From food stamps and survival to writing the songs you know

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” says artist and composer Allee Willis. Yet her output ranges from Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “September” to the theme song of Friends. If you don’t know Willis, you should – and her story might inspire yours.

Behind all the cheery social media these days, most artists you talk to have struggled. They’ve struggled with creativity and sobriety, mental health and creative blocks, unfriendly industries and obscurity. And sometimes they’ve struggled just to get by – which is where Allee Willis was in 1978, living off food stamps and wondering what would happen next.

What happened next is a career that led to an insane number of hit songs – along with plenty of other fascinating side trips into kitsch and art. (There’s a kitsch-themed social network, an artist alterego named Bubbles, and a music video duet with a 91-year-old woman drummer on an oxygen tank, to name a few.) But what it hasn’t involved is a lot of widespread personal notoriety. Allee Willis is a celebrity’s celebrity, which is to say famous people know her but most people don’t know she’s famous.

At least it’s about that gap. The odds that you don’t know her? Decent. The odds that you don’t know her songs? Unlikely.

Let’s go: Earth, Wind & Fire “September” and “Boogie Wonderland,” The Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance,” Pet Shop Boys with Dusty Springfield’s “What Have I Done To Deserve This.” The theme from Friends, recorded by The Rembrandts (if you knew that, which I suspect you didn’t)… all these and more add up to 60 million records. And she co-authored the Oprah Winfrey-produced, Tony and Grammy-winning Broadway musical The Color Purple. More songs you know in movies: Beverly Hills Cop, The Karate Kid (“You’re the Best”), Howard the Duck.

The Detroit native is an impassioned use of Web tech and animation, networked together machines to design an orchestration workflow for The Color Purple musical, and now lives in LA with … Pro Tools, of course, alongside some cats.

But this isn’t about her resume so much as it is about what she says drives her – that itch to create stuff. And for anyone worried about how to get into the creative zone, maybe the first step is to stop worrying about getting into the creative zone. We value analysis and self-critique so much that sometimes we forget to just have fun making and stop worrying about even our own opinions (or maybe, especially those). In the end, it was that instinct that has driven her work, and presumably lots of stuff that didn’t do as well as that Friends theme song. (But there are her cats. Not the Broadway kind; that’s Andrew Lloyd Weber – the furry ones.)

There’s a great video out from CNN-produced Web video series Great Big Story:

And her site is a wild 1999-vintage-design wonderland of HTML, if you want to dive in:

https://alleewillis.com

More:

How she wrote “What Have I Done to Deserve This” gets into her musical thinking – and incongruity (and she does sure seem like she knows what she’s doing):

Plus how she hears and why she needed a Fender Rhodes:

The post From food stamps and survival to writing the songs you know appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Gothic Instruments releases DRONAR Vintage Synth for Kontakt

Gothic Instruments DRONAR Vintage Synth Module featTime+Space has announced the release of DRONAR Vintage Synth, a new module in Gothic Instruments’ critically acclaimed product line of atmosphere creation tools. Vintage Synth comes with a retro futuristic vibe reminiscent of the classic 80s synth from which the sounds were derived. Transport your audience into an epic audio universe brimming with trepidation, tension […]

The amazing classic synth and experimental moments on children’s TV

Before it reverted to Internet age-blandness, American kids’ TV enjoyed a golden age of music, scored by oddball indie composers and legends alike.

And, wow, it could even teach you about synthesis.

Perhaps the most famous of thesse moments is when none other than Suzanne Ciani went on 3-2-1 Contact in 1980 to step inside her studio:

Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood fame was actually a composer before going into television, and the show’s deep commitment to music education reflected that. That music was generally of the acoustic variety, but he did one day tote a rare ARP Soloist synthesizer along with his trademark shoes and handmade sweaters – and his message and song about “play” might well be an anthem for us all.

Canadian-born composer Bruce Haack made an epic appearance on that same show in 1968, where he demonstrated a homemade electronic instrument. Haack himself as as prolific a composer of far-out sci-fi music for children as he was (much darker) experimental compositions and psychedelic works.

The best all-time “Fairlight CMI on a kids’ program” (because, amazingly, there’s been more than one of those) – Herbie Hancock, Sesame Street, 1983. Herbie keeps a terrific sense of cool and calm that all kids’ shows could learn from in this day of cloying, sugar-sweet patronizing programming:

Synths were all over vintage Sesame Street, often providing sound effects as in this oddly hypnotic Ernie puzzle:

Steve Horelick, the composer behind Reading Rainbow, showed off his Fairlight CMI and how digital sampling worked. (I have vivid memories of watching this as a kid – sorry, Steve.) Steve apparently came up at a time when Fairlight ownership was rare enough to get you gigs – but a good thing, too, as a whole generation still sings along with that theme song. And you probably got a second educational gift from Steve if you ever followed one of his brilliant video tutorials on Logic.

Even better than that is Reading Rainbow‘s synesthesia 3D trip – John Sanborn and Dean Winkler’s Luminaire, which was made for Montrea’s Expo ’86, to music by composer Daniel “No, I’m not Philip Glass” Lentz.

Better video of the actual animation and music, which – sorry, Mr. Glass, I actually kind of prefer to Glassworks:

Somehow this looks fresher than it did when it was new.

A young, chipper Thomas Dolby explained synthesis to Jim Henson’s little known 1989 program The Ghost of Faffner Hall!:

Oh yeah, also, apparently Jem and the Misfits imagined an audiovisual synth in 1985 that predicts both Siri and Coldcut / AV software years before their time. Plus dolls should always have synthesizer accessories:

Apart from education, there’s been some wildly adventurous music from obscure (who’s that?) and iconic sources (the Philip Glass?!) alike.

For a time, an experimental music Tumblr followed some of these moments. Here are some of my favorites.

Joan La Barbara does the alphabet (1977):

And yes, trip out with a composition by Philip Glass written especially for Sesame Street:

You can read the full history of this animation on Muppet Wiki,

More obscure, but clever (and I remember this one) – from HBO’s Braingames (1983-85), evidently by a guy named Matt Kaplowitz.

Not growing up in the UK, I’d never heard of Chocky, but it has this trippy, gorgeous opening with music by John W. Hyde:

American composer Paul Chihara’s 1983 score for a show called Whiz Kids is hilariously dated and nostalgia-packed now. But the man is a heavyweight in composition – think Nadia Boulanger student and LA Chamber Orchestra resident. He has an extensive film resume, too, which now landed him a position at NYU:

From Chicago public access TV, there’s a show called Chic-A-Go-Go, which in 2001 hosted The Residents.

But The Residents were on Pee-Wee, too:

Absurdly awesome, to close: “The Experimental Music Must Be Stopped.” This one comes to us from 2010 and French animation series Angelo Rules:

The post The amazing classic synth and experimental moments on children’s TV appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Dronar & Sculptor Bundle by Gothic Instruments 50% OFF for limited time

VST Buzz Dronar Sculptor BundleVST Buzz has launched a sale on the Dronar & Sculptor Bundle by Gothic Instruments, a unique bundle that allows you to create everything from vast evolving atmospheres to monstrous slamming impacts and strikes. The bundle comprises Dronar Hybrid and Sculptor. Primarily aimed at Film, TV, Video Game Composers and Sound Designers, together they form […]

Impact Soundworks releases Momentum percussive sound design library

Impact Soundworks MomemtumImpact Soundworks has released Momentum, a new percussive sound design instrument library for Native Instruments Kontakt and REX/WAV. The library is the ideal rhythm collection for film, TV and game composers. It comes with over 2,500 truly unique, organic percussion performances, categorized and tagged with extensive sound design tools. Besides the powerful Kontakt patches it […]

Save up to 50% off iZotope RX 6 and RX Post Production Suite 2

iZotope RX 6 pedal noise removalPlugin Boutique has launched a sale on iZotope’s RX 6, offering up to 50% off on audio repair tool, including the Advanced version, RX 6 Elements as well as upgrades. RX is the industry standard audio repair tool that’s been used on countless albums, movies, and TV shows to restore damaged, noisy audio to pristine […]

String Audio releases LIGHTless for Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2

String Audio LIGHTLESSString Audio has launched LIGHTless, a sound library for Omnisphere 2 featuring a collection of hybrid, organic signature patches and multis that will bring a whole new palette of sounds colors in your music productions. ALL patches and multis contained in LIGHTless have been created using the brand new original sample content produced and recorded […]