes, it could be lucrative.  I suppose that my attitude toward the situation would also depend on the type of product that was being advertised.  Would I want my name and my image to be aligned with that product?

I don’t work in the advertising industry and don’t know exactly why specific pieces of music are selected to represent certain products.  In the cases I mentioned above, I can take some guesses.

United Airlines has a blue logo and it wants your flying experience to be rhapsodic, rapturous, exhilarating.  Beef production and consumption are associated with cowboys, the Wild West, bountiful living.  The Marlboro Man, the symbol of Marlboro Cigarettes when cigarette ads were still allowed on TV, was a rugged cowboy.  Fiat and Cadillac want you to believe that the people who drive their cars are sexy and cool.

The next time you hear a catchy pop song or a piece of classical music on a TV commercial for a car, a hamburger, a bank or any other product or service, do me a favor.  Stop to think about why you like or dislike the music and why you think it was chosen to sell or promote that product.  Then, last but not least, take the time to look up the name of the composer and learn something about him or her.

September 11, 2013

VIRTUAL INSTRUMENTS

DDMLLC Studio 2013

I love working with live musicians in the studio. Their performances really bring music to life. Unfortunately, it is very costly. Only the big projects have budgets large enough to cover those expenses. So a lot of the music that I compose and produce for games, television and film utilizes virtual instruments. Like the name implies, virtual instruments are digital recreations of musical instruments that are played utilizing a computer.

The photo above shows my home studio. It is a state-of-the-art, one-person recording studio using computer technology, that allows me to compose and produce professional quality music. It consists of a well-equipped Mac Pro, five flat screen monitors, a 5.1 speaker system, audio and MIDI interfaces, keyboard controller, drum controller, mix controller, high-end music and sound design specific software and over a terabyte library of virtual musical instruments and sound effects. It was decades in the making and took several generations of technology to evolve into what it is today.

While anyone can walk into a music store and call up a cool patch on a synthesizer, there is a lot more to composing with virtual instruments than pressing a button. No matter what type of controller you use, each instrument has its own character and specific uses. Learning how to utilize the technology to create a musical experience, knowing how to play each instrument and how to create a cohesive ensemble is paramount.

Like most current composers for media, I start out writing the music as an electronically-realized score using virtual instruments. This technique allows for unlimited trial and error experimentation that’s just not possible using pen and paper or making changes on the fly in a commercial recording studio. It saves a lot of time and money because I can create demos for a producer, director, game designer, etc. that are accurate representations of what the final music will sound like. I can also work without worrying about the hourly rate of a commercial facility, which can quickly kill creativity.

If budget allows, these virtual tracks are then transcribed into sheet music for each of the live session players, in addition to the full scores for the conductor and session producers. A commercial recording studio is normally used to record all of the live players because they are best equipped for live tracking sessions. Those tracks are then mixed down to the desired format (stereo, surround, etc.). That mix is then mastered into its final delivery state for the specific media format. I have always mixed and mastered in my own studio because I know the equipment and sound characteristics of the room.

If the budget is small, then all of the processes are completed in a computer workstation using virtual instruments.

As with most things associated with the technologically savvy world we live in, composers are faced with learning and being an expert at a myriad of skills. We now routinely fill all the roles that were once segmented. These include composer, arranger, musician, orchestrator, technologist, studio owner, recording engineer, mix engineer, mastering engineer, as well as handling the business, marketing, finance, and the people skills required to please the client.

And as with any career worthy of your time and passion, it takes a very long time to master these skills— and the practice and learning never stops. There is always something else that will challenge you and inspire you to keep going. From my perspective, it’s all worth it!