Daytime Emmys spotlight underappreciated music
Turn on a soap opera, and one might hear ambient music. Switch to children's programming, and Scooby-Doo is sleuthing to a score created by Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh and his Los Angeles-based Mutato Music team, while NBC's "Today" enlists a theme that would sound right at home on Top 40 radio.
The changing times are reflected in the three music category nominees for the 34th annual Daytime Emmy Awards, set to be presented June 15 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.
While music contenders such as "Today," "BJ's Teddy Bear Club" and "One Life to Live" ostensibly don't have much in common, a similar thread binds them together: They all employ music to communicate with their viewers, and in some cases, despite the high quality demands, the tunes often are created on a shoestring budget and at lightning speed.
Mothersbaugh jokes that the budgets are so low -- and sinking -- on cartoons that scoring them "is sort of a self-sacrifice on the part of Team Mutato. We do it for the kids of America." Mothersbaugh works with three Mutato composers -- John Enroth, Albert Fox and Silas Hite -- to score each episode of Kids' WB!'s "Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get a Clue."
PBS' "Postcards From Buster" executive producer Pierre Valette says his show operates under "very severe budget constraints. Government money is tight, and this isn't a show that commercial funders are jumping all over." He adds that the budget makes "Postcards'" nominated composer Claudio Ragazzi's efforts all the more noteworthy: He creates an original song for -- and scores -- every episode.
But the belt-tightening isn't limited to kids' programming.
For "One Life," which is owned by Proctor & Gamble and airs on ABC, triple nominee Brian D. Siewert goes so far as to pay musical expenses out of his own pocket. "I may make the decision to cut live strings," he says. "Some would call me crazy, (but) I pay for the orchestration."
But, Siewert adds, being a main composer allows him that luxury. "The gift in daytime is the royalty statements: We're on five days a week, (all) 52 weeks -- we have a 260-episode season." Plus, as with the others interviewed for this report, he stresses how much he loves his job and simply wants to do the best he can.
Just as challenging as the budgeting issues is the time factor. "This is the only job I've ever had where I wish we could stop the clock," says supervising music director and composer Paul Glass, who is nominated for "One Life."
Despite all the budget and time constraints, most soaps shoot five or six shows a week, and the volume of music is staggering. "We could put in close to 4,000 pieces of music a year," Glass says. Indeed, it takes between eight and 14 hours to lay in the scoring for one hourlong episode.
"I'm always trying to challenge myself and reinvent the sound of the show," Glass adds, but he admits that time is a demanding mistress. "We've had unbelievable things happen on the show: a tornado, a plane crash, fires. If you were working on a film, you'd have a few months to do it; we have one day."
Because of time limitations, the majority of music comes from a library comprised of material constantly created by a soap opera's dedicated composing staff. However, a handful of episodes are scored to picture every year, and those are the ones often turned in for Emmy consideration.
For example, "Guiding Light" sent in a creative episode that was tied in with Marvel Comics. The music was scored specifically for that episode. "I began by writing a theme for our superhero," Siewert says. "I started with a John Williams-esque 'Superman'-type theme. I scored it from beginning to end based off that theme."
Similarly, the episode for which "One Life" was nominated featured a special score centered around a character dying by lethal injection. "As the drugs took effect, the music became more and more dark, and while he was losing consciousness, it became trippier and more dreamlike," Glass says.
Ever since soap opera scoring moved to a postproduction function -- for some programs, the change occurred more than a dozen years ago, while others have made the shift more recently -- music supervisors have been able to step away from the traditionally heavy-handed scores of the past, when music was laid in live. As Siewert puts it, "You might as well have had an organist on the set."
Says supervising music director Robyn Cutler, who is nominated for "Guiding Light": "Technology has made being a music supervisor so much more fulfilling because we have control over how the music falls -- and the mix of the music. Pro Tools has turned me into a music editor. Cross-fades happen when I want them; accents happen when I want them."
Increasingly, some daytime dramas are incorporating more licensed music into their story arcs, or in some cases, they are bringing in talent to perform on the show. For example, over the past year, Lifehouse, Mary J. Blige, Nelly Furtado, Jeanne Ortega and Tito Puente Jr. have all appeared on "One Life." "It brings the audience something a little bit different," Glass says.
While "Guiding Light" doesn't utilize as much stunt casting, Cutler says the show uses three times as many licensed tracks as it did five years ago. "And we see a viewer response to that," she says.
Trying to attract younger viewers also has meant slightly changing the sound, but the tone always is set by the executive producer. "We're in a very good position with Ellen Wheeler," Siewert says. "She is a very young and hip producer, who loves music. She gives me freedom to do some things that aren't part of the norm."
Indeed, Cutler says the scoring on "Guiding Light" is "more ambient now. Shows like (Fox's) '24' or the (2003) movie '21 Grams' that have (a more) atmospheric tone and are (not as) big melodic numbers -- those were things that were prototypes when Ellen came in. She loves new music, gritty rock and ambient cues."
Wheeler's influence is especially evident in Siewert's two nominations for original song. "They aren't your standard soapy love ballads," he says. "Can You Love Me (With the Lights On)," which he co-wrote with Angela Lauer and Timothy Lauer, is an aggressive rock tune, while "In a Moment," which he wrote solo, is "Peter Gabriel meets Pink Floyd," he says.
But soaps aren't the only daytime shows that employ original songs to mark significant plot points. The "Today" show heralded Meredith Vieira's arrival as Katie Couric's replacement with "It's a New Day, Today," which has received an original song nomination. Oddly enough, the tune was co-written by Frank Radice, senior vp advertising and promotion for the NBC Agency -- NBC's in-house advertising agency -- along with Nashville-based writers Randy Wachtler and Greg Barnhill. "I came up with the title and a number of lines of copy," Radice says. "I was looking for a pop song with some good hooks, not a jingle."
That contemporary shift also has taken place in children's music, where rock musicians often create the tunes or the score. In addition to Mothersbaugh, Matthew Gerrard -- better known for penning tracks for Kelly Clarkson -- is up for an Emmy for original song from a children's animated show for his work on Fox's "Bratz." Such a move requires some altered thinking. "Not everybody can make the transition because it's a whole different beast," Motherbaugh says. "When you're making an album and you're in a band, you're in the center, and you're the concept. When you're a composer, you're part of a team that's bigger than just the musical elements."
Valette believes that a key factor in creating songs for children's programming is to not talk down to kids since the music often is used to underscore an educational point. For example, in "Postcards," Buster, an animated bunny, travels the country to learn about different cultures. "The show is really an affirmation of culture, and dead center of the culture for us is music," he says. "There's such a richness around the country that we capture in music."
Regardless of whether the music is for a morning news show, a children's program or a soap opera, every note is meant to elicit some feeling from the viewer, according to Glass. "When I put music against video, regardless of how long I've been doing it, every time you get a different emotion evoked from it," he says.
Or, as Siewert simply puts it, "Music is the final character, and we add it in."