The Dave Grusin Archive
Music for the Screen
Composing for Television

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After establishing himself as a composer for the big screen, Dave Grusin continued with a parallel career in television.  

A glance at his work on TV series (see Dave Grusin's Work in Television) reveals, in the main, themes which are particularly vivid and kinetic.  For not only summing up the character of a show, the opening music must, in Dave Grusin's words, have “something distinctive about the sound right off the top, because that's what will get people in from the other room or keep them from turning the dial.”

Turning out cutting-edge themes like those for “Name of the Game” and “St. Elsewhere” would appear to be a Grusin forte, but he has admitted that the challenge of creating something unique could be quite formidable, saying, “it used to be a lot of energy, a lot of tempo, a lot of contemporary `today' kind of feel and so forth.”  He adds, “that's not necessarily going to save you if everybody is doing the same thing.”

However after a dozen years of this sideline, he gave up the medium - not just scoring series and TV movies, but composing themes as well - for another decade, citing television's intrinsic restrictions on creativity.

“There's a lack of time for writing the music, and also for recording it properly. No time at all for overdubs,” he points out.  With a series, there is often only a week to compose the music for an entire episode. Dave Grusin describes the TV scorer's routine, saying, “I'd come in on Monday to look at the next episode, go home, and start writing.”  More philosophical in his outlook to composing music for the screen, he has stated, “there are guys who like the routine of it, but I'm not that prolific. I can't do anything more than survive under those conditions.”

Even generating series themes virtually allows no time for a thinking process, with the composer seldom getting a look at anything more than a synopsis in advance.  “By the time you're ready to write, and write to time, you usually see what it is,” he admits, but as far as “talking about or thinking about what a theme will be” it's usually a matter of fly by wire.  Leaving the medium was the only alternative for one who feels his motivation is “what a show looks like, not the subject matter.”

He amplifies with the analogy, “it's like writing a short story as opposed to a novel, where you have a limited number of words and you have to make your point quickly - to try and make something - in 30 or 40 seconds, which sums up the ethos of a series."  With these thoughts in mind, he began to concentrate solely on theatrical films.

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Dave Grusin
Feature Films