How did you feel when you heard your music in The Last Song?
TRACEY: It was unbelievable! This is true — about 10 years ago we were at Disneyland watching the Main Street Parade. The song “When You Wish Upon A Star” was played, and I said to Vance, “Wow! That would be so cool to have a song in a Disney movie someday. That’s my wish.” It really was a dream come true.
VANCE: We didn’t know about the placement ahead of time. Ironically, a friend of ours was the piano coach for Greg Kinnear, who plays the dad in the movie. She sent an email telling everyone she got a credit. Tracey sent an email back congratulating her. The next morning, our friend sent an email saying “Congratulations to both of YOU for getting ‘Carnival Lights’ in the film. I saw your names in the credits.” We thought she was joking!
TRACEY: So, we literally ran down to the movie theatre as fast as we could for the next screening to see if she was correct. The movie had just opened the night before. Within the first five minutes, the song came on as Miley Cyrus‘ character “Ronnie” and her friend are shopping for sunglasses at an amusement park. It was so soft, but we recognized it. We could hardly contain ourselves! I think I saw a tear in Vance’s eye. It was absolutely amazing. We stayed until the end, and sure enough, there were our names, along with Music Supervisor, Inc. At that point, we just lost it — we started jumping up and down and screaming. Thankfully, by then the place was cleared out so no one witnessed our craziness!
VANCE: We went out to the lobby and I asked the theatre’s assistant manager if he could take a photo of us by the movie poster…
TRACEY: …even though we looked like we just rolled out of bed, which we practically did!
VANCE: The guy looked all over the theatre but couldn’t find any posters. They had just changed them out to make room for some of the summer movies coming up. Then, he went into the manager’s office and came out several minutes later. He found it! He took some photos of us, but then said, “Hey, why don’t you just take it. Congratulations!”
How did you ever decide to compose “Carnival Lights?”
TRACEY: We originally wrote the piece for a cable TV sports show, but it didn’t make the cut. I think they wanted something faster in a 4/4 tempo at the time. We wrote “Carnival Lights” in a fast waltz tempo. So, we put it on the Music Supervisor website and there it found a nice home.
VANCE: That was about 2 1/2 years ago, and we’ve licensed that song dozens and dozens of times for theatrical shows, commercials, kids’ video games, you name it. It’s even the theme song on this website for a “Toothpick Carnival.” The guy’s grandfather made these incredible miniature ferris wheels, roller coasters, carnivals, etc., all out of toothpicks while serving time in Folsom Prison back in the 1920s! Even the prison wardens would bring visitors to see his creations. It’s so funny hearing the song on the website. You just never know where your music will go.
What is your background, how did you get into music?
TRACEY: When I was little, my mom would bring me to movies like “Doctor Zhivago” and “Mary Poppins.” I would come home and play the themes and most of the score on the piano. She would also read books to me and I would go over to the piano and write a little song about the story. When I was 4, she read a book called “The Five Chinese Brothers.” She says I went over to the piano and wrote a song about it using all of the black keys, or the pentatonic scale. I still remember that song. So, she signed me up for classical piano lessons. My teacher was a composer and had two grand pianos in his studio. He would play Bach inventions his piano, then have me play them back all by ear on the other piano. I didn’t learn how to read music until I was a junior in high school. It was a real struggle. I’m still not great at sightreading complicated rhythms, but if I hear it, I can play it.
VANCE: I grew up in Hawaii and went to Kamehameha School on the island of Oahu. They had an excellent music program, so I learned how to play all kinds of instruments in the band and I sang in the choir. I also took guitar lessons and learned to play ukulele. I started singing and playing bass and guitar in rock, country, and blues bands when I was 16. The bands played at all of the military bases, which was great experience. I always wanted to be a professional musician, but I never thought it would lead to doing what we’re doing. It’s funny how all of the years of playing, arranging for my bands, finding gigs, dealing with contracts, learning music theory, have all lead to composing and songwriting.
How did you two become a producing-songwriting team?
TRACEY: We met in a popular bar/concert venue in San Diego known as the Belly Up Tavern in 1995. Both of our dates stood us up that night and I didn’t want to sit alone. So I found Vance and sat behind him to look like I was with him. I think he began to feel a little paranoid, so he turned around and we started talking. He was there to see Pete Anderson and I was there to see the warm-up band that a few of my friends were in. When the warm-up band took a break, it turned out Vance knew some of the members, too. At first, he thought I was this “prissy pianist…”
VANCE: …and Tracey said she thought I was this “scummy rock musician,” but the more we talked, the more we realized we had a lot in common. We started playing at each other’s gigs. Then, we started writing songs together and performing them in singer-songwriter showcases for things like NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International), then we took the dive and bought a ProTools studio and started composing and producing music together.
TRACEY: It wasn’t easy at first. In fact, it was quite frustrating! I’d come up with an idea and Vance would start editing it right away. That drove me crazy. But after a few years — we can be a little slow sometimes — we found that it worked best when I came up with a theme, melody, riff, groove, etc., then Vance finished it. Now, we’ve gotten to where we can both start and finish a song, but it’s so great to have instant, honest feedback.
VANCE: Like Lennon & McCartney but without the bank accounts! Feedback really helps. Together, we eventually figure it out and get it right.
TRACEY: We meet each other half way, which is funny, because I’m originally from Boston, MA. We figured out it’s about 2,500 miles as the crow flies from San Diego. Vance is originally from Oahu, HI, which is about 2,500 miles from San Diego as the plane flies. So we continue to meet “half way” to this day!
VANCE: But we can be relentless perfectionists, which gets in the way sometimes. We’ve had to learn to sometimes “dummy it down” and not “overwrite” as one publisher told us. That was not easy to do!
How do you get your music out there into the world?
VANCE: Our passion, we discovered, is writing a variety of music for production music libraries. We really love all genres of music, so it works for us. One way to find music libraries is to Google “Production Music Libraries,” or check out Music Library Report, or ask other composer friends.
TRACEY: Or watch the credits at the end of a film!
VANCE: Also, over the years we’ve joined helpful songwriting and composer organizations like the SCL (Society of Composers and Lyricists), NSAI, AIMP, CCC; we’ve gone to countless conventions like the ASCAP Expo, THR Billboard Film & TV Conference, the TAXI Rally, MIMICON; we take composing classes at UCLA Extension; and we attend concerts like at the new Grammy Museum on a regular basis.
TRACEY: You can never learn too much in this business! We’ve also found that networking is essential to getting your music out there in the world. There’s nothing like meeting someone face-to-face.
How has MusicSupervisor.com helped you?
VANCE: Music Supervisor is great because we’ve gotten emails asking for special songs needed immediately. When we have time, we try to fill that request. It’s so easy to upload new songs onto the website and describe them. It saves a lot of time.
TRACEY: Honestly, we’ve never heard anyone say anything but great things about Music Supervisor.com. In fact, at the recent ASCAP Expo, one our friends had a one-on-one mentor from Disney Music Publishing. She told him about our placement in the film and he said that he loves working with Music Supervisor.com!
What are you goals for the future?
TRACEY: I always dreamed of writing a song with the Bergmans. Two married couples writing a classic, timeless song together — that would be really cool! We’ve met them several times, and I appreciate their sense of humor and the way they are able to dig so deep to find just the right lyrics.
VANCE: The Bergmans are funny! Regarding a future goal…we just started composing for a company that provides music for Harpo Productions, so I’m hoping to get some music into as many upcoming shows as possible.
TRACEY: And it would be great to have some of our orchestral pieces performed by a live orchestra. We saw John Williams conduct the LA Phil in October at the Walt Disney Concert Hall — another dream come true — and I can’t imagine what a great feeling that must be.
VANCE: But as far as the future goes, one thing we’ve learned is if you just hang in there, keep improving your craft, and accept constructive criticism, you should see results.
TRACEY: My dad always says, “Even a blind pig finds an acorn now and then.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I think it’s that “persistence and patience will eventually pay off!”
Interview by Julius Robinson