The Modern Composer: staying viable
Issue: November 1, 2010

The Modern Composer: staying viable

IMAGE: (L-R) director Mike Tolajian, NBA star Vlade Divac, composer Joel Goodman and NBA Entertainment producer Dion Cocoros. Photo: Andrew Bernstein

CALABASAS, CA — In many respects, Joel Goodman is a poster child for the modern composer in a radically-evolving, almost totally-digital industry. Even as the landscape shifts technically and economically, Goodman remains, first and foremost, an artist who has composed reams of original scores for acclaimed, award-winning movies and TV shows. While writing and scoring, he plays many instruments himself —guitars, bass, and piano, among others, and adds additional musicians and string sections when necessary. In his studio, he records music to his Apple Mac, relies on MOTU’s Digital Performer software for composing and editing work, and builds entire projects himself using a range of plug-in tools, like Spectrasonics’ Omnisphere and Kontakt 4, among others. 

Simultaneously, Goodman recognized long ago that one of his industry’s greatest sources of revenue in the virtual era is now music licensing, and so he evolved, founding the music library Music Box ( Moving that library to an online music distribution model five years ago, he notes: “I haven’t burned a CD in about five year — it’s all moved online. You have to be creative in this economy, and thankfully, I own a music library and we represent various publishing catalogs — over 17,000 tracks,” he adds. “That works out well for producers — they know they can do an entire show with everything we already have, and so there is confidence we have them covered. But they get the added benefit if the budget is there that they can have me score some of it also.”

That is where Goodman’s two worlds are merging. He recently scored a documentary that illustrates this trend: Once Brothers. a film for ESPN’s “30 for 30” film series, directed by Mike Tolajian. It examines the war-torn friendship of Serbian professional basketball player Vlade Divac and his late friend, Croatian Drazen Petrovic.

“Mike Tolajian had been working with some of my library tracks and he really liked it, so we ended up doing what I call a hybrid score,” Goodman says. “We worked about half of the soundtrack with pre-existing music of mine, and then, the other half I wrote specifically for this film. That approach has become popular for some budget-challenged projects, and with modern tools, we can edit so that it’s seamless.”

Goodman went back to a more traditional approach to score the Emmy-winning documentary, My Lai. The program aired earlier this year on PBS’s American Experience series and documents the events surrounding the infamous My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War. This time, the score was entirely original. 

“How do you treat such a subject musically? We didn’t want obvious Vietnamese music, but we did want to give the sense of being in Asia, without being too specific,” he says. “It was a process of trying and communicating, and in the end, I came up with a palette of sound that gives a sense of place.”

Though the projects were quite different, they illustrate the flexibility that keeps Goodman viable in a difficult economy. 

“Being flexible has worked,” he says. “I can do everything in my studio, and we can collaborate remotely as if I’m next to the director. For these two documentaries, both directors were in New York and I was in Los Angeles. Typically, they upload a QT file for me, and I upload audio files for them to drop into Avid or Final Cut Pro. I also use Google apps to track progress of each cue I write. That’s all happening right now, and it’s very exciting.”