Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

November 21, 2015

INTERWEAVING THREADS

Whisky marquee

I came across this picture of the marquee at the Whisky a Go Go in Hollywood and it reminded me of how people’s paths can cross over the years.

The story begins when I was still in college in San Diego, working part time as a live sound engineer at a concert club called Earth. The club was known for booking bands that were on their way up the charts.

The owner was helping a band that was being put together with some very talented and experienced musicians from Motown. They were pretty much guaranteed a record deal, but needed to bring the members together. They were going to rehearse at the club during off hours until they were ready to begin recording and touring.

One night, before their drummer arrived, they set up on stage and needed a drummer to fill in. The owner knew that I was a pretty good drummer and always carried my drum kit in my van. So I was invited to jam with the band that was to become Maxayn. It was a great experience for a college kid to play with such amazing musicians.

By the time I graduated from college, I was also playing keyboards and had designed and co-built my first synthesizer. After attempting to go it alone as a solo act, I joined the band Madame Beast as their keyboard player. We were based in Hollywood and toured the U.S. extensively, building a following that would appeal to record labels.

A couple of years in, we came back to Hollywood to do a showcase at the Whisky (as it was called then) for the record labels. Low and behold, we were sharing the billing with Maxayn. While we were both extremely busy focusing on our shows, I did drop by their dressing room for a minute. It was good to see them and I wished them a great set.

Several years passed and I had been in several different bands since then. My current band was Lois Lane. We were also touring to make a name for ourselves so that the record labels would sign us. By that time, the leader of the Maxayn group, Andre Lewis, was pioneering a new genre called techno-funk. He was playing as Mandré.

Unexpectedly, at an outdoor show somewhere in the prairie states, we shared the bill with Mandré. This meeting wasn’t quite what you might expect. And it was one of the few live shows that Andre ever performed as Mandré. Andre was dressed as a helmeted space man. (Note: Daft Punk wasn’t the first to be anonymous space men.) It was difficult to talk to him because of his helmet. But again, it was good to know that we were both still playing shows and exploring new music.

I eventually stopped playing in bands and returned to being a solo act. This time I was using the latest synthesizer technology. Because of the knowledge I acquired doing that, I then became a Product Specialist for synthesizer manufacturers Kurzweil Music Systems and then E-mu Systems. It’s uncanny that Andre became highly influential in synth and drum machine design for Roland around the same time.

While Andre and I were never best of friends, we shared a lot of the same passion for music and technology. It was always great to hear about Andre’s accomplishments and to remember that night that we shared a jam session at a place called Earth.

May you never forget the people you meet on your journey. You never know when you will cross paths with them again.

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July 25, 2015

PLAYING THE COLLEGE CIRCUIT: TALES FROM THE RUSTY VAN

In the early 1980s, before I worked as a product specialist for synthesizer companies, I did a high-tech solo act that performed at night clubs and college campuses around Chicago and the Midwestern U.S.

The college circuit was actually pretty lucrative and it was a good way to get exposure for my original music around the time that I released a 4-song EP called “Hard Disk Drive.” But I certainly have some hilarious memories from that time in my career.

There was a rusty van that I used to haul equipment to the gigs in those days. It had no passenger seat, so I put an old armchair inside for the front seat passenger (my wife). The “roadies,” usually some friends or my wife’s cousins, would sit in the back, avoiding a hole in the floor. I don’t think that vehicle was officially considered road-worthy.

For the piece de resistance, the decrepit van frequently had engine trouble. If the engine was hard to start, I learned that sticking a broom handle into the carburetor would do the trick. But imagine my embarrassment when the van was parked in front of the administration building at some college in downstate Illinois and I had to open the hood of the van and stick the broom handle into the carburetor while the president of the college was standing there, gaping in disbelief. I’m sure that made quite an impression on him. The wrong impression!

Seriously, though, there were (and probably still are) some real advantages to performing on college campuses.

As I told a writer named Joe Ziemba, in a 1984 story in Chicago Soundz magazine, “The college circuit is a step in the right direction …because you get an immediate response, whether it be positive or negative. In a club, the response might not always be there and you don’t know if it’s you, the club or the indifference of the audience, which may just be there to get drunk or pick up somebody.”

Other good points of playing at colleges included the fact that many of the shows were scheduled during lunch hours or in the early evening. It was nice to finish a show, pack up and be on my way by 10 or 11 p.m. instead of going onstage at midnight. The college venues were usually cleaner and more luxurious than most night clubs, too.

In some of the smaller college towns, the students were appreciative to have some “big city” talent coming their way. In addition, many students welcomed the chance to help with unloading and loading equipment, to learn more about the music business.

Of course, professional conduct was expected when performing on college campuses. That meant showing up on time, dressing neatly, not using profanity or drinking alcohol in front of the audience. I worked with several booking agencies which were members of the National Association for Campus Activities and they wouldn’t tolerate “bad musician behavior” that would reflect poorly upon them.

While it’s been many years since I traveled the college circuit, I still remember the good, bad and just plain ridiculous moments. My high-tech solo act and the shows that I played during that timeframe were an important part of my journey to doing what I now love doing: working as a full-time composer.

Chicago Soundz Magazine

May 17, 2015

SUMMERTIME BLUES

There IS a Cure for the Summertime Blues

“There ain’t no cure for the summertime blues,” says a rock anthem by Eddie Cochran, also famously recorded by Blue Cheer and The Who.

With the traditional school year wrapping up, many high school and college students will spend summer working at unexciting jobs or just being bored and restless. For aspiring musicians and composers, I’d like to offer some ways to get closer to your goals.

• START A GARAGE BAND. Once upon a time (all right, I’m dating myself), there were garage bands on every block. Not so much anymore. Engaging with other musicians in your neighborhood and doing a little jamming is fun, not to mention that friendly competition can motivate you to sharpen your skills.

• PRACTICE OUTDOORS. I can truthfully tell you that my parents never had to nag me to practice my drums. Music was my passion and they probably wished that I had been more passionate about pulling weeds or taking out the trash. But on nice days, who wants to practice indoors? I used to set up my drum kit in a canyon where I could play loudly AND experience the great weather and scenery. Naturally, if you plan to play an instrument outdoors, be considerate of the neighbors and local noise ordinances.

• CHECK OUT YOUR PARKS AND RECREATION DEPARTMENT. Many cities and towns have free or inexpensive summer music classes or workshops in community centers or teen centers.

• VOLUNTEER AT A MUSIC FESTIVAL OR MUSICAL THEATER. Working in the box office, ushering, selling refreshments, etc. can be opportunities to meet others who are interested in music, fulfill community service requirements for school or just take in some free entertainment.

• WATCH MOVIES ABOUT MUSICIANS.
Some are more realistic than others, but here are a few of my favorite movies that show the highs and lows of being a musician:

“A Hard Day’s Night” (rated G), “That Thing You Do!” (PG), “Drumline” (PG-13), “Ray” (PG-13), “Grace of My Heart” (R), “Almost Famous” (R), “The Blues Brothers” (R).

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry … You’ll hear some great soundtracks!

And although it’s not a movie “about musicians,” per se, “Fantasia 2000” (G) matches classical masterpieces, performed by the wonderful Chicago Symphony Orchestra, with gorgeous Disney animation. I especially recommend this film for anyone who is interested in scoring music for film.

• MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR SUMMER!
Whatever you do, remember that summer doesn’t last very long.
Stay busy, stay positive and enjoy every moment.

In addition to playing my drums outdoors, I owned a surfboard when my family lived in Southern California. I didn't become a great surfer, but I'm glad I at least tried it. Make the most of your summer!

In addition to playing my drums outdoors, I owned a surfboard when my family lived in Southern California. I didn’t become a great surfer, but I’m glad I at least tried it. Make the most of your summer!

February 19, 2015

NOMINATIONS SOUGHT FOR WORLD VIDEO GAME HALL OF FAME

The Strong in Rochester, N.Y., also known as the National Museum of Play, has established the World Video Game Hall of Fame and is seeking online nominations for the inaugural class, through March 31, 2015.

A press release from The Strong explained that the World Video Game Hall of Fame “will recognize individual electronic games of all types — arcade, console, computer, handheld and mobile — that have enjoyed popularity for a sustained period and have exerted influence on the video game industry or on popular culture and society in general.”

As a composer who has created music for pinball games, PC games, Xbox games, casino games and online games, I’m excited about this new hall of fame and what it represents.  It’s gratifying to know that this respected museum will recognize electronic games as being culturally significant and meaningful, for the long haul.

The World Video Game Hall of Fame is seeking nominations for electronic games that meet the following criteria:

• ICON-STATUS: “The game is widely recognized and remembered.”

• LONGEVITY: “The game is more than a passing fad and has enjoyed popularity over time.”

• GEOGRAPHICAL REACH: “The game meets the above criteria across international boundaries.”

• INFLUENCE: “The game has exerted significance on the design and development of other games, on other forms of entertainment, or on popular culture and society in general. A game may be included on the basis of the last criterion without necessarily having met all of the first three.”

It’s interesting to note that The Strong is home to the National Toy Hall of Fame, in addition to being the home of the International Center for the History of Electronic Games.

Just as a point of reference, the National Toy Hall of Fame currently includes everything from 
alphabet blocks and baby dolls to Barbie dolls, Hot Wheels, LEGOS, Mr. Potato Head, Atari 2600 Game System, Nintendo Game Boy and Rubik’s Cube. These toys are well-known and loved by people of many generations.

Anyone can nominate a game for the World Video Game Hall of Fame at
http://www.worldvideogamehalloffame.org/nominate

According to The Strong’s press release, “Finalists will be determined by an internal advisory committee and inductees to the hall will be made on the advice of an international selection committee made up of journalists, scholars and other individuals familiar with the history of video games and their role in society.”

In other words, this isn’t entirely a “people’s choice” award.  But people who are passionate about electronic games can be an important part of the process to select games worthy of induction into the World Video Game Hall of Fame.

To learn more about the World Video Game Hall of Fame, visit
http://www.worldvideogamehalloffame.org.

December 29, 2014

WISE WORDS FROM “STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST”

I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions.  But if you’d like to become a composer or any sort of creative artist, I’d like to recommend a book that recently came my way.  The book is called “Steal Like An Artist” and the subtitle is “10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative.”  The bestselling author is Austin Kleon, a writer and artist.

My son read “Steal Like An Artist” for one of his college classes and gave his copy of the book to my wife, who then shared it with me.  It’s an “easy read”  — you could read it in about an hour — but this little book is filled with valuable advice.

The main thrust of the book is that no work of art is completely original.  All brilliant ideas were inspired by the ideas and accomplishments of others. Thus, when Kleon suggests that we should steal like an artist, he doesn’t mean that we plagiarize or take credit for others’ work.

He means that we should choose the kind of art we want to create, study everything we can about our favorite artists and pay tribute to them by creating unforgettable art of our own.

Here’s a wise observation from page 17 of  “Steal Like An Artist.”  Kleon wrote, “Seeing yourself as part of a creative lineage will help you feel less alone as you start making your own stuff.  I hang pictures of my favorite artists in my studio.  They’re like friendly ghosts.  I can almost feel them  pushing me forward as I’m hunched over my desk.”

Kleon added, “The great thing about dead or remote masters is that they can’t refuse you as an apprentice.  You can learn whatever you want them from them.  They left their lesson plans in their work.”

Kleon has made a great point.  Many fledgling composers or artists have trouble getting started or are too intimidated to even try. Identifying your heroes and deciding what you admire about their work can give you the courage to follow in their footsteps.

“At some point, you’ll have to move from imitating your heroes to emulating them.  Imitation is about copying.  Emulation is when imitation goes one step further, breaking through into your own thing,” Kleon explained on page 38 of “Steal Like An Artist.”

I have found this to be true in my own career.  I’ve often been asked to compose a piece of music that is similar to the music from a famous film or TV show.  Do I steal another composer’s music?  Of course not, but I analyze what they have written and draw from their influence to create original music that evokes the same emotions.

Perhaps my favorite bit of advice from “Steal Like An Artist” is on page 79.  Kleon wrote, “If there was a secret formula for becoming known, I would give it to you.  But there’s only one not-so-secret formula that I know: Do good work and share it with people.”

So I’m not asking you to make a New Year’s resolution.  Most New Year’s resolutions fizzle out as fast as the bubbles in the glass of champagne or sparkling apple juice that you drank to welcome the New Year.  What I’m asking you to do is to be brave, pursue your creative dreams and most importantly, share your work with your family, friends and community.  Happy 2015 and best of luck.

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September 3, 2014

MY INTERVIEW ON THE JACK PRICE RADIO SHOW

I recently had the pleasure of appearing on the Jack Price Radio Show.  Jack Price was a professional concert pianist for 41 years and is the founding partner and managing director of Price Rubin & Partners, a company which represents an impressive roster of classical and jazz musicians.

Most guests on the Jack Price Radio Show have been well-known names in those musical genres or film/TV music.  For example, Price has interviewed Academy Award-winning composer Bill Conti, Emmy Award-winning composer Hummie Mann, acclaimed conductor Gerard Schwarz, jazz great David Benoit and many more.  So it was a surprise and a real honor when a member of his team reached out to me and asked me if I would like to do an interview.

Price asked me about my work on video games such as “Rise of Nations,” “Rise of Legends” and the “MechWarrior” series, my collaborations with Simon James and the Northwest Sinfonia, the experience of watching legendary film composer Elmer Bernstein “in action,” the importance of technology in music and many other topics.  We chatted about my past projects as a composer for pinball games and video games, my current projects composing music for slot machines and production music for film and TV, as well as the advice I would give to aspiring composers.

I hope that our conversation might provide some valuable tips or insights to young people who want to know how to break into this exciting, but very competitive line of work.

To hear the interview, go to http://www.pricerubin.com/
Click on PRP Radio One
Click on Search Shows
Enter Guest: Duane Decker
Enter Guest Title: Composer
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Click on Listen Now On Duane Decker

August 6, 2014

FROM HARDWARE TO SOFTWARE

A former band-mate recently asked if I still had my huge modular Moog and stack of keyboards that I owned when we were playing in a band together decades ago. While the simple answer is no, there are logical reasons why not.

DuaneDeckerLiveShotLive performance setup – 1980

Back then, I was a live musician who would occasionally go into the studio to record songs. My main focus was playing live and giving audiences the most entertaining show possible. The fact that I carried over 1/2 ton of equipment to every gig was a part of the show. And believe me, despite all the work involved, it was a whole lot of fun.

Each keyboard had a unique sound. While it was possible to manipulate the sounds of each keyboard while on stage, there was not enough time between songs to make dramatic changes – especially with the Moog. There was no “save” button, everything was done manually. The main purpose of all this equipment was to perform live and entertain audiences wherever we went.

 

2014DDMStudio3Duane Decker Music Studio – 2014

Fast forward to today. I no longer play live. I am a full-time Music Composer and Sound Designer. Yes, people really do this for a living and I’m one of the fortunate ones who do. All of my work is done inside my recording studios. My requirements have changed dramatically and so have the technology and instruments that I use.

In order to compose, record and produce music and sound, I now use very powerful professional computer software. I have well over a terabyte of musical instruments and sound effects that allow me to create music and audio in any style. Everything is still performed and recorded in real-time. The main difference is that each part is performed using a keyboard controller and a percussion controller that trigger sampled instruments.

When budgets allow, I can bring in live musicians to record. I have even recorded a full orchestra at a commercial recording studio, then brought those recordings back to my studio to integrate them with my recordings in order to complete the finished product.

Current technology gives me complete control over every aspect of creation, production, delivery and archiving. If I need to call up an old recording session, it can be opened in a matter of seconds. Most new music you hear is produced this way.

I still love going to concerts and admire all of the talented musicians who play live. But my job as a composer and sound designer requires a very different set of tools.

July 3, 2014

THE TRILOGY OF TECHNOLOGY, ART AND MUSIC

As you walk around any game development studio, you’re likely to see the majority of programmers and artists with headphones on, listening to music. It helps them focus on their work and their favorite artists inspire them.

As I was creating my latest YouTube video, I realized how much technology and art inspire me as well. While I’ve always appreciated those elements, creating this video really drove it home.

The technology affords me an almost endless palette of musical instruments, recording, mixing and sound design options. I am able to spread those options across multiple screens so that it only takes a turn of the head to monitor all the processes that are necessary to produce a professional quality master recording of my work. And unlike early in my career, it’s possible to build a fully functional recording studio without costing as much, or more, than a house.

Most of the windows on the screens are not only functional and accurate, but also provide graphically pleasing and stimulating feedback. While I have had a lot of experience in using traditional musical instruments and recording hardware, the high contrast visuals that surround me now are truly inspiring.

If you wish to succeed in a technology, art or music career, never forget that there are elements in each field that can not only help you, but inspire you as well.

May 17, 2014

EVERY T-SHIRT TELLS A STORY

It’s said that every picture tells a story.  Every t-shirt can tell a story, too, if you’re talking about my collection of souvenir shirts from my music career.

In a burst of spring cleaning last weekend, I found and opened a box that apparently had been sealed since my move from Chicago to Seattle more than 15 years ago.  Inside the box was an assortment of t-shirts from my stints with various rock bands and jobs as a music product specialist/clinician, as well as composer/sound designer jobs.

I’ve held onto these shirts, for several decades, not because I plan to wear them anymore but because they bring back great memories.  There are so many stories associated with these old shirts that I’ve decided to launch a weekly Facebook post called “Swag Sunday.”

You’ve probably heard of Throwback Thursday.  Swag Sunday is my take on that trend, using photos of  “swag” I’ve collected to share tales about the educational or sometimes outrageous experiences I’ve had in my musical journey.

To begin this series, here’s the lowdown on this very small mesh shirt that was presented to me by a fan at a nightclub called Mr. B’s in the college town of Ames, Iowa (USA).

IPWMOrgan

This fan found out it was my birthday and gave me this shirt, with the words I PLAY WITH MY ORGAN, spelled out in red felt, as some sort of joke about the Hammond C3 organ that was part of my gear when I was in the band Lois Lane.

What can you say or do when someone you don’t even know hands you such a gift?  The only polite response was to accept it and say, “Hey, thanks!” That is what I did, even though I would never actually wear this shirt.

The same fan baked this birthday cake for me, in the shape of a keyboard stack, with plastic figures of The Beatles on top.  Needless to say, this was a very unexpected and slightly odd gesture.  But I was touched that someone (especially someone I didn’t personally know) would go to the effort to do this.

KeyboardCake

As you can see from this photo of the Lincoln Lodge, the motel where Lois Lane stayed when we performed in Ames, Iowa, it was not a glamorous gig.

LincolnLodgeMotel

Yet after finding this long-lost, crazy shirt, I can smile at the memory of that night.  And I’m grateful that I’ve had opportunities to travel to so many places, meet so many people and entertain them with my music.

MrBsNapkin

Also, reflecting on that particular gig at Mr. B’s, here’s a photo showing the actual shirt that I wore onstage that night.  In retrospect, it looked like a costume from “Star Trek!”

StarTrekShirt

Check out my Facebook page on Sundays for more great swag and the stories behind them!  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Duane-Decker-Music/111562938973298

 

April 28, 2014

HOW DO I BECOME A COMPOSER?

“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:

http://www.varesesarabande.com/servlet/StoreFront

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:

http://www.fimucite.com/fmct5/index.php/en/fimucite-6/guests/61-robert-townson-varese-sarabande-record-producer

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.