If you asked Dave Pelman in 1995 where he saw himself in 23 years, you can guarantee his answer wouldn’t have been, “composing songs for an animated TV show, broadcast on the Internet, based on a videogame.” Heck, the nascent Net in the mid-‘90s was mainly a vehicle to send and receive e-mails. Yet, in 2018, that describes one of the SOCAN members’ main gigs.
It’s also apropos, since Pelman, like most in the industry, has always had to adapt, and remain responsive, to market demands. He landed in the City of Angels armed with big dreams, and a degree from Boston’s Berklee College of Music, at a time when the business was in a state of flux.
“I got to L.A. right around the time record stores were closing,” says Pelman, who was born in Vancouver, and spent his formative years in Calgary. “I remember arriving, looking for Tower Records, and it was closed. Record companies were being conglomerated and recording studios were shutting down left and right. I had to switch gears and figure out what to do. Most of my graduating class of friends have stories about having to jump ship and shift gears.”
Initially, Pelman found steady work as an engineer on records, while composing on the side. As the studios started to close and the record industry contracted, he transitioned more into the creative side – scoring TV commercials for brands such as Honda. Years of writing for this medium saw many of his compositions left on the cutting room floor.
“When you write TV commercials, or anything for the advertising world, you write a lot and end up with a bunch of music that doesn’t get used or sold,” says Pelman. “So you start to stockpile a lot of music.”
Sitting on a ton of music, Pelman decided to put together a music library and open up a boutique publishing company, DP Music, to license his compositions to the TV and film industries. Select credits include So You Think You Can Dance (Fox), American Idol (Fox), Ultimate Beastmaster (Netflix), S.T.R.O.N.G (NBC), The Briefcase (CBS), and The Jacksons: Next Generation (A&E).
Pelman started playing piano from the moment he could walk, and there were always musical instruments lying around the house. “It was obvious I would stay on that path,” he says. “I can’t imagine doing anything else … this is what I’m wired for.”
That path today is one that shifts faster than the tectonic plates at California’s core. Pelman’s most recent project: scoring the music and songs for an original online series called Clash-A-Rama! The free show now streams on iTunes, Google Play, and Clash YouTube channels. It’s based on the popular mobile games Clash of Clans and Clash Royale, and is written by the writers/producers of The Simpsons. What started as 11-minute episodes are now 22 minutes long. They feel like you’re watching a 30-minute sitcom without the commercials. The series, which just finished filming its third season, averages more than 20 million views per episode.
“What is interesting about this project is that while it’s geared solely towards the YouTube format, the process of making it is no different than a TV episode in terms of how it’s written and how it’s animated,” Pelman explains. “Actors are hired, the scripts are written and revised, and we follow a traditional sitcom production schedule, except for one difference: there’s no hard deadline. This allows you the opportunity to make it a really cool, great production, without feeling rushed, or having the pressure of a deadline, or a roomful of executives having to weigh in before it’s broadcast.”
The series is written in an upbeat, humorous style, with lots of dry pan. The variety of characters, and disparate themes, in the show allows Pelman to stretch his compositions in many directions. “Each episode might have a theme, but it takes many tangents throughout the show, so it makes sense for the music to jump all over the place,” he explains. “The music needs to support the jokes.”
That also makes writing for a show like Clash-A-Rama! so challenging. “You need to be as fresh as you can from one moment to the next,” says Pelman. “There are constantly different styles of music, from barbershop quartet stuff, to Broadway, to rap.”
Besides scoring Clash-A-Rama! And running his own music publishing/library/licensing company, Pelman composes music for a variety of other Hollywood productions. But just as he did that first day he set foot on the streets of L.A., nearly three decades ago, the musician remains nimble, ever ready for what’s next.
“At the end of the day, I work really long hours, and do a multitude of different things… I wear four to five different hats every day,” says Pelman. “It’s like the Wild West out there. Things are changing on a monthly basis. You have to stand fast and be ready to adapt quickly and jump on opportunities while the irons are hot. That’s my life!”