By Randy Alberts
Known for his compositional skills on Broadway and in film, opera, commercials, and pop music, Douglas J. Cuomo is perhaps even more so respected for his catchy themes that help launch new television shows. His edgy, instantly recognizable salsa-flavored theme for Sex And The City - heard now by millions of new viewers in reruns each weeknight who never subscribed to HBO - is a prime example of Cuomo's musically helping hand for virgin shows.
"The most exciting part of working on a television show is at the beginning," says Cuomo as he walks along the streets of New York City with his cell phone. A real-time soundscape of car horns, sirens, and the playful yelps of children accompany his every comment. "You're looking for musical concepts that will guide you through the rest of a show's episodes."
The Sex theme was recorded in 1999 by a live band onto DA-88s for what TV Guide calls one of the best 50 shows in television history. Today, for every theme he writes and records without live players in mind or in the budget, Cuomo trusts GigaStudio to "play" his award-winning themes.
"For every non-acoustic orchestral theme I write, GigaStudio is invaluable," he adds. "It's been a long, long time since I've used anything else to sample and compose with. For everything I compose that isn't performed by a live orchestra, I use GigaStudio."
Sex And The Studio
The incredible success of Sex And The City positively changed a lot of things for Cuomo. He enjoys having written a show theme that most every viewer today has heard at least once - or dozens of times - by now, and the show's critical accolades certainly have been helpful for him in terms of the new work offers he gets for his numerous television, film, music, and theatrical music compositions. Among many others he has written themes for NBC's Now And Again and PBS' long-running Now, the latter formerly called Now With Bill Moyers, and another PBS world news show called Wide Angle features this talented composer's thematic work at its best.
"Wide Angle's theme is an electronic piece I composed entirely in GigaStudio," says Cuomo. "There are lots of world music and vocal elements in it playing around a Turkish dumbek groove with some synthesized bass parts under it. It's all GigaStudio."
Another arena Cuomo excels in, as do many composers these days thanks to GigaStudio, is composing soundtracks for medium- to small-budgeted network television and theatrical movie releases. He'll write with a live chamber orchestra in mind when larger budgets allow him to do so but, for everything else he does, there is GigaStudio.
"GigaStudio does a great job of emulating a live chamber orchestra for me. I'll have one or two live solo instrumentalists come in to play over the Giga string section which, in some psychological sort of way, makes everything else behind it sound even more live to the listener. Being in New York City, there are always so many great orchestral players for me to hire."
From The Streets of New York
Cuomo, who composes in a Brooklyn writing studio not far from his home, typically begins his thematic orchestral compositional process by assembling a GigaStudio palette containing up to 40 various string, woodwind, brass, percussion, and bass instrument samples. Using his software DAW of choice, Apple Logic Pro 7, he then composes a separate sequence for each cue and scores it to picture. He sometimes likes to play live guitar and bass himself but more often prefers to play GigaStudio bass lines from his Kurzweil K2500 keyboard.
"I create one big Giga session for each cue," says Cuomo, whose credits also include Homicide: Life On The Street. "That saves me a lot of time per cue. It's a sort of General MIDI type of approach to being prepared with a fair amount of instruments I think the producers might want to hear. I go through these pre-selected sounds and stick to those samples as each episode's music develops each week. The amount of time I have to compose is very limited and the turnaround times can be brutal, so being able to do things quickly and recall it all instantly with GigaStudio is great. And, of course, the bottom line for GigaStudio is its sound. The libraries are really extensive and, to me, the best sounding libraries out there are all on the GigaStudio platform."
As car tires squeal by within inches of his toes, Douglas explains that he's been hard at work preparing for a recording of his all-acoustic opera for Broadway called Arjuna's Dilemma. Thus, he hasn't had much time lately as he would like to absorb all the new features in GigaStudio version 3, but he is looking forward to using all the new sound design-specific features in it he's heard about. As for ease of use, Cuomo has plenty to say about his sampling platform of choice.
"There's something about using GigaStudio that is just so simple," he says. "It's clear and straightforward to use and has always worked well for me. Giga was for a long time the only way in which a composer could stream such huge audio sample files from a hard drive, so the platform has an extremely large head start on any other software samplers out there trying to do the same thing. My learning curve has always been really easy with GigaStudio. Getting into using GigaStudio 2 was very, very simple and so far the new features I've used in version 3 have also been easy to learn."
Committed To GigaStudio
Continuing his evening walk through the streets of New York City, Cuomo passes by a newspaper stand as it loudly rolls up its protective metal walls for the night. A dog barks nearby, as if at his heels, and a passing bus's hydraulic brakes distort the mouthpiece of his cell phone.
"The last episode of the first season of Committed aired last night," says Cuomo of NBC's new comedic sitcom. "I wrote the theme and all the short interstitial music pieces for it. We're waiting to see just how committed NBC is to Committed and whether it will air again this fall."
For Douglas J. Cuomo, scoring music for a new television show - each one potentially the next Sex And The City - is as exciting and alive for him as it is unpredictable.