As all composers who have done TV will tell you, a long stint composing for an episodic
TV show brings with it the challenge of fighting off complacency and the boredom of
repetition. In many cases, the style of a show is set up very early, perhaps even in the
pilot, and is the basis for the musical palette that follows the show and even individual
characters. This is , of course a good thing for the continuity and style of the program.
Whether they pay attention to the show or not, viewers become accustomed to the sound
of a show, both the score and the source style.
The challenge for a composer is to stay inspired within the range established so that the
intensity and quality does not diminish over time. When the script and acting are very good,
this is not a problem. On the other hand, when an episodic is consistently below par it is
more of an issue. From my appoint of view, I like to identify the weakest link, be it an
actor or a story line, and try to support it as best I can without being intrusive. For
instance, one might be working on a suspense episode and the character in danger is just
not sympathetic enough for the audience to care. A deft composer can underscore that
character in such a way as to make the audience more invested. The trick is to not be obvious or
indicative to the point of intrusiveness.
As a contrast, I have the good fortune to be starting my fifth season with a show that
never gets boring or repetitive, Travelscope. In that each week we visit new locations,
meet new people and have unique adventures, the music is ethnographically in constant
flux and the situations, while all travel related, can vary widely. I find this immensely
enjoyable and challenging–especially the need to mix the ethnographic elements with
my guitar work and orchestral arrangements. It is wonderful that the existence of Youtube
makes it possible to easily research and gain exposure to practically any music from any
country or period. Of course, the trick is to be able to internalize that sound and
bring it out as your own.
Travelscope is on PBS, so there is really no back end to speak of. I say this too all you
young composers because, although we all need to make a living, money cannot be the sole
quest for a musician, in my opinion. I suggest keeping a solid footing in what makes
you curious, excited and challenged. Music is a wonderful voyage for its own sake.
Get paid, do the work, be a business person, but remember to feed your musical soul.
In the past few years, I have taken on a few select guitar students, kids that are focused,
disciplined and have that passion for guitar. It has been immensely rewarding to both
shepherd their development and find a place to share what I have absorbed over a lifetime
as a guitarist.
Earlier today, my eldest and longest under my tutelage came to me in sort of a panic.
She had recently been asked into a band situation that required a certain minimum of
basic chart reading. As a teacher, I have determined to teach by ear until the
reading becomes a necessity, feeling that one must learn expression
and technique–ie–develop hands and ears before eyes. It seems to work well
with my students, all of whom are building excellent four finger left hand technique
and great finger picking and flat picking chops with their right. The bottom line
is she was worried about the reading and more importantly about making
mistakes. To put this in context–she is 15 and can play a mean 12 bar as well
as wail like Hendrix, get funky with great feel and finger pick.
15 years old. The band is a funk outfit of young people 14-18 that is being MD’d
by the father of the two young singing horn players. My student is quick enough
to pick up a song in a couple of listenings but she has only begun to handle chord
charts with kicks and specific chordal direction such as C/E.
What this issue highlighted for me was a fear of making mistakes as a musician.
Granted that in a studio session context as a session player, one had better
be pretty quick and pretty accurate–as well as creative. But in a rehearsal
context, especially as young players, the atmosphere that encourages one to stretch,
experiment, grow and make mistakes is essential. Not to suggest that playing a
specific arrangement accurately is a drag–on the contrary.
But the overwhelming concern to already know how to do everything is not
productive for young players. I often say to my students, play what you hear,
not what you know. Playing what you know
often ends up as a series of practiced riffs–great soloists take chances,
follow the melody in their head and are willing to trip over themselves on
occasion. Generally speaking, one hopes that a chart
leaves some room for this kind of creativity as well. There is usually
a balance that needs to be found here.
Fear does not help, ever. We are all musicians and it is a joy to be
part of this amazing culture, this
special club with it’s own language and its own history and heroes.
In the digital, correct everything, world we live in–perhaps we
should remember that music is a performance art
not only a technological art. I love my studio and all
the bells and whistles, but picking up and acoustic
guitar and just taking it where ever I feel–that is still
at the core of what music is about to me.
Check this out:
For a long time I was hoping to find a live stage video of the Robert Palmer Band
from the era when we were getting ready to release Bad Case of Lovin You.
Amazingly, I stumbled into it on Youtube recently and thought I would share it here.
It is amazing to see my old ’54 Strat(now retired) and get the feel of that band.
That was a really pro bunch of guys. Robert and Jack Waldman are gone now, but
I had the pleasure of seeing Steve Robbins(keys) earlier this year.
In those days I played through a white baseman with a Marshall cabinet. Not too
many pedals–I believe I used an MXR flanger, a Boss overdrive, an MXR 10 band
eq and a Dyna Comp. We slogged it out that year in Europe playing making over 30
appearances in as many days. Glamorous–perhaps a bit, hard work? Definitely.
You might notice differences from the record. We flew down to Compass Point in the
Bahamas later that year to record the final version and do the Secrets Album.
Season Eight of Travelscope is moving rapidly towards a wrap and the great news is, we have been renewed for Season 9. Last year we won an Emmy and I will not be surprised if we do it again. Some really cool episodes on Ontario, Canada, as well as Korea, Taiwan and San Francisco.
I recently completed the score for the San Antonio Fiesta episode here at Retro Smash Studio. That’s quite a party they throw down there each year. It is always enjoyable to work on ethnic and historically influenced musical pieces. That is what makes scoring Travelscope such a challenge and so much fun. As usual I have been working in Digital Perrformer, but this is the first episode I have done using DP9. It is amazing to be able to set the look of the board and various windows to be shades are relaxing and easy on the eyes–like the one titled Ibuprofen. Some of the new bells and whistles are cool too.
On other fronts, Matia’s album, ‘When I Can’t Sleep’ has been getting picked up by Gospel
Stations –not a stretch considering the material and sound, but a pleasant surprise!
Next up: Travelscope episodes from Central Europe with some cool stuff about Bach and the