Here I am again.
I left the business side of music years ago. In fact, I pretty much stopped writing. There was a time when if you missed a dot beside a note on a 24 stave staff and the error was duplicated by a copyist on a player’s part, that the clock was running and your neck and paycheque were on the line. You see “back then,” you had a rhythm section of players making hourly scale, (pun intended) singers, engineers, studio fees, tape costs and well, it basically looked like over $1500/hour at least that you were responsible for, so you’d better find who’s missing that dot, and find it fast. Harder to do when you are faxing (no, not emailing kiddies) scores to Germany from Canada with the conductor picking them up in the hotel lobby on his way to the session.
When the art left the music business, I left as well.
I have travelled quite a bit throughout my nearly 50 year life, but never as extensively as when I sat at my piano and physically went nowhere. My work wound up in India, after late night tabla sessions, in NYC as the music director of The Count Of Monte Cristo, Germany, the heart of Brasil, Budapest, onto my home and native Italy and on and on.
A bunch of us were doing this stuff long before loops, samples or autotune. Before notation programs existed and computers were widely used, scores where written and copied by hand, it was an art-form of sorts. When you had to know how far you could push a tenor in a vocal section before sanding down his larynx, or ruining the blend of your S/A/T section, and whether the fretless bass would clash with the pitch of a snare drum in a session when the gobo’s didn’t quite isolate everyone, and when “back then,” you knew someone had to oil the kick pedal, maybe put a "donut" on the snare, or stretch the strings, letting them sit on your axe at studio temperature, and, of course, the piano needed to be tuned just the right amount of time ahead of a session. You knew when in the day, or night, you should book your session singers, so that the dryness of the morning had left their throats and you knew when to pull them, before the flem flooded your take. If you had midi on the track, you would have to haul a 150 lb. rack with you to the session along with the know-how so that your Atari (with a whopping 1.44 meg disk) would play in perfect sync when the engineer hit play on the Tascam controller.
If you wanted to work, it wasn’t enough to be a composer. As an arranger, you had to know your gear, how to lock to SMPTE, what a drop frame was, and surprise the producers and engineers who could not always read music, by printing the time code offsets on every 4 bars of the score so they knew exactly where to punch in. That meant extra M&M’s for you.
Your abilities had to include writing, scoring and arranging for everything that came your way. From jigs and reels, to arias, to music from India, to a lyric baritone, from a children’’s choir to scoring charts for sessions in Germany, where the appearance of the letter “B” on a score could torpedo your session. Oh, and a celesta played where? The indication to the horn section on their chart reading “in stand,” what the heck was that all about? And “no, we can’t get this piece to drive with heavy bottom in E flat, because the bassist does not have a “hip-shot” and plays a genuine bass with ONLY 4 strings! Imagine that! Simply put, there were no shortcuts. Jim Morgan, my friend and one of the finest engineers in the country once told me “I can do a lot, but I cannot “create” a performance.” That statement put things in perspective. Thanks “Jeem.” The artist either had “it,” or they didn’t.
Midi and budgets were stretched to replace an orchestra and some of us did a pretty good job of trying to imitate that. Then again, we knew where real strings actually played and that the imaging had to be right. You could always tell a hack midi job when you heard violins panned to the right and the percussion in your face, front and centre. Then, there were producers who would break out “Gabriel’s Oboe,” Maestro Ennio Morricone’s piece from his score for “The Mission,” and then point to your little Proteus midi module and say “I want that,” and they wanted it cheap.
Another reason I left the music business.
In one of my final sessions in Nashville, with an A-list crew, players who tour with Madonna, Faith Hill, Tribal Tech and the like, as I rushed to crank out charts in a $2000/hr session, the drummer stands up and says to the engineer “Your arranger and us guys here are going to cut through 8 songs, sight unseen in 10 hours. You are asking for sounds from a half a million dollar record that we took a week to get drum sounds on, as well as the feel and the performance. You need to pick one and decide which is most important to you because we can’t give you Dom Perignon on a Budweiser budget.”
Another reason I left the music business.
So as I come to the end of these paragraphs, it is becoming clear that although I left the “business” of music, the music apparently has not left. That is probably why I bawl like a baby when I watch Maestro Morricone conduct. It is probably why I will still decide whether or not to watch a film depending on who scored it. It is probably why I wanted to write about all of this.
It is porbably why 8 years later, here I am… again. Someone pass me the Dom Perignon.