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Danny Pelfrey's Earmark Productions - Approaching the Virtual

What do you do with a musical obsession? If you work hard and are fortunate, you can turn it into a career. Danny Pelfrey began his musical obsession with the guitar at the age of nine, mastering trumpet at twelve and writing arrangements a year later. It wasn't until after graduating from Boston's Berklee College, though, that he discovered his first love in the saxophone.

Soon after relocating to Los Angeles, a chance introduction to Diana Ross led to an extended tour. Other opportunities followed, including a stint with the Tracey Ullman band and projects with the legendary Carole King. In short order he was a regular in the studio, gracing the recordings of folks like Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Dave Stewart, David Crosby and Graham Nash, and appearing regularly as a soloist in TV shows like The Wonder Years, Roseanne, Arsenio Hall, Ellen, David Letterman and the Tonight Show.

It was this exposure to television that inspired him toward composition. "I fell in love with the process of wedding music with dynamic imagery. Because of the nature of the visual medium, things operate on so many different levels. The more intense the image, the more challenging for the composer to find the right musical expression. I knew I wanted to compose."

He began writing commercials for such companies as Nissan, Toyota, Ford and the California Lottery, as well as promos for shows like Seinfeld, Wheel of Fortune, and the ABC Fall Season Theme. He was nominated for Emmy awards in 1992 and 1994 for his work in broadcast promotion music, which airs on major networks in the US and overseas. He has also been a major force in the music for interactive games including Activision's smash Star Trek.

His recent work has been largely focused on film and television projects, with movie credits including Joseph: King of Queens, High Fidelity, Get Carter and The Big Kahuna. His extensive television credits include the soap operas Santa Barbara, Another World and Guiding Light, as well as contributions to Six Feet Under, Chris Isaak Show, Judging Amy, Survivor, Boston Public, Charmed, Drew Carey, Melrose Place, Thirty Something, Saturday Night Live and Fresh Prince of Bel Air. His co-compositions for the show Felicity led to an Emmy nomination, and he was the weekly composer and wrote the themes for the recent hits Danny, Spin City and That's Life. Currently, Pelfrey is the weekly composer for the acclaimed NBC-TV series American Dreams, as well as the Lifetime series Strong Medicine.

In the fast paced world of television, the advantages of working in the digital domain are hardly a secret. While most busy composers have adapted to the technology to some degree, Danny Pelfrey can be counted among those who have embraced it whole-heartedly. "With TV music in particular, things move very quickly and there are a lot of last-minute changes," he explains. "There's no substitute for being able to pull up a project and have everything exactly the way you left it, down to panning, effects and synth patches. When we knew we needed to build a second room, it just made sense to pursue the idea of going completely virtual. We find the convenience of working in this environment is so much better once you get your head around it."

And go virtual they have. The new room is built around a Mac G4 dual 1.5 GHz machine, running Digital Performer 3 under OS 9.2.2. Like many Mac users, Pelfrey is looking forward to working under OS X in the near future, but has opted to wait until the operating system's handling of audio and MIDI has matured to the point of stability he requires. "It's absolutely going to be the best system out there, but there are still some minor issues that need to be worked out between Apple and the various manufacturers. We're simply too busy here to make the switch until it's completely 100% bulletproof."

In lieu of a traditional mixer, Pelfrey has opted for a Mackie Control Universal as the system's centerpiece. "For years I used my Kurzweil 2500 as a controller for DP," he recalls. "For the most part I'd input automation and panning info as I played parts. But the Mackie Control is so intuitive, and feels so nice to work with. It's a very elegant interface." He cites the Control's support of ProTools and Digital Performer as a major plus. "We tend to go back and forth between Digital Performer and ProTools quite a bit. We do a lot of mixing in ProTools. It's great to be able to just swap the overlays and move from one program to the other, and keep using the same control surface."

One of Pelfrey's current projects is the soundtrack CD for American Dreams, boasting a list of artists that already includes Ashanti, Vanessa Carlton, India Arie, LeAnn Rimes, Nick Carter, Usher and Duncan Shiek. "For this project, everything was recorded and mixed directly into ProTools, again using the Mackie Control."

The original room hosts a similar setup, but with dual Ramsa DA-7 consoles performing audio functions. "The DA-7's sound great, but the automation is pretty limited, so we really don't use it. We end up using Digital Performer's automation instead." Plans are to redo that setup as soon as schedules allow, foregoing the DA-7's in favor of another Mackie Control Universal and turning it into largely a mirror image of the new room. "Our experience with the Mackie control surface has convinced us, a virtual system is the way to go," remarks Pelfrey.


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