Thursday, January 08, 2015

The music "bumnpers" on CHEERS

That's what we call those little musical passages that transition scenes -- bumpers. 

On Elvis' birthday I thought I would do a music-related post.  Here’s one of those Friday Questions that became an entire post because I have a special guest to answer it.

Dan Ball asks:

When I watch CHEERS, I always wonder how music was handled? I know Craig Safan scored the whole series (along with some great scores for THE LAST STARFIGHTER and REMO WILLIAMS), but would he actually score each episode or record a bunch of cues at one recording session per season that the director/editor could whip out in the editing room? Was it actually the director and editor who chose those cues? You've probably had to sit in this music chair plenty times in the past, so what's your strategy for picking the best ear candy for us, the audience? Are you more/less demanding in your scoring tastes because of your background in radio?

I didn't select the music cues.  For the shows I ran I had our line producer handle that.  Nor was I involved in the music on CHEERS.   So I personally don’t know the answer to Dan's question, but I figured why not go to the source? Craig Safan was nice enough to provide the answer.

You’re both right! I would score around half of each season’s episodes specifically for individual episodes. Usually these were recorded in groups of three episodes per session as there were union minimums and only one episode’s worth of music wouldn’t fill up that minimum amount of the musicians’ time. But I didn’t score each and every episode… I also recorded a “library” of musical cues in the “Cheers” style at the beginning of each season. Then that library was used for the shows that weren’t individually scored. Of course any new music I’d write for shows during the season would get added to that library so it would become quite extensive and after so many seasons… well you get the idea. It wasn’t the director or producer or editor who would choose the library music cues… it was the music editor. That would be Chips Swanson who was the music editor during the entire run of “Cheers”.

Thank you so much, Craig. And just know I’d be happy to return the favor. If you ever want me to conduct a session for you sometime, just say the word. But seriously, how cool that actual artists give their time to contribute inside info to this blog?

17 comments:

Unknown said...

Yes, very cool the artist would assist with our lowly questions. I always enjoy your insight, and appreciate that you would take the time for questions. Thank you.

Hamid said...

But seriously, how cool that actual artists give their time to contribute inside info to this blog?

Ken, any chance of asking the wonderful John Mahoney to guest on this blog? I'd love to ask him a question. His comedy timing is genius.

MikeK.Pa. said...

Don't forget it's the birthday of one David Robert Jones (aka David Bowie) who had to change his performing name due to a Monkee (RIP Davy Jones).

Re: "But seriously, how cool that actual artists give their time to contribute inside info to this blog?"

It's called respect. Hard earned, but well deserved.

RockGolf said...

Questions I'd love to ask John Mahoney:
- How did he completely get rid of his British accent? He one of those Brit actors in American TV that nobody would even guess was British.
- Did using a cane for 11 years on Frasier actually affect his ability to walk? (I ask because Hugh Lawrie had a similar problem playing Dr House.)
- Did he try to help Jane Leeves improve her Mancunian accent?

John E. Williams said...

On a related note, Ken, have you seen this?

http://mentalfloss.com/article/60555/18-things-you-might-not-know-about-frasier

Anonymous said...

Random Comment from Mentalfloss article: "Being a former radio presenter for five years and an executive for six, I do not understand Frasier’s way of "editing" his own shows by simply pressing one button to sign in/off. I know most viewers do not care but still, it does not, and can not, work this way, even with Roz behind the glass, because she has to coordinate the jingles and music etc. and she must control Frasier by giving him his red ON AIR light. After all, it is HER who is in charge of the sound(s) that go on the air, not Frasier, and he cannot just interrupt his monologue unexpectedly and press the button to disconnect the microphone. It would totally mess up the broadcast. I know, it is a comedy. But a huge factual error too...(So I was wondering Ken, as a radio guy, did this drive you crazy?)

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

great info.

Ken, FRIDAY question about Directing (and style).
When you are a guest director on any sitcom, is there anything you do that is considered to be a personal signature. This would be something that an observant and knowledgeable viewer would reveal that this episode was directed by "Ken Levine" or "James Burrows"?

Scooter Schechtman said...

Music cues are gone from television. They take up three seconds of time that could be better used for ads.
Signed, The Corporation

Dan Ball said...

Ken, I'm OVER THE MOON with this post! When I was a kid and even up until recently, I always thought because I lived in Kentucky (despite the fact that George Clooney and Jennifer Lawrence were both born & raised here and you had relatives here in Louisville), I'd never get the chance to meet or talk to so many people involved in doing the work I've always wanted to do. Plus, I listen to film scores more than any other music out there, so this post is doubly awesome. Tripling the fun was that you got Craig himself to answer. Craig (if you're reading) and Ken, you guys are my heroes.

As for the process itself, that's interesting that music is the responsibility of the below-the-line guys. In film, it's usually the director or producer doing that and there's a big to-do about it.

I read SIMPSONS music editor and fellow-"By Ken Levine" reader Chris Ledesma's blog and it sounds like the writers and showrunners are VERY involved in the music process for the SIMPSONS. It's probably a music editor's dream to work on a show like CHEERS where they get the freedom to call the musical shots. Maybe it's too much freedom! Or maybe they're just so damn professional that they like it both ways.

Again, thanks you guys!

Hamid said...

Bumble Bee

Ken already said re. Instant Mom: "It's a great script and my Fellini touches will only make it better."

Cat said...

So much care was taken with every aspect of Cheers, the set, the lighting, the music, and of course the casting and the writing and direction. That's part of what makes it such a classic, so many people cared about the show and were great at their jobs.

Mike in Radio said...

@ Anonymous wondering about Frazier controlling the mic... in a lot of radio studios there is a "cough" button near the mic which the talent can hold down to mute the microphone.

Hesh said...

I always thought it would a cool phone app would play Cheers bumpers if you enter a bar, or the Seinfeld bass tones if you enter a restaurant or your apartment.

But Friday Question: What there any reason given or motivation for the transition to the super jazzy bumpers from the later years of Cheers, rather than the mellower tones from the first few seasons?

txutxi said...

Great post, but your title needs an eagle-eyed editor, unless you meant to spell bumpers with an extra n. . .

txutxi said...

. . . or maybe it's a joke I didn't get? Always a possibility!

t

Roger Owen Green said...

Love the creative spelling! "bumnpers"

Micah|Mexican Timeshare Solutions said...
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