This blog is both an attempt on my part to better document all the fun and notable things happening in my life as a composer as well as to share all the insight, lessons, and tricks I've learned along the way. Comments and discussion are always welcome.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A New Chapter

Hello, loyal followers. I realize it has been quite some time since my last blog post. The good news is that many wonderful things are happening in my career, including a new films, new concert music, performances, recordings, hopefully an album release by fall of 2012, and a brand NEW endeavor that will be unveiled at the beginning of March. Scintillating, I know...

Because of all that is going on, I have decided to retire this blog. Instead I will be streamlining all of my musical happenings through my facebook page. If you haven't already, "like" me using the link to the right.

The good news is that the new endeavor coming up in March will involve a brand new blog that will encompass both my love of food and my storytelling. Stay tuned for updates.

In the meantime, THANK YOU for your continued support and I look forward to seeing your comments and likes on Facebook!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Puppies on the Air

I'm very excited to report that my first feature film, "Golden Christmas 2", will have 5 airings in December on the Ion Network!

Sunday, December 4, 9pm (Premiere)
Sunday, December 11, 1am
Sunday, December 18, 7pm
Saturday, December 24, 3pm
Sunday, December 25, 5pm

Hope you will tune in to watch! Listen to excerpts below.

  Three Holiday Tails by Dave Volpe

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Click here to visit my page on Fatrock's website

I received news today that three of my concert pieces are now officially on sale at Fatrock Ink, a music publishing company based here in Los Angeles. This has been in the works for a while. I befriended owner/harpist Marcia Dickstein through my time at USC and she has been tremendously supportive and enthusiastic in getting these pieces into their catalog. Click on the link below the picture to visit the site.

Available titles are: 

Mad Dance - for violin, cello, and piano - $24.50
Gwinna - flute, viola, and harp - $15.00
Forest Walk - contrabass and harp (or piano) - $7.50

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Newest Video Reel Posted

I've recently posted my most up to date video reel on YouTube and Facebook. It is a collection of some of my best film and demo clips. Hope you enjoy!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Inspiration: A True Story

On September 29 I unexpectedly saw an incredible film that moved me to write about my experience. I was also moved to record myself reading it, something I've never done. I'm delighted to share it here. You can listen to it via the Soundcloud player below, or read the transcript that follows. Hope you enjoy. 

   Inspiration: A True Story by Dave Volpe

Today a short film I scored (Simone) screened at the SoCal Film Festival in Huntington Beach. Being that Huntington is quite a hike from my neighborhood in Hollywood, I scanned the schedule online to see if there might be anything else worth seeing on either end of the short program. After all, the screening was scheduled for 4:50 on a Thursday afternoon, which in LA means death by traffic, so why not make the most of such a trip? I saw that just before the shorts program was a feature called "Hollywood to Dollywood." The title alone was enough to entice me, but skimming the description I saw " across the country in an RV named Jolene to deliver their script to Dolly herself." Add to cart. Purchase. Done.

I arrive at the theatre and am seated in the lobby waiting for the previous showing to end. I see a slim, attractive man walk past me on his cell phone. Just a little taller than me with a pleasantly tanned complexion and clothing that tastefully displays his commitment to the gym. I smile to myself and revert back to the inescapable  allure of my white iPhone. A few minutes later I look up and notice that the slim attractive man had multiplied. Twins. How nice.

A very short interval later I enter the theatre and find Ingrid, the main actress and producer of Simone. We squeal, we hug, we chat, I sit. She, like me, had arrived early to make the most of her schlep to the beach, though she was there long before I. As the lights dim for the previews, I notice the twins enter the theatre and seat themselves in the very back, several rows behind Ingrid and I. Now I confess to you, I knew absolutely nothing about this film. From the sentence description I shared with you previously I was expecting a totally over-the-top fiction. Perhaps a fun, drag-queen-filled, campy riff on Priscilla: Queen of the Desert meets Paula Deen. As the film begins I immediately realize it is quite the opposite. This is not fiction at all - this is a documentary. A documentary about two twin brothers.... curse my pretty white iPhone! I spin around and wave enthusiastically, and they wave back. Moments later it is revealed that these twins (Garry and Larry) are in fact openly gay and the movie is as much about their personal journey as it is their trip across the country to deliver their script, something that they had spent 5 years writing together, to Dolly Parton herself. You've got to be kidding - do I have good instincts or what? Then I think, shit, this is going to get seriously intense and emotional - am I really ready for this at 3 in the afternoon on a Thursday? Of course I am. 

Needless to say, the film is incredible. I am impressed by many things, not the least of which being the depth of the relationship these two brothers have and the fearless candor with which they share it along with so much of themselves. The film has an incredible rawness to it, but warmly so; open, exposed, honest, but genuine and inviting, much like Dolly. We learn that she has been a present figure throughout the twins' lives. They have found comfort in her songs in their roughest times, admire her for her warm and accepting disposition, and have travelled great lengths to see her in concert. The script they've written is about their lives and incorporates their most influential figures, including Dolly. After working on it for 5 years, they've decided it's time to get it out and put it in the hands of the woman they so admire. We watch as the twins bring the script around to their friends in Los Angeles for feedback. We see the map of their route and watch as they start their trip from Dolly's star on the walk of fame in Hollywood. We see them feverishly work on editing their script down in the back of the RV while Mike, one of their boyfriends drives through the thousands of miles of straight, flat road. Along the way, amazing people are found with equally amazing stories, all adding testament to just how special these brothers are - quality people attracting quality people. A boy singing karaoke at a bar in Missouri tells of his father, who, after kicking the boy out years previously, forcing him to put himself through college, meets him on his 21st birthday, buys him his first shot of PatrĂ³n, and, filled with pride by the young man he sees before him, tells the boy how sorry he is for having misjudged him so severely. A hairdresser in Kansas City, shunned by his parents at the news of him being gay, told never to call again, finds love and acceptance from his 4-year-old son who, from the back seat of his car tells him, "daddy, I think you should have someone who loves you".

Though the twins have met Dolly on several occasions at concerts, they have no real relationship with her; no appointment, no conference call. Instead they have a plan. It's the 25th Anniversary of Dollywood and they have discovered three locations in and around the park where Dolly herself will be appearing for the festivities. They will attend each of these appearances and use one of them to get close enough to place the script in her hands. Guts. Impressive. But perhaps what I am most impressed by is the love these two brothers share for their mother. Such a statement may seem obvious, but this woman, who resides in the small North Carolina town where the boys grew up, for all the love she has for them, cannot accept their lifestyle. It's a subject that comes up throughout the film and you can tell it affects them both deeply. At one point the brothers reveal that when they finished the script, they mailed their mother a copy as they wanted so badly to share this part of their lives with her. After ten pages, mom decided she simply couldn't read it and sent it back to them.  In another scene, Gary expresses to the camera how it feels to know he will never have a Thanksgiving where he, his brother, the men they love, and his family will be gathered around the same table. But no matter the context, no matter the pain, the brothers always land in the same place: "she is our mom and we love her." 

The film ends. I am not a crier, but if I were, I would be in a canoe. Determined to meet the twins, I leap from my seat and make my way to the entrance where they are hovering about. This is not hard as the audience is no more than 10 people - Thursday afternoon at 3pm and I'm pretty clearly the only gay. As I step over Ingrid and her friend and make my way past the empty seats in the row, I get a sudden flash of nervousness. Lord knows there is not an ounce of bashful in my being, but... could people like this really exist? If you met me for even 10 minutes you would likely gather, among many things, that I am a very passionate person (not to mention charming and handsome - ha!). When something affects me, it gets under my skin and becomes a part of who I am. I learn from it, I talk about it, I get other people into it, I basically become Hermione Granger. This is particularly true for films. When Brokeback Mountain was released I spent two weeks in a coma (figuratively). I was so overwhelmed that I finally decided to write Annie Proulx a letter just because I felt there was no other way to get it out of me, whatever "it" was. Within a week she wrote me back in her own hand on stationery with a saddle at the top. Nearly six years and 5,000 miles later, the note still hangs on my wall. Now here I am, I've seen an incredible film, I've taken a journey with two amazing individuals, I'm feeling such a connection to them and their story (though mine is very different), and, unlike Jack and Ennis, I'm realizing they are exactly the kind of people I want to know; the kind of people that I strive to surround myself with everyday. And now here they are, steps away from me. Never have I had such an opportunity. Like if Jack and Ennis had been in the lobby after seeing Brokeback. What happens now? Are these people real? 

In my usual subtle fashion, I approach the twins with arms outstretched and hug them both as if we were long estranged friends. We walk into the lobby, my sass flying, they pull me away from the crowd and we talk as if we had known each other for years. The warmth, the quality, the wholesomeness that I took from the movie was all there. Effortless. Though I had my flash of doubt, I wasn't surprised. We chatted for about 5 minutes though I tell you I could have talked with them for hours. I had to get back into the theatre to see my short film and they had to get back home and pack for a trip to Portland where their film would be showing the next day. We exchange business cards, more hugs, and then I disappear back into the theatre.

The short films play, the segment ends, and I find myself in my car driving to the beach, unwilling to brave 6pm traffic back to Hollywood and needing some time to digest. I'm a native Bostonian and so the beach will always possess a deep sense of peace for me. As I stare at the ocean meeting a disarming post-sunset sky swirled with orange and purple, I find myself not overwhelmed like I was with Brokeback, but utterly full and happy.... what is this? Ah. Inspiration. A four-letter word to most creatives it is at once elusive, yet all we live for. But I find myself asking the question: why? Why has this film and these two brothers filled me so completely? Yes, as a gay man I've had my struggles, I've overcome many obstacles, but all of them have been vastly different from the brothers' (the same was also true for Brokeback). The truth is I've never been met with opposition from anyone, much less my family. I've never been in a fight, nor have I had to overcome some huge adversity to find peace with any given situation. I am, for lack of a better term, one lucky bastard, and I make it a point to live everyday graciously and open because what else am I here to do? And then I realize that the inspiration I feel today has little to do with being a homosexual and everything to do with being human. Seeing the film and absorbing the story would have been fantastic on its own, but having a conversation with the brothers really connected the dots for me. It reminded me just how much I love connecting with people - hearing their stories, learning where they come from, what makes them tick. The whole experience of today is exactly what I as both an artist and a human lives for. It inspired me so fully because so much of who I am was either represented in what I saw and who I met or fed by my simply being there - this was my Dolly Parton. And all I had to do was go to a screening at 3 in the afternoon in Huntington Beach.

As I think about my everyday life, I realize just how obvious this is. I talk to everyone everywhere all the time - I am on a first name basis with all the baristas at my local coffee shop, I make friends with Trader Joe's employees, hell I once got 1000 free rollover minutes for making the customer service lady laugh. I simply cannot turn it off. The truth is I never feel better than when I am making strangers laugh or making my current friends feel good. I can't speak for other artists, but as a film composer I can say that I spend a good part of my time trying to mine inspiration from my computer screen. My business works in such a way that I'll work non stop for weeks, sometimes months - whatever the job calls for. It becomes alarmingly easy to forget that the rest of the world exists. Sure, I get ideas, I create music that I'm proud of, but it is often an arduous process - a job with a boss and a deadline forcing me to produce and create. Then, as easily as the work takes over it vanishes completely and I am left with only myself, which is always terrifying. I become so ensconced in the mundane details of life like why I've run out of orange juice or where the hell my next paycheck is coming from that I continue to forget the rest of the world spinning around me. That was where I was until this afternoon - forgetting where the inspiration truly lies. How can I expect to be creating if I am in fact not out experiencing?

I had no idea that going to a short film screening would bring me to see such a moving film, nor could I have predicted that in meeting the men behind said film would I wind up  here talking into a microphone, expressing myself in a totally new creative outlet. And to me that is the beauty of being an artist, particularly in Los Angeles - life is our canvas, who knows what it will bring? The lesson I'm relearning is that in order to be the best composer I can possibly be I am required to step away from the very medium to which I am so devoted. But the fullness I felt from my experience with the brothers will not come if I simply sit at home and do other things that bring me happiness like listening to new music, watching various movies and random TV shows on netflix, and creating new recipes that will fill the halls of my building with men-attracting aroma. What makes experience significant for me is the context of human interaction. Cooking is meaningless when you are cooking for no one. So, what really is important is leaving my studio and saying yes to all that the universe has to present to me. Not going on a mission, not being determined to find anything, just simply saying yes.

I've come to the conclusion that inspiration is like finding the man (or woman) of one's dreams. He cannot be forced into existence, one will not find him if one is looking, and he certainly will not materialize in one's studio while staring at a computer screen. When true inspiration meets us, it fills us and informs all aspects of our existence, especially our art. Therefore all we can do is make sure we do our best to live fully at all times. Like love, inspiration cannot be created - it can only be lived.

I am not a spoiler, so I am not going to tell you whether or not the twins make their moment with Dolly. But, what I will tell you is that if you find yourself near a screening of this movie and you're gay, straight, bi, curious, confused, methodist, or just simply alive, you should see it. But whether or not you do, I hope the lesson here is obvious: we must keep filling the well lest it dry up; indeed we must make the time and the effort to step out into the world and meet our Dolly.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Composing for Puppies

In July of this year I had the opportunity to compose for my first full length feature film, a romantic comedy called Three Holiday Tails produced and distributed by Mar Vista Entertainment. The movie is set at Christmas time (as you might guess) and involves a clever golden retriever and three puppies that, through a series of mischievous events, are able to help reunite the main character with the love of her life. It's a charming little movie that in many ways proved to be the perfect film for one's first feature, though it was not without its challenges.

For starters, the timeline. The film was spotted on July 17. The production company needed a final score delivered by August 1st. Now two weeks is bad enough, but when I factored in time for recording and mixing, that time shrunk to 1 week. One week to write 40 minutes of music. It sounds impossible, but the truth is that composing a truck load of romantic comedy-style music is not terribly difficult, provided you have solid themes on which to derive every cue. Don't get me wrong, 2 weeks is NOT enough time to write a feature, particularly when one needs to record live people. But, it certainly is doable when you have the right plan and the right people in place.

Second challenge is, as always, the budget. I don't wish to divulge a specific number here, but suffice it to say that though it was the biggest budget I had ever been given, it still required a lot of clever maneuvering to get what was needed. Many of you reading will know what I mean when I say that this was a "package deal" - that is, I was given a fixed sum of money and it was up to me to spend it. Whatever I don't spend, I get to keep as my fee. There are many composers in my position who would just go all in and spend their entire budget on the production. I, however, need to eat. :) For live players, most composers would agree that money is always best spent on live strings before anything else. So I decided that my session would consist of just strings. Other sounds (like guitar and woodwinds) I would piece together Tom Newman style in smaller sessions. All said and done I had less than $2000 to spend on a recording session. With the help of my stellar music contractor, I managed to get 11 players for 3 hours with studio and engineer for $1800. Pretty damn good if I do say so myself. And because I am constantly surrounded by incredibly talented people, I was able to farm out my guitar and clarinet parts to my good friends Sam and Alexis, who recorded in their studio while I was finishing other parts of the movie. Between them, the string session, recording live flute in my bedroom, and getting a good mixer on board, I would have a score.

So with the logistics of recording in place, it was time to actually write the music, but before that could happen I realized I would need help keeping track of everything else - things like spotting notes, picture changes, all the elements of the score that would not be recorded, session prep for recording and mixing, cue sheets, etc. All of this adds up to a music editor. For you composers reading this, heed my words when I tell you that hiring a music editor is the smartest thing you will ever do, especially on an absurdly tight deadline. I happen to be really good friends with Joseph DeBeasi,  a very accomplished music editor in addition to a great composer. Not only was he happy to join my team, but he proved to be utterly invaluable to me during my whole process, from taking spotting notes to creating protools sessions and take lists for my recordings. Amazing.

NOW I was ready to compose, and compose I did. I had two main themes, one for the relationship between the two main characters (the love theme) and one for the engagement ring, which had a life and back story all its own. There was also a motif for the dogs as well as recurring comedic/action material that I used to fill in, you guessed it, scenes of comedy and action. Between these four main chunks of musical material, I had my entire score... I just had to write it. One of the challenges for me as a composer is recognizing just how simple any given task can be. When you sit down and there is 40 minutes of picture staring at you, it's overwhelming. I spent a lot of time running away from my computer and walking around my neighborhood just trying to comprehend the mass of what I was doing. But, when I actually sat at my computer and focused on a cue, I realized I already had all I needed and all I had to do was cleverly draw it out. Below was perhaps the most challenging cue in the movie for me, mostly because there was so much that had to be encompassed in such a short time. It was also one of the first clips that had to be written for promotional purposes, which meant that it would govern similar scenes through the rest of the movie. When you watch you'll hear a familiar christmas tune, comedic material, the puppy motif, action music, and if you're really clever you will gather a little hint at the ring.

Some of you composers might be wondering how one gets an entire score approved in a week's To add one more level of excitement to the mix, I discovered early on that my director would be out of town for the entire time I'd be writing the score. And of course there were producers to go through as well. The answer? Dropbox. I got my director and my producers on dropbox and posted cues as I had them ready. They all conferred and my director would send me emails of bulleted feedback for each cue. So essentially I created a workflow. I would compose new material through the day, post the cues once they were finished, then address changes for previously written cues in the evening and post those before going to bed. I was supremely lucky to have an incredibly gracious and supportive director/producer team who made my job so much easier.

As is true with many creative processes and projects, the end product is almost always worth the battles (internal and external) one has to fight to get there. This was absolutely true of Three Holiday Tails. Yes it was grueling. Even as I think of it now I am both horrified and excited to ever return to the state of mind I was in. But the truth is that it is simply part of my job.

A Summary of Lessons Learned and Re-Learned

1. You are only as good as the people on your team.
2. Music editor = life
3. Your final mix can make or break your score. Don't skimp on a good mixer.
4. Never underestimate the positive impact that even one live instrument can have on your score
5. Take nothing for granted. Put everything you have into every project you do.

Below is a selection of tracks from the movie. Check back as I'll be adding more once I have them ready.

  Three Holiday Tails by Dave Volpe

Monday, September 5, 2011

Virgin Eyes (New Tracks!)

I had the pleasure of spending several weeks in August creating a score for an AFI student thesis project called Virgin Eyes directed by Roxine Helberg. One of the benefits of working on short films is that their concise stories and often intimate musical needs present a canvas on which one can create something completely unique and flavorful. That was certainly the case for Virgin Eyes, which was shot beautifully on location in Bel Air. In addition to the film itself being full of luscious imagery, Ms. Helberg provided a temp score filled with music I had never heard before including a band called Gotan Project, a Parisian tango-fusing trio that is self described as the "consummation of tango and electronica." In discussing her temp score we arrived at a palette that would blend a gypsy feel with electronic elements. Several of her tracks used accordion, a scintillating flavor that made its way into the score along with solo viola and guitar. Originally the idea was for violin, but I made a case for the darker more sultry tones of the viola, a very under-appreciated instrument that I felt would give the film yet another layer of unique color. And let's face it, every holocaust movie incorporates a solo violin and everything else uses a solo cello (no offense, musicians, we love you), so why not explore something new? The finished project was nothing short of delicious.

A valuable lesson was learned from this film. While temp scores are very often evil things that composers have to deal with, they can sometimes be a fantastic jumping board from which to leap, particularly if it opens new compositional doors and gives insight into what the director wants. This was Ms. Helberg's first time working with a composer and I'm happy to report that, though she was very much in love with her temp, the walls of her mind were blown away when she sat down and experienced what an original score with live players can bring to her film.

Hope you enjoy!

  Virgin Eyes by Dave Volpe