Mini Blog Extra

After I posted yesterday’s blog, I received an email from our fabulous singer and vocal contractor Sally Stevens. I had to share it with you. (Click here for a previous post that includes more info on Sally)

“I had to write, upon seeing the FABULOUS FAKER BOYS – you got to direct the Russian version – I got to coach and produce Michelle Pfeiffer’s vocals for the film!  One of the most interesting, and fun jobs of my life – except of course for these last 24 years with you and Alf and THE SIMPSONS…wow, are we lucky!!!”

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Another Season Comes To An End

24 years on any job these days feels like a mini-miracle. 24 years on a single, scripted, prime-time television series is unprecedented. I’ve stated many times on this blog (sorry if I’m boring you) how lucky I am to be a part of this amazing experience. I’m happy to report (as I’m sure you already know) that season 25 is already underway and we will be back on the air with new episodes sometime in September, 2013.

The final few weeks of this season, just like every year at this time, were a flurry of many musical projects happening all at once.

For RABF12 THE FABULOUS FAKER BOY there was the final editing and polish on Jane Krakowski’s performance of “Makin’ Whoopee” (in Russian, no less!), as well as preparing all the Chopin pieces played throughout the episode. I got to direct Jane’s singing about six months ago and I was blown away by her ability to phonetically sing the Russian lyrics. She laughed and said she had no idea what she was singing. I’d love to hear from anyone who speaks Russian to let me know how she did. We hired amazing pianist Robert Thies to play all the Chopin works and he was an absolute pro and a joy to work with. I did all the pre-editing of the pieces on paper (on digital?) while mapping out the placement and tempos. It all worked out great. Alf was very generous in giving me the arranger credit on those pieces so I could earn a little royalty when the show airs. Thanks, Alf!

As if there wasn’t enough music going on in this episode, we were paid a visit from the producers of Robot Chicken. Continuing our new tradition of surprise couch gags by guest animators, the Robot Chicken crew did a crazy, extended couch gag for us. All the music was composed by Alf Clausen & Dell Hake incorporating new music with the SIMPSONS theme and the ROBOT CHICKEN theme.

For RABF14 (premiering tonight, May 19, 2013) THE SAGA OF CARL, about half of the score was provided by the Icelandic band Sigur Ros. Once again, the magic of the Internet allowed us to audition, sample, score, and edit their music from half-way around the world.

For RABF15 (also premiering tonight, May 19, 2013) DANGERS ON A TRAIN, Seth MacFarlane is our guest voice and he even gets to do a little singing. He sang his part a capella, so I didn’t get to direct him, but we did put a cool big band track behind him in post-production. You’d never guess from listening how piece-meal this song was assembled.

The last few episodes this season had a slightly accelerated schedule because, for the first time, we are airing back-to-back new episodes for the season finale.** THE SAGA OF CARL airs first at 8e/p, 7c, then DANGERS ON A TRAIN at 8:303/p, 7:30c on FOX.

While all the above was going on, voice recording for Season 25 is underway and we’ve already pre-recorded three new songs for which I did direct vocals. I’ll blog more about those later in the year.

So, if you haven’t seen enough blogging from me these past few weeks, now you know why. Now that the post-production part of the show is on hiatus (writing and recording of new episodes continues though), I’m going to take a little break. I’ll be back here in a few weeks with more on the show and my various random musical thoughts.

Thanks to all who take the time to stop by here. You seem to enjoy reading, and I certainly enjoy writing.

**UPDATE on May 31, 2013
After I posted this entry, I received a comment from SOLAR DRAGON asking “But weren’t ‘Homerpalooza’ and ‘Summer of 4 Ft. 2’ of season 7, ‘The Bart of War’ and’“Moe Baby Blues’ of season 14, ‘Home Away from Homer’ and ‘The Father, the Son and the Holy Guest Star’ of season 16 and ’24 Minutes’ and ‘You Kent Always Say What You Want’ of season 18 all back-to-back season finales as well?” The answer to all of the above is YES. Happy to set the record straight.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Before we dig into this post, let me send a personal message out there to all my readers.

If you’re a regular reader since the beginning, you know that I’m not only lucky enough to work on one of the greatest television shows in history, but I’m also a grandfather to one of the cutest little girls in history. OK, maybe that’s stretching it a bit, but I’m prejudiced. Anyway, my granddaughter Abigail almost didn’t make it into this world to become so cute. She was born as what’s known as a “micro-preemie” and wasn’t given great odds of survival. Well, she beat the odds and will celebrate her 3rd birthday in a few weeks. If all my readers and Twitter followers donated just $1 or $2 each to The March of Dimes, I would be be very grateful and you would help ensure that future micro-preemies could get the same level of medical care that Abby received – care that certainly saved her life.

To donate, visit my donation page by clicking here and consider giving up one cup of coffee this week or one song download. We’re trying to raise as much money as we can by Saturday, May 11, 2013. Check out this little video that tells Abby’s story in just over two minutes, then continue on with our regularly scheduled programming. Thank you so much!

This post is for music geeks. You’ve been warned.

In the episode that aired this past Sunday – RABF11 “Pulpit Friction” I once again was able to put on my classically-trained-in-music hat. There is a scene in the episode that used “The Sorcerer’s Aprrentice” as temp music for the scene. Al Jean liked the way it played and he wanted to use that work in the final version of the show.

It fell to me to find a copy of the score and then “mark it up” so that it could be orchestrated and copied. “Mark it up” means to pick and choose the bars that we’ll use to fit the scene. It always sounds better to do the music editing on paper and have the orchestra play the edited score rather than have the work played in its entirety and then edit it Pro Tools. Playing the edited score always sounds more natural and “un-edited” (except to the music geek who realizes that bars are missing or have been repeated).

I start my process by finding a recording of the work and editing the track in Pro Tools by cutting it, looping it, speeding it up or slowing it down – whatever is necessary to have the music “hit” all the right “spots” in the cue. The final edited track sounds awful but I never worry about that because I know the final recorded version will wash away all sins. I send the edited version set to the picture to Alf Clausen & Al Jean for their thoughts. If they have notes, I tweak and we go back & forth until I get approval.

Next, I “mark up” the score according to the editing choices I’ve made. I take a PDF of the score pages and cross out the bars we’re not going to use, indicate where the music will start and stop, indicate cuts and jumps in the music (e.g. “go from bar 25 to 45”), etc. If you’d like to see my marked-up score click this link: Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Then this score goes out to Alf & orchestrator Dell Hake. The toughest part preparing these classical cues is that often they were written for large orchestras of 75 or more players, often with six french horns or two bassoons, or 4 trumpets. We record with an orchestra of 35 players, with only two each of trumpets, french horns, and trombones, and only one each of the woodwinds (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon), and our entire string section is smaller than just the violin section of most orchestras. Whittling down a large orchestra score to be played by a group one-half or one-third the size than originally intended is an art form unto itself. Then when it’s recorded, mixer Rick Riccio performs his own magic with microphone choice and placement, digital reverb, and equalization to make the group sound larger than it really is.

Here is my original edited track, complete with click track, that was the basis for the mark-up and orchestration. You may notice that the click “drifts” away from the orchestra from time to time. This is OK, because I knew that when we recorded it, the orchestra would follow the click and would be spot-on the timings.

We spent the better part of the first hour recording this cue at the scoring session, but it was well worth it when you hear the final result. FOX has been kind enough to post it on their YouTube site so that we can all enjoy it together.

I hope this post wasn’t too geeky for you, but this part of the job is one my favorites … one that lets me be more musician than editor.