Posts tagged ‘entertainment’

August 30, 2012

LOUNGE ACT BLUES

When asked about the low points of my music career, I can’t forget the stint I did as keyboard player/singer with a boring lounge act called Jim, Bonnie and Duane. We had a steady gig at a restaurant/lounge called The Hungry Hunter in a Southern California beach town. The best thing I remember about the gig was that we got free food — and it was good food, too. The pay was also decent. But playing middle-of-the-road cover tunes by acts like The Captain and Tennille and Fleetwood Mac was painful, considering my preference for artists such as The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.

It was also a very strange thing for me to be on a tiny stage playing background music for the dinner crowd, using a full-blown modular Moog and RMI Keyboard Computer. My equipment alone took up most of the stage and Bonnie would sing in front of this 6-inch-high stage. I could have (and probably should have) played this gig with one small electric piano.

At some point, Bonnie left the group due to medical problems. And so the act became the even-less-riveting duo of Jim and Duane. We shifted over to a regular gig in National City, California … and the boredom continued, but it was a source of income. When Bonnie recovered from her illness, she rejoined the act. One night, she set a beer on top of my amp and it spilled, ruining the amp. That was it. I couldn’t take it anymore. “See ya later, Jim and Bonnie.”

Fortunately, I was then invited to join a successful Denver-based band named Reign. The musicians were very talented but a bit lazy. They didn’t practice much — and they focused on cover material. Their repertoire was much more challenging than the song list from the Jim, Bonnie and Duane days. Singing/playing hits by Journey, Kansas and Earth, Wind and Fire was tolerable, but whenever I’d suggest adding some original songs, I was shot down. As Reign’s line-up began to disintegrate, I was forced to look for another touring band and really hoping for a chance to “upgrade” to one that was more ambitious.

Timing was on my side. A band named Canary, which played the same Western U.S. circuit as Reign, had recently lost its drummer, Bill Gent, to a new band called Lois Lane. In turn, Lois Lane was looking for a keyboard player/backup singer. Bill, who had seen me with Reign, recommended me for the gig. I spent several years with Lois Lane, playing original material and developing new skills and increased confidence, which later paid off in a number of other great music jobs.

The take-away lesson is that anyone striving to be a musician or composer, or maybe anyone in any line of creative work, must be patient, flexible and confident that sometimes the least glamorous jobs will sustain you while you follow your true calling.

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May 4, 2012

MOOG & ME

Dr. Robert Moog, whose last name actually rhymes with “vogue,” is universally lauded as the father of musical synthesis. I’m honored to say that he was also a mentor and friend when I worked as a product specialist and clinician for Kurzweil Music Systems in the 1980s.

Bob’s most famous invention, the Moog Synthesizer, produced other-worldly or majestic sounds that have been utilized by The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Doors, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Electric Light Orchestra, Duran Duran and countless other recording artists.  I owned and toured with a modular Moog IIIC and other Moog products throughout my live music and composing careers.  From my view as a musician and composer, Bob’s genius can not be understated.

In a March 1997 interview with the online magazine Perfect Sound Forever, Dr. Moog was asked, “Were you worried that synthesizers would replace musicians/orchestras?”  Bob replied, “I was never worried that synthesizers would replace musicians. First of all, you have to be a musician in order to make music with a synthesizer. And second, I never thought that analog synthesizer sounds would ever be mistaken for traditional musical instrument sounds. To me the synthesizer was always a source of new sounds that musicians could use to expand the range of possibilities for making music.”

That was a brief but very accurate observation.  A synthesizer or any musical instrument does not play itself.  It is a tool with which a musician or composer can create and perform music.  There now are software products that emulate the sounds of orchestral instruments, as well as synthesizers, and I frequently use them to compose music, but the music does not compose itself.

Getting back to Bob Moog and his affiliation with Kurzweil, at the time I met him, he was Vice President for new product research.  When I joined the company, it was “jaw-droppingly” cool to be working alongside this legend.  He was extremely intelligent and gave very honest feedback when asked for his opinions on music or technology.

I specifically remember talking to him about an idea I had for a new piece of equipment.  Bob simply responded, “You can build anything you want, but that doesn’t mean you can sell it.”  That kind of honesty made me realize that Bob was truly passionate about his work and was willing to pass on his knowledge.

He also was a very congenial and approachable guy with a great sense of humor.  I did a brief tour with him to promote Kurzweil equipment and he would always go out of his way to talk to everyone who wanted to talk to him.  There were also a few company parties where we all cut loose.  Bob was not a wallflower and partied as hard as we did.  What a refreshing thing, to have known someone who was both a true innovator and such a humble and genuine person.  Thank you Bob!

Bob and me after a long day at the trade show.

March 28, 2012

THE BIG PRODUCTION NUMBER

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.