Panels discuss future of film, TV music

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The rise of film and television as places of musical discovery has been a boon for independent and major artists alike, panelists said Thursday at the Billboard/Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Music Conference at the Beverly Hilton.

Composer Alan Menken, who opened the two-day event a keynote, said his guiding principle in composing for musicals is that "song moments have to be protected and supported and take precedence."

Other events Thursday included a songwriters panel, a master class on choosing music for visual media and a discussion of the upcoming film "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story."

At the morning songwriters session, Glen Ballard, Sondre Lerche and Jesse Harris noted that with film and television increasingly a source for musical discovery, they are finding visual media an inspiring source of storytelling -- not to mention work.

For his first film score, for the Disney movie "Dan in Real Life," Norwegian singer-songwriter Lerche got inspired by visiting the set, going to auditions and even giving star Steve Carell guitar lessons.

"That was my main inspiration, to be there," Lerche said. "I found out only later that this is not how soundtracks are usually made."

Ballard, who contributed music to Warner Bros.' "Beowulf," and Harris, whose work is heard in ThinkFilm's "The Hottest State," agreed that they wouldn't necessarily quit their day jobs as songwriters in the music industry. But, as Ballard pointed out, films are "a great outlet for songwriters, along with all the other things we try to do to make up for the fact that people don't buy records as they used to."

Most important to the craft, the singer-songwriters panelists said, is creating music specifically for the film as opposed to simply recycling material they already had lying around.

Lerche wrapped up the panel with an impromptu performance of a song that he wrote in the house where "Dan" was filmed.

"There are so many singer-songwriters, and it's all about expressing yourself," Lerche said. "But I've done that for four albums. ... It's refreshing to have that perspective, to be part of a team that's not about yourself."

At the midday master class, there was a consensus that the decline in both boxoffice and recorded music sales has led to fewer throwaway soundtracks, greater access by the studios to music by major artists and bigger opportunities in film, TV and video games by smaller musical acts.

Although soundtracks, like the rest of recorded music, have seen their sales decline in recent years, they now claim a bigger market share, said Geoff Mayfield, Billboard's charts director and senior analyst.

"We're no longer in the era where you have record stores next door to the theaters in the malls of America," said Mitchell Leib, president of film music and soundtracks at Walt Disney Studios. Successful soundtracks -- whether they be "Grey's Anatomy" compilations or "High School Musical," the top-selling album of 2006 -- are featured prominently in a film or TV show and are integrated both story-wise and in the film's promotion, he said.

The panelists agreed that gone are the days when a big-name artist would disdain working on a film or when their label would insist on cramming in one of its songs that didn't fit or when a big act would simply throw songs together without regard for whether they actually helped tell a story.

"I'm working with artists and record producers who have never scored films before. It's an incredibly vital creative time now," said Lia Vollack, president of worldwide music at Sony Pictures.

John C. Reilly gives voice to 50 years' worth of popular music in Columbia's "Walk Hard," which opens Dec. 21. His tour de force performance as the Johnny Cash-like Dewey Cox was the subject of an afternoon panel with writer-producer Judd Apatow, director Jake Kasdan and the film's songwriting team.

"Before we'd even begun writing, Judd and I almost immediately said it should be John," Kasdan said. "It's a well-known secret that he's an amazing singer and the kind of actor who might play someone for their entire life in a biopic. It's a level of acting that you just wouldn't expect in this kind of movie."

On the Columbia soundtrack, due Dec. 4, Reilly sings all 15 songs, which were penned by such names as Marshall Crenshaw, Van Dyke Parks, Dan Bern and Mike Viola. Sony's Vollack said an expanded edition of the album with 15 additional tracks will be available on iTunes.

"He covers a lot of different genres and a lot of different kinds of singing," Kasdan said. "He was the other major voice in this writing development process of getting the songs together and then making them sound right coming out of his mouth."

Among the songs previewed during the panel was "Let's Duet," which Cox sings in the film with backing vocalist Darlene Madison (Jenna Fischer). "As soon as we heard that phrase, "In my dreams you're blowing me ... some kisses,' we knew we'd found our duet," Kasdan said.

"Walk Hard" features cameos from artists including Eddie Vedder, Jack White of the White Stripes and Ghostface Killah, which Apatow said helped "to create a credible world." Apatow even wrote some lyrics with Ghostface, which he describes as "as uncomfortable a moment as you could imagine for me. But he was very cool and was not at all offended when I asked if we could get the word 'shiv' in there."
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