Archive for April, 2014

April 28, 2014


“How do I become a composer?” is a question that is often sent to me by young people who would like to make a living at creating music.  I am honored that these aspiring composers look to me for advice, but there is no easy answer to this question.  There are no magical shortcuts to achieving success as a composer.

So let’s begin at the very beginning: Study the basics of music in school.  Regardless of the instrument(s) you play, the more you play, the more you will understand and appreciate the complexity of musical composition.

And know that there is a good reason why your teachers select a number of very old,  classical compositions for your school band or orchestra to perform, along with the occasional fun, contemporary themes from a Disney movie or a video game.  The creators of those movie and game themes learned from the “old masters,” too.

For music students, aspiring composers, or for anyone who enjoys film scores, I highly recommend CDs from the Varese Sarabande catalog:

Varese Sarabande is a Los Angeles-based company that specializes in film and TV scores and soundtracks.  I had the great fortune of working with record producer Robert Townson, the fearless leader of Varese Sarabande, when his label released my “MechWarrior 4: Vengeance” video game soundtrack in the year 2000.

And I’ve listened to, and learned from, many of Varese Sarabande’s compilation CDs saluting great film composers.  Just yesterday, in fact, I listened to “Themes from ‘The Phantom Menace’ and Other Film Hits,” a Varese Sarabande release from 1999.

The liner notes for this CD, written by Paul Tonks, explained that the summer of 1999 was epic at the box office, thanks to a number of blockbuster films that remain popular to this day.

The CD opens with music written by John Williams for “Star Wars: Episode One: The Phantom Menace.”  It also features memorable compositions from “The Mummy” (Jerry Goldsmith), “The Wild, Wild West” (Elmer Bernstein),  “The Matrix” (Don Davis),  “The Sixth Sense” (James Newton Howard) and more.

Tonks concluded in his liner notes, “It’s intriguing to note that at the dawn of the new millennium, even Hollywood realizes that what’s new is not necessarily better and what’s young is not necessarily fresh.”

He went on to say that a “triumvirate of veteran composers” (Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein and John Williams) were responsible for a bumper crop of the best-known movie themes over a course of several decades.

An up-and-coming composer might view such comments as discouraging:  “If the same old guys score all the films, where is there room for me in this business?”   But stubbornness and a passion to create new music will help you to push past those obstacles and to make your mark as a musician or composer.

Here’s an interesting article about Robert Townson and his role at Varese Sarabande:

And if your budget prevents you from purchasing CDs of film and TV soundtracks, check to see what’s available at your  local public library.  Most have excellent collections of  music CDs that you can borrow and use for inspiration.

Robert Townson 2000Robert Townson at the “MechWarrior 4: Vengeance” mastering session for my original soundtrack CD on the Varese Sarabande record label.

April 9, 2014


This week, I watched a great documentary on PBS, “The Dave Clark Five and Beyond — Glad All Over.”  It renewed my appreciation for the Dave Clark Five, a band that in many ways rivaled The Beatles in the days of music’s so-called British Invasion.  I also learned lots that I hadn’t known before, about the Dave Clark Five and especially Dave Clark himself.

The program featured insights from other hugely successful pop/rock artists, such as Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder and Elton John.  In just the first few minutes of the show, Ozzy Osbourne remarked that Dave Clark “made drumming look sexy!” and Bruce Springsteen gushed about the Dave Clark Five’s “big, nasty-sounding records.”  Of course, Springsteen meant that the group’s sound was big and nasty in the best possible way.

While The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were guitar-driven bands, the Dave Clark Five prominently featured a keyboardist and a sax player.   Plus, it was very unique to see a rock band with the drummer as its front man.   Dave Clark often set up his drums in front of the other band members or had them stand off to the sides, putting himself in plain view of the audience.

Yet in the Dave Clark Five, the keyboard player, Mike Smith, was no slouch either.  In fact, he was the group’s lead singer.

Having been a drummer for many years, before I began playing keyboards, watching this “Glad All Over” documentary gave me somewhat of an “A-ha!” moment.  The guitar players often got more of the glory, but now I don’t feel so bad.

Last but not least, the program highlighted Dave Clark’s prowess as a manager, on both the musical and business levels.   Clark made a wise decision to cut back on touring in the U.S. when the fun of being on the road — or even traveling on the band’s private plane, the DC5 — started to fade away.  However, the Dave Clark Five remained a major force in the U.K. and elsewhere overseas, for several years after the group stopped touring America.

More importantly, Clark had the smarts to hang onto his master recordings and publishing rights, when so many other artists (Paul Mc Cartney included) knew nothing about the business side of music and lived to regret their lack of involvement in such decisions.  And by the way, Dave Clark also directed and produced the documentary “The Dave Clark Five and Beyond — Glad All Over.”

All in all, watching this program on PBS was a real eye-opener.  It was much more than just an entertaining trip down memory lane.  Young musicians today could still learn a lot from what bands like the Dave Clark Five accomplished decades ago and why Clark’s business decisions, as well as the group’s hits, are still so impressive.