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A 2001 Interview with TV and Film Music Director: Doug LeBow
by Roe Lewis

Doug LeBow is currently (among other things) a Music Director with the daytime drama, General Hospital. The many roles he has filled include music copyist, arranger, orchestrator, composer and producer. Among his credits are concerts, cast recordings, a variety of albums and more than 20 films. Mr. LeBow was gracious enough to take time away from his hectic schedule to answer some questions for Staff Notes. His answers are not only thorough, but candid as well, giving us a glimpse into the life of a successful professional musician. Mr. LeBow's career is a study in both hard work and perseverance. I think you will agree after reading this interview, that he is an inspiration to anyone trying to “make it” in the music industry. 

The Early Years:

What was your first instrument?

“Guitar. I took guitar and piano as a kid, but the first instrument that I really was motivated to learn was the guitar.”

At what age did you become interested in music?

“I can’t remember not being interested in music and theater. My grandfather Billy LeBow played Trombone in Paul Whiteman’s Band in the 20’s. He played in the world premiere of Rhapsody in Blue at Aeolean Hall, and he used to always play his trombone for me when I was a toddler.”

Where did you attend school?

“Undergraduate, I studied Theater and Choral Music at California State University, Northridge, in Northridge, CA. Ten years later, in 1989, I went back to school at The Grove School of Music, where I graduated from the Composing and Arranging Program in 1990, and the Film/TV Composition Program in 1991. I also taught Musicianship, Ear Training, and Music Preparation at Grove from 1990 to 1992.”

What kind of formal training did you have?

“The Grove School (now closed) was about as serious as it got for commercial musicians. I loved Dick Grove’s whole take on Modern Harmony. It felt like Nuclear Physics at the time; like he was unlocking the secrets of the universe for me. It’s so sad that the school no longer exists. An amazingly high percentage of Grove graduates are successful, working musicians today.”

When did you write/arrange your first piece?

“I wrote my first song when I was twelve.”

Who were your influences?

“My earliest influences were my parents’ collection of Broadway Show albums, and Mozart. After that, The Beatles and The Monkees! The first artist who really raised my level of musicianship though, was James Taylor. I spent so many hours mastering his style of guitar playing. I still love all of his music to this day. The first ROCK band I liked were The Guess Who.”

Did you as a child or do you now, have heroes that you look up to?

“James Taylor and The Beatles, for sure. As a composer today, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, and Bruce Broughton are some of my favorites.”

Growing up, was there a person or persons who made a difference in your life? Someone who inspired you to believe in yourself and explore your talent?

“I had two teachers at Staples High School in Wesport, CT who had more influence on my life than anyone other than my own parents. George Weigle was my high school Choral Conductor, and Al Pia was our Drama teacher. They were both absolutely superb at what they did, and they both taught me not only music and theatre, but also how to have a professional attitude. Later, Dick Grove was my professional mentor in much the same way. Not only did he teach me music at a deep level, but how to behave as a professional in the real world.”

What was your first job within the music industry?

“Like many of us I played in a variety of band situations, but my first real regular money making job in the music industry was as a copyist. I had gotten interested in Music Prep while in music school. Many of my buddies played weekend gigs, but I wasn’t really a Jazz guy at that time, so I stayed home and copied out my charts. My friends started asking me to copy their charts as well. After I got out of school, a friend of my wife’s got a gig scoring his first TV movie. When I asked him whom he’d gotten to copy the parts, he asked to see my work and hired me on the spot. We did twenty movies together. After three or four, I started orchestrating for him as well. That was my real start in the business.”

Was there anyone whose style you tried to emulate?

“As a Jazz arranger, I think Billy May is a genius. The three swing albums he arranged for Frank Sinatra around 1959 – 1961 are absolutely astounding in their creativity. Whenever I get an arranging job, regardless of the style, I pull out those Frank Sinatra CDs to remind me what a great arrangement really sounds like.”

Professional Career:

When did you know you had finally “made it”?

“When I graduated from music school in 1991 at age 34, I gave myself until I was 40 to make my living as a musician. If not, I’d find another way with no regrets. I was already teaching some classes at Grove, and that was kind of my straight job. That same year I started copying TV movies and features for my friend, joined the union, and considered myself lucky! During the next three years, I was not out of work for more than three weeks without knowing that another job was in the works. At some point I stopped having time to teach classes, and even though I was hesitant to give up that “regular income” I realized that I couldn’t afford to keep doing it. When I quit that gig, I wondered if I had “made it”, but I realized that at some point in the previous year I had stepped over that line into full time musicianship without even knowing it.”

What did you do prior to working for General Hospital?

“Mostly orchestrating, copying, arranging, and producing.”

How did you come to be a Music Director for General Hospital?

“My brother-in-law, who at the time was head of music for Live/Artisan was asked if he was interested in the job, but he’d just signed a new contract, so he recommended me.”

How do you approach a new project?

“Ask as many questions as you can, to really find out what the client wants.”

Give us a run down of the typical process for writing for General Hospital.

“We have lots and lots of reading to do. Outlines, unedited scripts, final shooting script. We do 260 shows a year, so we can’t write a custom score for all of those episodes. We have a library of music created specifically for the show. My partner RC Cates and I actually choose and lay-in the music live while we are shooting each episode, and then fix what needs to be fixed after the show is all edited together."

What does a request usually look like? (Do you see the scene prior to writing for it or is it described to you and how?)

“We usually get one rehearsal for each scene, and then tape it. Like any form of Theatre, a daytime serial has its own conventions. We work with the same producers and directors all of the time, and know our library intimately well (it has over 5,000 cues and growing).”

What does your timetable generally look like?

“We shoot a one-hour episode each day.”

What are some of the pressures of writing for daytime television?

“Well, I don’t write the music that we use, but the pressure is in finding the right cue for 23 to 30 scenes a day, five days a week. Finding good songs to use when necessary is also important.”

What stresses you and how do you deal with it? How does stress factor into your work?

“The long hours are a bear. I’m here at ABC three days a week, but they are often 12 to 15 hour days. I do all of my free-lance work on the days I’m not here, but the stress of the long production day is my main stress factor.”

What is your writing process (i.e. play into midi, pencil & score pad, music notation software)?

“I still sketch to paper first. Themes, ideas, little exercises. If I’m arranging, it’s all on paper, and then into my music notation software (Sibelius) for parts printing. If I’m producing that arrangement in my own studio, I’ll sequence the parts that I’m not hiring players for in Digital Performer. If I’m scoring to picture, I’ll translate my sketch to Digital Performer, and complete the composition process there.”

What are the typical reactions you get when you tell friends/acquaintances that you write for a soap?

“When people find out that I work for General Hospital, nine times out of ten they tell me, ‘I used to watch GH when I was in college, when Luke and Laura were big.’”

More About Doug...

I read online about some credits of yours for Music Prep. Could you tell us a little more about that?

“I do quite a bit of engraving for publication. Presently I’m the exclusive engraver for DC Press and The Musical Source, in Washington, DC. I do mostly songbooks and Choral music. I don’t do much Music Prep for live performance anymore. I just don’t have the time. But I am very involved in the art and craft of computer based notation. I own Mosaic, Finale, Sibelius, Igor, Encore, and Graphire Music Press. I’m actively involved as a Beta tester on Mosaic, and as of just recently, Graphire Music Press.”

What other types of projects are you interested in or currently working on?

“I’m just about to start two producing gigs. One is an original cast recording of a Las Vegas show, and the other is for a well-known a cappella vocal group.”

What is your favorite style or type of chart to write/play?

“I still love Big Band Jazz.”

Given the opportunity, name a performer or writer who you would “just die” to work with.

“Hmmm, still love James Taylor!”

What is your absolute dream gig?

“Retirement! My dream gig is being Dad to my two sons, so I guess I’m lucky that I already am!”

What would you say to someone just breaking into the field or trying to break in?

“Never, ever schedule anything after a recording session. You’ll either have to cancel and disappoint someone, or you’ll be distracted all day wondering if you’ll finish on time. Either way you won’t give your best during the session and after all, that’s when it counts the most!”

Just for fun:

What was your first job?

“Soda jerk in an ice cream parlor.”

What is the strangest or worst thing that has ever happened to you on a gig?

“I accidentally mis-transposed some horn parts for a film session, and had to re-copy them by hand during the session.”

What would you do with a million dollars?

“Pay off my house and then put the rest away for my kids’ education.”

Name 3 CD’s currently in your car.

  • Mick Jagger – Goddess in the Doorway
  • Paul McCartney – Driving Rain
  • Tom Chapin – Around The World And Back Again (my son’s favorite!)

If you couldn’t be a musician but could be anything else regardless of talent or consequence, what would it be?

“Business Entrepreneur. I think business is cool too!”

Name 3 things you would take with you on a deserted island.

“If we’re talking about THINGS…my Martin D-41, a solar powered satellite radio/TV, and a large supply of Breyers Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream.”

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