October 20, 2010 | By

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Since 1965, NBC has been broadcasting episodes of Days of Our Lives [DOOL], one of the longest-running daytime soap operas in TV history.

The show’s large cast of characters – many who’ve been active since the seventies and eighties – has given the show’s composing team of D. Brent Nelson and Ken Corday plenty of rich material to create vivid themes and underscore since the pair started scoring the series in 1999.

With the aid of Ric Kohlbeck, the composers released a perfectly sequenced concept album that featured selections from their massive archive of music over two CDs.

Throughout the following Q&A with co-composer D. Brent Nelson, readers can also listen to clips of unreleased music to get a feel for the composers’ style, and the richness of their writing that’s on par with film scoring. Hovering a mouse over the music note icon displays composer comments, and clicking on the icon will play an MP3 file.

(Depending how you have your system set up, Internet Explorer will open up Media Player; Firefox will load your default media player; and Google Chrome will load and play the file, but you’ll have to hit the ‘back’ tab to return to the Q&A.)


Mark R. Hasan: When one thinks back to the early years of soap operas (namely the radio years, and the early sixties TV incarnations) it’s the organ music that comes to mind, and yet there was a point when producers felt it was time to give daytime soaps the broader sound already present in prime time TV series, like evening soap Peyton Place.

I’m just curious if you have any thoughts regarding the evolution of score within the soap realm, and whether Dan Curtis’ Dark Shadows was a major pioneering effort, due to Bob Cobert’s massive amount of source, thematic, and dramatic material for that show’s music library.

D Brent Nelson: That was pretty much before my time. What really influenced the current direction of music for our show was listening to what composer’s were doing in prime time and to some extent, features.  arly CSI was a huge influence for adding electronica textures to our soundtrack. In the 90’s the X-Files influenced what we did in our sci-fi based stories.  The music for the “Princess Gina” story had its roots in the “Edward Scissorhands” score. The John Black “Franken-Black” story had us mimicking a vintage, sort of nostalgic Bernard Herman sound. The current “Nighttime Hope” story (not on this compilation) was inspired to some degree by Delta Blues styles. A lot of our music signatures are inspired directly from the story itself. I’ll be reading an outline and I start to imagine how the scene will look and hear the accompanying music playing in my head, and then I chase after that. Ken personally draws a lot on the classics for his influences. [click HERE for “Nighttime Hope” music cue]

MRH: Soaps are known for their recognizable title themes (Days of Our Lives, General Hospital, and The Young & the Restless perhaps being the best-known), but when did DOOL start using original score, and was it partly a move to build up an in-house library for the volume of episodes produced each year?

DBN: Originally, starting in the mid-60’s, the library was a generic Columbia Music Library with contributors like Elmer Bernstein and Ennio Moriccone. Ken Corday along with Ken Heller created the first original music library for the show in the early 80’s.

MRH: Over time a music library starts to age and needs to be upgraded due to changing music styles, but I wonder if you feel, perhaps because of music technology and a greater penetration of styles and idioms in contemporary scoring, that the music in the DOOL 2-CD will remain far more contemporary than the early original scores from the seventies and eighties?

DBN: Time will tell. If they are scoring shows in 2015 with kazoos and bongos then I think we will sound dated. Otherwise, since there are a lot of combined styles in this set, it’s possible we’ve covered enough bases that it will hold up. The trend seems to be going back toward live orchestra. We’re doing that now and have been for a number of years. [click HERE for another “Nighttime Hope” music cue]

MRH: There was a period where it was vogue to create a hit single for a series, usually to play over a key romantic moment when two of a show’s most popular characters finally bedded, or married, or reconnected after years of avoidance. The concept of developing and positioning a hit single or customized song was tied to feature films (especially during the 80s and 90s), and it was often the song that was released individually or as part of a themed song album rather than showcasing a score.

The market has obviously changed over the past 20 years, and yet the fans have always been supportive of a show’s music, as evidenced by the Dark Shadows LPs and subsequent CDs.

Why do you think it’s taken this long for the DOOL music to finally get its own release? Was it the fans who wanted more music, or the composers who felt their music shouldn’t be treated any differently than a CD for a prime time series?

DBN: We released an album back in 1998 that did very well for a score album. A lot of the songs that have been attached to couples over the past 20 years were always licensed songs that anyone could get outside of the original music for the show, so we never tied them to soundtrack releases. What has taken so long for this release was the overwhelming amount of material to sort through and pull together. The longer we waited, the lager the volume became thus making it an even longer process. We could’ve put out a CD with the “Princess Gina” story  (we had about 45 cues with live choir that had been created over an 18 month period). We could’ve released another one for the “Franken-Black” story with over an hour of live orchestral score. We could put one out now featuring all the new “Nighttime Hope” bayou-sounding cues.

MRH: Were the rights issues for the DOOL set more complex than a conventional film or prime time TV release?

DBN: No. It is actually simpler. We’re non-union. We just put it out. That’s it.

MRH: I imagine the hardest step wasn’t deciding what music to put on the CD, but how to present it, since the set is organized into a pair of very distinct albums. Besides showcasing main themes, what are some of the steps you discovered that saved a great deal of time and labor in distilling a massive library of music down to 2 CDs?

DBN: Having Ric Kohlbeck put this together saved us an immense amount of time. As a fan he was able to grab the cues that had the most impact for the listener and as a score aficionado was able to compile and present a coherent record.

MRH: Few composers work almost exclusively for a single production. What makes the show challenging for Ken Corday and D. Brent Nelson after so many years?

DBN: There is always something new to compose for. The writers give us the inspiration and I’m more enthused now than I have ever been. We are going to be broadcasting in HD soon and possibly mixing in 5.1 surround. I love working with new technologies and discovering the hidden magic in our modern tools. I love recording live soloists, orchestra, and vocals… You name it.  We’re finding new ways of doing the same thing every day, constantly searching for unique sonic signatures. It’s like being on 5 different shows at the same time. And with over 2 hours of music used each week, there is no limit to what we can create and deliver. [click HERE for a Stefano-EJ characters/kidnapping secrets and plots cue]

MRH: A problem inherent to daytime and nighttimes soaps is the repetition of events to the same characters, whether it’s the same group dating / breaking up / marrying / sleeping together / etc., and there are times when even the writers are at wits’ end to create something fresh; certain characters have reached a creative limit, if you will, and sometimes a character or two needs to die.

Is it difficult for a composer to give these dramatic bumps a fresh angle, or does the familiarity with the affected characters give the composer an edge that’s more unique than what the writers, directors, and perhaps actors can achieve, perhaps because of their over-familiarity?

DBN: We tend to write story-specific cues rather than character-specific. So as the same characters go through different situations the music behind them is changing and evolving. We try not to use the same music over and over in a recurring situation. For example, we have over 25 cues for the “Nighttime Hope” story. This way we can vary to some degree the dramatic impact in scenes that emotionally we could be using the same 2-3 cues for.

MRH: Unlike feature films and even episodic prime time TV, soaps really dwell in the sweat and tears of characters. I wonder if you feel it’s harder to score soaps because the composer has to support deep human vulnerabilities, and keep track of a character’s mental and social state with each subsequent plot turn?

DBN: I love writing for this medium. I get to explore how the subtle influences of color and tone emotionally impact the scenes. A tiny hint of movement or angst will bring out that particular nuance of an actor’s performance. A lot of our scenes are emotionally multi-layered. On the surface the character seems like he’s being a “good” guy, sincere, genuine. But if you know the story, you realize that he is actually a snake in the grass and he’s plotting, deceiving. You wouldn’t play a nice cue here; it should be sinister with an emotionally appealing aspect. The music will become invisible and what you get is a compelling and believable scene. When the music disappears and the drama becomes enhanced, that’s when you know that you have made the right musical choice. Enhancing the performance and the writing is the goal. You need to know the history of these characters well to get it right. [click HERE for an acoustic guitar cue]

MRH: Does the scoring system for DOOL differ greatly from prime time TV practices (where there are perhaps a max of 23 episodes per year), or are there select episodes or parts of episodes that are given new material, and the rest are edited with material from the in-house library?

DBN: It’s approached like any one-hour drama when it comes to putting music against picture and editing it together. We work mostly from a library of music pre-designed for these scenes.  What differs is that we don’t have the time to write an entirely new score for each show, although there are usually brand new cues that appear for the first time every day. We write on average 20-40 cues a week, some of them are to picture. We differ dramatically in the fact that our show often tells snippets of 4-7 different stories in the course of 6 minutes. From happy to sad to deceit to action to danger: getting the score to flow coherently from one to the other is how we are the most challenged.

MRH: Perhaps the CD set’s strongest components are the variety of moods (action, suspense, romance, tragedy) and the balance between electronic and acoustic instruments. I’m just curious if that balance of sounds was there from the beginning, when Corday and yourself began on the series, or whether it developed over time?

DBN: It evolved over time as we reacted to what was being written, story-wise. We love so many different kinds of score and have found a way to incorporate many styles. That’s my trick.  It gives our soundtrack variety and yet there is a consistent thread throughout. We are always searching for new colors. It keeps the drama exciting. We have applied this to our original source music too (unfortunately not available) where we have written Country, Blues, Jazz, Cocktail Piano, Roadhouse, Coffee House Acoustic, Hip Hop and Electronica for our music sets like Alice’s, The Cheatin’ Heart, Tuscany, Java Café, etc… [click HERE for a Tate/Madeline/Chad/paternity story cue]

MRH: Lastly, while it’s logical to assume that the success of the current DOOL CD will be tied to a follow-up album, I wonder if you think the set is a bit of a breakthrough, for yourselves as composers, as well as soaps, in terms of getting some of the countless hours of music out there for anyone to enjoy?

DBN: I must confess, in hindsight, it was not a great idea in this economy to put out a CD that cost over $22. It would have been better to make this two single CDs priced around $8 each.  Most fans prefer the first disc with its romantic themes and don’t want to pay for the second disc, which seems abrasive to them. And yet for some (me included) who like electronica, the second CD is killer. I’m sure we’ll have something new out in a year or two.



KQEK.com would like to thank Ric Kohlbeck for facilitating this interview, and D. Brent Nelson for his generous time for answering our detailed questions, and selecting several unreleased gems for your enjoyment.

Please visit the composer’s website for more info, and great sound samples.

To peruse a few official Days of Our Lives sites, click HERE.

To check our Google search results of the series, click HERE.


Related external links (MAIN SITE):

CD:  Days of Our Lives (2010)


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