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TV Tunesmiths Trade Spotlight for Stability

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Remember Wendy and Lisa from Purple Rain, all tarted up and ready to slam in Prince’s Revolution? They don’t look much like that anymore, and they aren’t rock stars anymore either, but they are making a good living from music, as is Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh:

    Talk about crossover acts. Melvoin, Coleman and Mothersbaugh are among the more noteworthy pop-rock writer-musicians who have largely traded in the hope of recapturing the rock star life for the steady income — and the more rigid structure — of writing scores for TV comedies and dramas.

    Producers are increasingly using songs by rockers and other contemporary artists to heighten the appeal of shows for younger viewers. “Crossing Jordan,” as well as numerous other series such as “Dawson’s Creek,” “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and “Gilmore Girls,” have released soundtracks just like their film counterparts.

    These staff musicians now play in solitude, isolated in cramped studios with keyboards, editing equipment and timers. In most cases, the music will never be heard in its pure form, subordinated to sound effects and dialogue. The TV composers do not share the status enjoyed by other rockers, such as former Oingo Boingo frontman Danny Elfman or Randy Newman, who work in the more glamorous world of film scoring.

    Said Mothersbaugh, “When you’re in a popular band, there’s the rush of a sold-out crowd at the Forum, singing along with lyrics you wrote six months ago. The closest that gets in this job is when you’re on a sound stage with an orchestra. That’s the most exciting it gets. Other than you and the musicians, no one will hear the music the way you wrote it.”

    One of the hardest transitions to make for all the rockers-turned-scorers is to channel their personal creativity into another artist’s vision.

    “The show is God,” Coleman said. “We all must have the same goal — to make the scene work.”

    Added Mothersbaugh: “The story is much more important than the music. That’s the greatest difficulty for most musicians who try and do this. They must be able to change gears and work from [someone else’s] point of view. Some musicians just can’t make that switch. It doesn’t fit their style.”

    He recalled one session early in his scoring career when he was kicked off the sound stage: “I had recorded music with a 120-piece orchestra, and then the producers put in this door creak that was louder, and I yelled, ‘Who came up with this lame idea?’ I was told very quickly that there might be other things I might want to do the next day.”

    As he’s adjusted to his new line of work, Mothersbaugh has drawn on his experience as just one member of a band; as for Melvoin and Coleman, they’re accustomed to working for a demanding boss. [LA Times]

Read the rest of the article for some cool behind the scenes on how they work, and the psychology of working behind the scenes. At what point do you trade in pursuit of stardom for the security of a regular paycheck? Is it selling out, or realism?

I’ve never watched Crossing Jordan so I can’t comment on the music, but at least Mothersbaugh has a real signature sound with Rugrats, a kind of playful, boingy, virtually conversational, electronic music that evokes childhood without being childish, and is at least as important as any given character in the series. Mothersbaugh brought the same approach to original Christmas music on the amazing Joyeux Mutato from a few years back.

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About Eric Olsen

  • Jason Fitch

    Mothersbaugh film soundtracks are great too especially the ones for “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Welcome to Collinwood.” They contain other music too but the stuff composed for the soundtracks is nice.

  • http://www.resonation.ca Jim Carruthers

    On the first season DVD set for “Six Feet Under” there is a really good feature on the scoring of the title music and the opening credits.

    Of course one of my all-time favourites is Angelo Badalamenti’s score for “Twin Peaks” and “Blue Velvet” (which was noted on the DVD as being the result of not being able to afford to license This Mortal Coil). Co-incidentally, there was a CBC Radio programme, Groove Shinney, where they sped up the tempo of the Twin Peaks theme, and it is the same chord pattern as “The Locomotion”.

  • Eric Olsen

    I love the Badalamente/Julee Cruise stuff also, hadn’t heard about the Locomotion – classic!