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Homemade Soundtracks : Film and TV composers in the Valley are doing more of their work in studios they created themselves.

March 11, 1994|STEVE APPLEFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Steve Appleford writes regularly about music for The Times

For a few years there, Joel Goldsmith never left his living room. Not that the man was spending his days watching "Oprah." This was his job, standing behind one of his fabulous keyboards, computers or tape machines, composing his rousing melodies and crescendos for film and television projects.

His wife was not happy about this, seeing their Sun Valley living room crowded endlessly with musicians, technicians, filmmakers and other professional visitors.

"It wasn't really a home," Goldsmith, 36, says of those early days in the mid-1980s. "It didn't become a home until people left."

Goldsmith has since moved his operation into the garage, where he creates the music to the weekly syndicated cop show "The Untouchables." But he remains part of a new tradition of composers who create and record their epic scores for the large and small screens at home.

An increasing number of these composers have settled in the San Fernando Valley, partly in search of affordable space, a suburban atmosphere and any way to avoid that terrible cross-town commute.

"There's a lot of composers around the neighborhood," says Danny Pelfrey, 38, a composer for television who works out of his Woodland Hills home. "I found out that two streets over from me is where John Coltrane used to live. I guess creative people like it out here."

Soundtrack composers have long worked at home, traditionally spending their days with pen, paper and an acoustic piano. That is, at least since the old movie-studio system loosened its grip by the 1960s and no longer insisted they clock in on the studio lot. In the last decade, new technology has allowed composers to also record at home. Now they often deliver a fully recorded soundtrack.

"Sometimes it's great to not have to comb your hair and look your best," says Rick Rhodes, 42, a composer who has won two Emmys for his work on "Santa Barbara" and has been nominated every year since 1986. "Grab your cup of coffee, go into your studio and create and not have to deal with anybody or park your car."

Rhodes' studio in his Agoura home is a 20-by-20-foot room that's decorated with a pinball machine, shelves of favorite CDs and albums, and his collection of "Popeye" memorabilia.

"It's a homey, friendly environment." Home studios, Rhodes says, usually "reflect the personality of the owners."

Rhodes works regularly for six television shows, including "As the World Turns," "Guiding Light" and "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," while also composing music for Nintendo and Sega home video games. His main tools are an Apple computer, synthesizers, an amplifier and some good speakers, all in a studio designed for the scoring of soap operas and turning his old commute to NBC Studios in Burbank into a fading memory.

"I rely on a fax machine, telephone, modem, computers, people who come out to me--which is nice," he says.

The home studio setup also means work usually stops by 3 p.m., when his children come home from school. Soon after the arrival of Allison, 8, and Adam, 5, Rhodes finds himself interrupted by a knock on the door. "There are a lot of kids on my street," Rhodes says. "When they're all out playing it's like 'The Little Rascals,' so I walk around the house with a cordless phone and try to find quiet."

The same sort of interruptions sometimes plague Richard Band, who lives in Woodland Hills. "Sometimes my baby daughter will be banging on the door to see Daddy," Band says. "The downside is you have to create your own impetus, to create your own environment. But that's a discipline, like anything else."

There are times when Rhodes travels to the home studio of a writing partner somewhere else in the Valley, as he did when recording his first jazz and pop album. The record, made for the Tokyo-based Polystar label, includes performances by such notable jazzmen as Tom Scott, Don Grusin, Chieli Minucei of Special FX, Dave Koz and others. The time he saved by not commuting, Rhodes says, created the time needed to make the record.

For composer Band, he found a perfect place to build his home studio 18 months ago simply by buying a house from Bill Ross, another soundtrack composer. (Ross moved a few blocks away, into a bigger place.) The studio is built on one side of the house, "so if I have to be working at 3 in the morning, it doesn't affect my family, who sleeps at the other side of the house."

Band, who comes from a family of filmmakers (both his brother and father are director-producers for their independent production company), has been working at home for the last 18 years. Like most soundtrack composers, Band creates the electronic portion of his scores at home and then goes into a larger studio if an orchestra is needed to "sweeten" the sound.

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