Artie Kane is a prolific film and television composer, having scored over 250 shows throughout his long career. His memoir, Music to My Years: Life and Love Between the Notes, gives a fascinating glimpse into the life of a Hollywood composer, as well as insight into what it takes to be successful in the industry.
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The Path to Hollywood
Artie’s career is an interesting one. He started out as a child prodigy on the piano, winning competitions and playing with symphonies at a very young age. He decided being a concert pianist wasn’t for him, though. Soon he started leading bands, touring the USA and Europe. He played in clubs, symphony halls, and arenas.
Eventually he wound up as a session pianist for recording artists and film scores. He played on an incredible number of big recordings, including with Frank Sinatra, Henry Mancini, Julie Andrews, and Barbra Streisand. His performances also feature on film scores by legends such as Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Hermann, and John Williams.
He dabbled as a recording artist himself, putting out an album of organ music produced by Henry Mancini. His album of Gershwin music, ‘S Wonderful, was nominated for a Grammy Award.
As a trained pianist, he was able to play just about any music put in front of him. In fact, his perfect pitch and sight-reading ability made him a sought-after talent for difficult piano parts.
“Composer Bill Lava was well known for writing fast-moving, difficult cartoon music with many intricate passages between xylophone and piano. I didn’t know this when I took the call, but when I opened the piano book, it was a sea of black dots, fast tempos, and full of runs.”Artie Kane, on playing piano for Looney Tunes, from Music to My Years
To learn composing, though, he studied under master teachers – notably Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Albert Harris. It seems that writing music came naturally to him on the piano, but orchestration was a lifelong study.
“I was determined to master orchestration…. If I ever got the chance to score a piece of film, I was going to be ready.”Artie Kane, Music to My Years
He worked as a session pianist for 16 years before landing a composing gig, and all his study paid off. This resonated with me because as a DIY film composer, I can install a full orchestral sample library in my DAW, but if I don’t understand how to write for the various instruments, it still won’t sound good. Learning, practice, and experimentation is key.
To say Artie Kane was prolific as a composer would be an understatement. For TV, he wrote music for over 250 episodes, for classics like The Love Boat, Gunsmoke, Matlock, and Wonder Woman. Many of these were on extremely tight schedules, where he’d have only one week to write and record 30 minutes of music!
As he wrote more and more music, he got better and better jobs. Eventually he got an agent, who propelled him up the ranks with larger projects. Though he got a certain number of lucky breaks, his story is mostly one of hard work, constantly grinding out music and never relenting. While his memoir details every kind of personal drama you can imagine, it rarely interfered with his music. That kind of tenacity paid off for him as he landed more and more gigs.
“Success happens when preparation meets opportunity”Artie Kane, Music to My Years
The Changing Times
Artie Kane began his career before color television. In fact, one of his early gigs was to lead a band for a television special designed to sell more color tv’s to the American public.
When he entered the industry in Hollywood, the studio system had recently been dissolved in favor of freelancer unions. So, he worked at every major studio on a per-job basis.
Composing music at the time was done on paper with a pencil at the piano. One composer would write out his scores for two pianos, so he could hire two pianists (Artie being one of them) to play the full range of an orchestra and audition the music for the director. That way the director could hear and approve the music before recording. Otherwise, there was no way for a director to hear the music before recording.
I get the impression there was a lot more trust involved with the director/composer relationship back then. Today we can program our music and hear the orchestration with virtual instruments. A director can hear exactly what’s in your head, and making changes are as simple as clicking a few buttons.
Later on, Artie built out a system of keyboards, synthesizers, and video playback equipment so he could compose and arrange with dozens of voices from his home studio. When he started working with an orchestrator in the 80’s, he could leave the minutiae of part-assignment and focus on the creative aspect of the music:
“…it gave me the freedom to watch scenes repeatedly until I thoroughly understood the mood and then could compose music that fully conveyed the emotion relevant to the scene.”Artie Kane, on working with an orchestrator, Music to My Years
Eventually, he left composing behind when the technology started to interfere with his creativity. The business was shifting to reduced use of orchestras, especially for television. Synths, samplers, and music built entirely in a computer were beginning to be the final deliverables for a show, not an orchestral recording.
“Although I augmented my orchestras with synthesizers for special sounds and effects, I was not interested in delivering a finished product from my home studio. I surrendered my pencil and score paper.”Artie Kane, Music to My Years
Interestingly, the same shift in technology that pushed Artie out of the business is the same exact shift that opens doors for DIY film composers. The ability to deliver a film score from your home studio means anyone with a creative idea and the right software can write film music.
Just because he stopped composing didn’t mean Artie Kane left the film industry. Instead, he picked up the baton and started conducting the orchestras during recordings.
Many film composers, especially today, are not trained conductors. They can write for an orchestra, but pass the baton – literally – to someone who has the specialized knowledge and skill needed to lead dozens of musicians.
For Artie, he was a seasoned leader. Having played in orchestras for decades gave him a deep understanding of what the musicians needed from him. And having composed for decades, he understood what the composer needed on the other side of the recording booth.
By the end of his career, he had conducted over 60 film scores. These included music by legendary composers like John Williams, James Newton Howard, and Danny Elfman.
Artie Kane is an example of one path to being a successful film composer. His early musical ability gave him a strong foundation upon which he kept building his whole life. His range of talent and strong work ethic meant he was able to shift his career into new directions as his interests and successes evolved.
Having seen music from every angle, he has a unique perspective and deep understanding on film scores:
“Music is the final piece of filmmaking- the essential element that pulls emotion from an audience and puts the goosebumps on the screen. If the emotion is missing, the audience is left with a void, and the full intensity of the setting, action and inner thoughts of the characters goes unrealized.”Artie Kane, Music to My Years
Check out his memoir, Music to My Years, Life and Love Between the Notes, if you’re interested in reading more about Artie Kane’s life.
There is more info about the book here on the publisher’s blog