King of Reality TV
David Vanacore is one of the most prolific composers in the emergent reality television genre. His music is heard in hit shows on all of the major networks and David has been dubbed by television music insiders as the “King of Reality” on the Fox network. His credits read like a “who's who” of reality programming with such sensations as Survivor, Joe Millionaire, Temptation Island, Paradise Hotel, The Apprentice, North Shore, The Restaurant, For Love or Money, Cupid, Mr. Personality, Married by America and many others.
Shawn LeMone of ASCAP's Film & Television Music Department recently spent time with David at his studio in Valencia, California discussing his success.
I've watched your career develop in the past couple of years to capture what is, to my recollection, an unprecedented number of simultaneous television series by one composer. Can you give our readers a little insight as to how you accomplished this?
It's been a real evolution from my days as a rock keyboardist for the band Poco and then later on tour with Cher and Grand Funk Railroad. While I continued to refine my chops as a studio musician, I studied composition, orchestration and conducting at California State University and at the Dick Grove School of Music. I ran into television composer Mike Post when I was renting studio space from him. He offered me a job as his keyboard player and I was introduced to the world of television music.
One could argue that you've been as successful as Mike in developing a franchise of television shows. I assume that's where you got your feet wet composing television music?
(laughs) Yeah, I had a great time doing cues for NYPD Blue, Renegade and Silk Stalkings. My start in television was grounded in drama shows with Mike.
How did you branch out of that camp?
The first series I landed on my own was Behind the Music. At VH1, I established a good relationship with producer Gay Rosenthall who hired me for a CBS special she was doing called Sex with Cindy Crawford. The production ran into difficulties and CBS hired Craig Paligian, a renowned “fixer”, to get the production back on track. Craig really liked what I was doing with the music and gained confidence in my ability to work in diverse situations. When Craig was brought in as a co-producer on Survivor, CBS had me team up with composer Russ Landau for the underscore on that show.
You and Russ are working on your seventh season of Survivor now. How does it feel to be involved with a program that has ignited a major paradigm shift in American television culture?
Every season, I am amazed at how much our contestants have to endure. I'm a big fan of the show, actually. I often wonder if our audience sometimes forgets that these people are really left to their own devices with little help from the producers other than keeping them alive. I think this current season may be the best one yet.
Survivor has several production elements that set it aside from other reality programming. From the cinmatography to the music, you really elevate this show above the competition.
What I like about reality is that you have the freedom to be creative.
(laughs) Very funny. If I took on a drama show right now, I think I would want to do something totally different than what’s out there now. I mean, how many acoustic guitar grooves and string pads do people want to hear?
Sound palettes for film and television music evolve. The sound of Survivor has found itself in other television and film productions.
That's true. Ultimately, I would like to take all the musical experiences life has afforded me and pursue film scoring. I'm having a lot of fun composing and recording arias with Los Angeles opera singers and Italian accordion players and mixing them with hip hop beats for Joe Millionaire 2. I think modern film music requires composers who are able to meld traditional symphonic and rock-pop styles effectively. I am in discussion currently with a major film studio on some potential projects that could be really exciting.
Three years ago you were working out of the cubby-hole studio you set up in your house. With Survivor 3 you bought the house next door so you could continue to be close to the kids, set up the studio we are sitting in now and have twelve people currently working as creative and administrative staff. What advice can you offer to some our ASCAP composers just embarking on their careers?
Many young composers out there fail to realize that they need more than just great musicianship. They need to see their clients as customers and they need to be personable. I attribute a lot of my own success to friendships I have cultivated and the ability to read what clients expect out of me and then surpassing those expectations.