Someone recently rediscovered this concise and coherent analysis of how Don Fagen wrote Steely Dan’s Peg. Especially helpful is the overhead camera shot on the piano, so you can see exactly what the notes are in the piano riffs.

A couple of interesting points:

  • The verse is a 12-bar blues, organized by plagal cadences on the I, IV, and V degrees.
  • Peg sort of defines that breezy late 70s California sound. One shouldn’t be surprised that a lot of it depends on major 7th and 9th chords in open voicings.
  • The riff can be voiced an imperfect plagal cadence, landing on a first-inversion tonic, which means the bass moves down a half-step from ^4 to^ 3. That can make a nice descending chromatic bass line when the 12-bar blues goes from V to IV – watch how the bass moves G-F#-F-E.
  • The interlude discussed in the second video is similar to the verse riff, but instead of a plagal cadence, it’s a half-step descent from a major 9th (G9) to a dominant 7th (F7#9) . This 2-chord riff is  repeated three times in descending whole steps. This is similar to the verse riff two ways: the bass moves down by half-steps within the riff; and the entire riff descending by half-stems mimics the V-IV from the 12-bar blues. 


It’s always good to know how the classics were done. 



Part 2:


Posted 1 week ago by John Piscitello

This is 15 minutes well-spent, a brief history of film trailers.

Going in before watching, here are the trends I’ve been noticing:

  • When exactly did the “In a world…” voiceover become verboten?
  • Have you ever foreign-language film trailers always avoid dialog?
  • Comedies use pop song cues, medium-sized action movies use sound design cues, but the biggest tentpoles still go the massive-orchestra-plus-choir route.

As it turns out, this Vimeo video doesn’t address any of those questions, but it’s still fun viewing. The best part is seeing the trailers themselves, so skip ahead to around 5:30 when the talk turns to Casablanca. And don’t miss Alfred Hitchcock’s direct pitch to the camera for Psycho (I should like to see Disney make a Star Wars VII trailer like that one).

The History of the Movie Trailer from on Vimeo.


UPDATE: Here’s another good trailer history roundup focusing on the predominance of  SFX “money shots” in trailers, with Independence Day, Star Wars, Top Gun, Spider-Man, and more.

Posted 2 weeks ago by John Piscitello

No Place On Earth will premiere on History Channel 6pm ET / PT on Saturday, April 25th. The television version contains an additional segment “After the Wall”, which includes a new musical cue not in the theatrical version of the film.

The editors chose the cue from a batch of unused mockups I had created for the film version. It captured the mood of the post-war events so well that we decided to go ahead and record it with a string orchestra:




And here is the trailer for No Place On Earth:


Posted 2 weeks ago by John Piscitello

Amen, Brother.

Nicely edited. 

Posted 2 months ago by John Piscitello

Times may change, but this all still feels relevant

A studio rarely makes a film that it doesn’t expect will succeed with at least two quadrants, and a film’s budget is usually directly related to the number of quadrants it is anticipated to reach. The most expensive tent-pole movies, such as the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, are aimed at all four quadrants.

The collective wisdom is that young males like explosions, blood, cars flying through the air, pratfalls, poop jokes, “you’re so gay” banter, and sex—but not romance. Young women like friendship, pop music, fashion, sarcasm, sensitive boys who think with their hearts, and romance—but not sex (though they like to hear the naughty girl telling her friends about it). They go to horror films as much as young men, but they hate gore; you lure them by having the ingénue take her time walking down the dark hall.

Older women like feel-good films and Nicholas Sparks-style weepies: they are the core audience for stories of doomed love and triumphs of the human spirit. They enjoy seeing an older woman having her pick of men; they hate seeing a child in danger. Particularly once they reach thirty, these women are the most “review-sensitive”: a chorus of critical praise for a movie aimed at older women can increase the opening weekend’s gross by five million dollars. In other words, older women are discriminating, which is why so few films are made for them.

Older men like darker films, classic genres such as Westerns and war movies, men protecting their homes, and men behaving like idiots. Older men are easy to please, particularly if a film stars Clint Eastwood and is about guys just like them, but they’re hard to motivate. “Guys only get off their couches twice a year, to go to ‘Wild Hogs’ or ‘3:10 to Yuma,’ ” the marketing consultant Terry Press says. “If all you have is older males, it’s time to take a pill.”

More here

Posted 2 months ago by John Piscitello

It’s blockbusters all the way down:

Of the more than 1 million acts the company tracks, about 80% accumulated less than 1 “like” on Facebook per day. By comparison, Shakira racked up an average 50,000 likes on Facebook each day last year.

Still, the dominance of a relative handful of acts doesn’t diminish the fact that the web has given musicians infinite shelf space and carte blanche to market themselves in creative ways. “That’s the silver lining in the very dismal cloud that often hangs over the music industry.”

The web has opened up opportunities for acts to break in. But break in, they must. Read more at WSJ

Posted 2 months ago by John Piscitello

I liked this roundup by Cakewalk of acoustic guitar mic techniques. Saves a lot of time vs. setting things up 10 different ways yourself. 

Posted 2 months ago by John Piscitello
Film Music Media (5/5 stars):
John Piscitello’s score is a masterpiece and for this to come from a composer who is practically getting started is just awe inspiring….This is a score that has true meaning and a real exploration of the human condition behind it. It’s a must listen and an exemplary score that represents the power and meaning of film music.

Film Score Monthly (4/5 stars):

The score is by relative newcomer John Piscitello, who crafts a gorgeous work for strings supported by flutes, horns, harp and piano….The surprising No Place on Earth is a fine score with engaging thematic writing, and the use of a real orchestra lends this documentary feature the kind of depth not often present in this genre. 

John Piscitello’s first soundtrack release is an auspicious showcase of his skills in writing themes and dramatic variations for the sensitive docu-drama No Place on Earth…The score was crafted with an appropriate level of sensitivity, avoiding the pitfalls of melodrama and overstating the dire emotions of the film’s subjects, and there are a handful of cues where Piscitello allows for a little lightness.

 Film Music Magazine (June Soundtrack Pick):

It’s almost disarming how pleasant John Piscitello’s documentary score is when you think that it’s for a Holocaust movie about Ukrainian Jews who find shelter, and safety from the Holocaust in the bowels of a giant, utterly dark cave. While Piscitello evokes the string-shivering danger of the depths these survivors are reduced to, the main feeling that “Earth” evokes is a hauntingly beautiful nostalgia for a past

The main use of the surround channels is to give “air” to the restrained, poignant and classical score by John Piscitello.

Paste Magazine:

John Piscitello’s graceful score hits all the right notes, showcasing more melody and timbre than most documentary scores allow for. 

Find the No Place On Earth soundtrack on iTunes and Amazon.

Posted 7 months ago by John Piscitello
About a succinct summary of the history and art of film composing as you’ll find.

Steiner composed 11 other film scores the same year he worked on Gone with the Wind. 

James Horner said of his work for Titanic: “I probably wrote all the material in about three hours. The themes literally came to me in 20 minutes.” 

On the other hand, John Williams went through 300 versions of the five-note alien greeting from Close Encounters of the Third King before Spielberg was happy.

Those five tones from Close Encounters are embedded in the score, they are heard in the lead-up to the communications sequence. Back up this video a bit to hear them. (By the way, isn’t it lucky the aliens happened to have a tuba player aboard?):

Posted 7 months ago by John Piscitello
The Short Game will open in 30 theaters this Friday. The kids from the film are appearing on Katie Couric, Jimmy Fallon, and Ellen DeGeneres.

Here are showtimes plus 2 clips below (both happen to include music I wrote for the movie):

The Short Game – Pinehurst

The Short Game – Daddy Caddy

Posted 7 months ago by John Piscitello