A Conversation With Randy Edelman by Edmund Barker


You have probably heard his scores for Dragonheart, The Last of the Mohicans, and Kindergarten Cop before, but Randy Edelman didn’t always set out to compose for Hollywood. I talked with him about his journey from being a traditional classical artist, to a seventies pop songwriter, to a film scorer, and the multiple disciplines required for all those trades.

Edmund Barker: I feel like I’m familiar with a lot of your work just through secondhand exposure—I haven’t seen Dragonheart, but I know that overture from it so well because it’s been used in a million billion trailers!

Randy Edelman: That’s kind of an unexpected secondary thing that happened, particularly with me more than anybody, with my music that I write very specifically for film scores. And each film score has fifty, sixty pieces separately called cues, then the film comes out and I usually do a soundtrack, and music editors will use it. I’ll tell you something funny—usually when they do that, it’ll be like the Superbowl that opens with my music, or the Olympics, or a commercial. Then the director of the film will call me and go, “I can’t believe they did that!” But for me, it’s great! (laughs) For them, they make it for a movie and they don’t want to ever hear it again. Whether it’s that one or many others, they go on for year because of the use of them. Depending on what the film is, the movie may not even have been heard too long after it came out.

EB: Sounds like the director may not be happy to hear the music cut off from the original context.

RE: But I always just feel fine—it’s the film studio that own the music publishing, and that’s all they want, to use it to further their stake in it. Yeah, Dragonheart was one, and there’s lots of them. To me it’s just fun, as long as it’s used for something that’s close to what it was meant for in terms of emotion. I mean, with the sports stuff, I obviously didn’t write it for Wimbledon or the Olympics or the Superbowl, but it was probably meant for something in a film that’s a big, stirring moment.

EB: Testament to the music’s power, I guess. I just hope you get a check whenever they use it!

RE: I get a check! You get your pennies, and the pennies add up.

EB: Must be the weirdest sort of déjà vu, to be watching a commercial and think, “wait, did I compose this?”

RE: Commercials are different because those are buyouts, they’re not allowed to use your music and they have to make a deal, which is great too. But when they use it on a show or something they have to log it, and they have to clear it, and that’s easy. Commercials are where they actually buy the rights for use of that music…so usually when you see it for a commercial, Hallmark or Progressive or whoever called for the rights for it. Now…let’s get onto the creative area, apart from that! Where are you?

EB: Seattle. It’s a hot sunny day here; a few days ago though, it was like London with all the fog.

RE: When I go to London, I only want it to be cold, drizzly, and rainy!

EB: Yeah, it’s better for a creative’s mood. Now, I know the East Coast and Broadway is sort of your background, but have you worked much in Britain?

RE: In the UK, me? Well, tons. That would take us hours to cover. that’s the only place where my records—we’re talking records now, albums—happened. My singles and stuff like that. I have done a lot of scoring for films at Abbey Road, but years before that, when I had kind of a different life and I was doing albums, that was the only place where my son albums really happened. A lot of people recorded those songs and had hits with them, but that’s where my own recordings of them did well.

EB: I read something online about your solo pop records getting a following in Britain and Japan.

RE: Yeah, that was the only place, the UK. I went all over the world doing it, but as far as those records charting and me going and doing Top of the Pops and these BBC things that had been on for years, that was the place. There was really no reason why it happened there and not here, but for some reason that’s the way that happened. And to be honest with you, in hindsight, it was fantastic, because I never could have scored films if I had had any hit singles over here. It just didn’t work like that. Even though my background is totally in classical music, I never would have been taken seriously as a quote-unquote film composer had I had all those records with three-and-a-half minute hooky songs getting big here. So, it worked out really well for me! I wouldn’t have known it at the time, but in hindsight it was great.

EB: So if those singles had taken off in America, you would have had a totally different career trajectory.

RE: Well, yeah; for me as a musician, a very serious trained old-school conservatory musician, I got out of that. In the late seventies or before that, the music business changed. It used to be a music publisher took a song from A, B, C, and they gave it to the producer of the record, and the producer of the record gave it to Frank Sinatra or whoever. But then the music biz changed, and the only people who were selling records were people that were writing their own stuff. Whether it was The Beatles or Bob Dylan or James Taylor or The Eagles, it changed. So if you were a songwriter and you wanted your songs recorded, you had to do it yourself. And if you could carry a tune and write a decent melody, you could get a record deal! It’s not as easy as that, but that’s why I started doing that.

EB: Guess this was around the heyday of very symphonic pop records like Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper’s, was that kind of music, that baroque pop, an inspiration for you?

RE: Yeah, at that time with Sgt. Pepper’s, I was still back in music conservatory, but I always loved all kinds of music. And I always, always loved pop music on the radio, and even though I was in classical, I was able to phase very quickly from one thing into the other, and quickly made a switch. Now, I had just gotten out of school and thought I would be a conductor or concert pianist, but I also liked all this other stuff…so, I have a lot of stories, there’s a thick book in here. So I did a switch, and as a kid I was out on the road conducting for very well-known singers, singers who I had collected their records, whether it was Dionne Warwick or Pet Clarke, I couldn’t believe what I was doing. While I was out on the road conducting, during the day I had nothing to do, so I started writing songs. And talking about the symphonic pop stuff, it’s kind of interesting, what was happening at the time that really turned me on was stuff like James Taylor. His first album, which isn’t the album you think it is, was on Apple Records. It had orchestrations, and the orchestrations were like links between songs. Elton John’s first album had this guy named Paul Buckmaster, who’s not around anymore, and they had gorgeous string chords. And those kinds of things really got my attention. Of course, it was the songs too, but it was really these arrangements, because that’s what I gravitated towards. There were a lot of people doing that, and I said, “shit, I can do this too!” I had never sung a note, but that’s what I did.

EB: I hear something about a new single of yours, what’s that?

RE: The new single, which I did 2 1/2 months ago, is called “Comin’ Out The Other Side.” It’s this little happy, toe-tapping pop rock song about when we’re all gonna be let out of our houses, which we are now, after this pandemic. Now, it’s not a serious song, it’s not a message song, it’s not a great melodic song or interesting like a lot of stuff I used to write. It’s just really fun, very commercial, and I did it all myself and played all the instruments. So that’s what that is, and it’s really unlike anything I ever did when I was an artist a long time ago! (laughs) Now, what else did you want to talk about?

EB: I was wondering, back in your youth, did you have any big inspirations from the world of Hollywood composers like John Barry?

RE: No, no. I had no interest in what you were saying, none. I would go to see a movie and enjoy a really good score, just like you would, but that was never my plan. Plus, you have to understand, film composing now has a different shade. Years ago, it was a bunch of guys who came to Hollywood from Eastern Europe, and they were brilliant, all of them. They wrote like a billion minutes of music for all these films you hear in the background, and it was tireless work; you had to be brilliant to do it. Very few people were able to do it, but it had a whole different place. The early films? You’ll never see someone’s name as a composer at the beginning of the movie, you’ll see it at the end with a million other credits. They weren’t treated in the same way. I was interested in classical music, I was interested in show music from shows I saw with my parents on Broadway, and I was interested in music on the radio. But I wasn’t someone who was interested in films. Now, it’s a whole other thing…kids will go to universities now, and it’s a joke, they’re studying film composing. That’s a joke! You gotta be a great musician first, and when you have that down, you can pick what area you want to specialize in. But of course, with computers and technology now, it’s a whole different world, so a lot of these composers don’t come out of that. What I can tell you is, when I came out to Hollywood early on, I did witness some really great composers like Elmer Bernstein…I wasn’t so much interested in the music, even though I was a musician. I was interested in how the hell they timed the music to the picture, because they didn’t have the tools we have now. Now, it takes me one second on a computer to say “the music starts here.” But then, there was something called a clicktrack. So I learned this technique early on when I was making all these song albums, and I did a few very interesting films…what I want to tell you is, I don’t care how brilliant you are, and I’m brilliant. You just don’t do this overnight. First of all, it’s impossible to in the first place, but I had experience from years of doing other things. So I did some animated films, I did the first Chipmunks movie—you’ll probably go wow, that’s funny—and I did the first serious Kennedy assassination movie. And I did the series MacGyver. That was a pilot I did, I won’t even get into it, but I did it all myself. So, the show went on and it was a hit. I eventually quit doing that show because they would ask for forty or fifty minutes of music overnight, and that’s impossible—you’d need like twenty people in the backroom! The point I’m trying to make is, all that stuff, whether animation, the Kennedy assassination film, or MacGyver, was good experience. And because of my pop albums, I knew how to get a rhythm section into the studio to quickly make a groove. So, when I started becoming the guy for comedy, whether an Eddie Murphy film or something else, I could do that. All those years really worked out so that when I got my shot, because you always have to get a shot with somebody, I was ready. And then something very strange happened. You know who Ivan Reitman is?

EB: Of course! Ghostbusters.

RE: Yeah, Animal House, Meatballs, director of Ghostbusters. He was making a big picture called Twins, with Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger. They hired a great composer, George Delerue from France, he was one of the greats. Now, they wanted a certain part of the score to sound different—they wanted one thing for Danny DeVito, who was a ne’er-do-well screw-up, and something else for Schwarzenegger, who was this brilliant guy raised on some island. I was brought in, and I would’ve done it in three seconds for nothing! And the picture was coming out while I was on it, so there wasn’t much time. What happened is I wrote these things, and they kept asking me to write more, and by the end I’d written so much of the score they gave me a co-credit for it, which was odd because I was just doing what I was told. And from there Ivan asked me to do Ghostbusters II, and Kindergarten Cop, so that’s when I was suddenly a big-time Hollywood film composer.

EB: That’s a helluva story. I’ll be keeping an ear tuned to hear any of your music in future films!

The official website for Randy Edelman may be found at https://www.randyedelman.com
Photo Credits: Billy Hess

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