Paul F. Antonelli is an award-winning music supervisor, composer and associate director with extensive experience in all facets of music production. Winner of six Emmy Awards and nominated for seventeen more, Paul is currently working on NBC’s Days Of Our Lives and Open Book Productions’ Venice The Series and Beacon Hill. Working between Los Angeles and New York, Paul has supervised music for the soap operas The Young and the Restless (CBS), Hollywood Heights (Nick At Night), As the World Turns (CBS), Passions (NBC), Sunset Beach (NBC), All My Children (ABC), General Hospital (ABC) and Santa Barbara (NBC).
Paul grew up in Boston and studied music at the University of San Diego and UCLA. He worked as the head DJ at the legendary Rainbow Bar & Grill on the Sunset Strip before joining ABC-TV as the studio’s music coordinator. He helped choose music for a variety of shows in production at the time including The Academy Awards®, The American Music Awards, Good Morning America, Eye on LA and General Hospital.
While working at ABC, Paul became the keyboardist and founding member of the 1980s synthpop band, Animotion, which had evolved out of his previous band, Red Zone. Animotion would experience mainstream success with their top-ten hit single, “Obsession.”
After leaving Animotion in the mid-80s, he played with the gothic horror band Radio Werewolf and later appeared with them in the 1988 film Mortuary Academy. Around this time, he began composing music for various films. He has worked as a composer along with co-composer RC Cates on 3 Chains o’ Gold and The Beautiful Experience for the artist formerly and currently known as Prince and Speed Zone!, The Princess Academy, Dead On: Relentless II, China O’Brien II, China O’Brien, Out of the Dark and The Women’s Club which were co-composed with David Wheatley.
Paul is a member of ATAS (Academy of Television Arts & Sciences), NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences), DGA (Directors Guild of America), GMS (Guild Of Music Supervisors), The SCL (Society of Composers and Lyricists), ASCAP (American Society of Composers and Publishers) and the AFM (American Federation of Musicians).
JR: Thank you Paul! I know how crazy busy you are!
PA: It’s been ridiculous! I’m music supervising Days of Our Lives on NBC. We had a six month show pad before the pandemic hit and by the time the studio went back into production, we had five shows left to air. Now they’re taping at a really good clip to try and rebuild the pad that the pandemic ate through. We were the only daytime show that was able to put out new material throughout the pandemic. Usually, a daytime show like ours might have a pad of a couple of weeks to a month, if you’re lucky. I just feel like I’m incredibly blessed that I didn’t even have a hiccup throughout the pandemic. I’m so very grateful. Days of Our Lives is currently taping at the NBC Burbank Studios on Olive and Alameda. But for the last few years, I haven’t had to go into the studio because I’m able to work remotely. While so many people were just getting their remote-working sea legs, I was fortunate enough to have already been doing it. There was nary a blip on my screen…with the exception of not being able to go out and see people!
JR: Tell me about your youth growing up. Where are you from how did you get into the music?
PA: I’m from Boston..actually, from a wonderful little four square mile suburb of Boston called Avon. The crazy thing is I had wanted to be a veterinarian all my life. I come from a family of six kids — 3 boys, 3 girls. One day when I was about 9 years old, my parents took me to an organ recital. We went down to Colonial Organ and watched the performances. On the way home they asked me if they bought one of those organs, would I have any interest in playing it? I said sure that looks like it’d be fun. So I grew up and was playing weddings and funerals at the church in my hometown. There were no bands in town that I really knew of, so I didn’t have any of those experiences. I applied and got accepted into the University of San Diego in their pre- veterinary program. All of a sudden, in the summer of my high school senior year, my interest massively shifted from veterinary medicine to music. I called the college to see if they had a music program and found out they had an amazing one that was very underrated…so I changed my major. Back in those days in 1977, you worked with carbon paper when filling out your paperwork. My father was the Head of the State Department of Education in Massachusetts at the time, so getting a good education was engrained in our minds at an early age. He found the carbon copy that showed I’d changed my major. He was furious! “Music?!? You’ll ruin your life!!” When questioned, I simply lied. I told him I’d made a mistake on my admissions paperwork. He said, “If I find out you changed majors, I’ll pull you out of there so fast…” I knew that I just needed to get on that plane and get out of there, and then I should be safe. A few years later when things actually worked out for me – my Dad understood.
JR: Tell me about your first bands you played keys for.
PA: The band was called Red Zone. I was working as the music coordinator for ABC and I remember that a very dear friend of mine Carolyn Tapp was working at ABC as well. She stopped by my office one day with Red Zone’s album. She told me how much she loved this band and how she attended all their gigs. I was just so busy at work that I didn’t think I’d have the time to devote to a band…but there was a bit of discord with my boss at that particular time, so I decided to go for it. I went over and I auditioned. I remember our singer Astrid coming over to listen in and she didn’t say a word—so I really didn’t know how the audition went. Jason, the leader of the band, liked my ideas and hired me. So we started a lot of gigging around LA. A few months later I get a call from our manager, Larry Ross. He told me there’d been a bit of an implosion within the band. Astrid Plane, Frenchy O’Brien (drummer) and Charles Ottavio (bassist) had decided to part ways with the other two members—but would I like to remain with them and continue on. That’s when we became Animotion. This was around 1983.
JR: Did you do the club scene in those years?
PA: We played the LA club scene and we were also really fortunate because we had a fabulous manager named Larry Ross who would pay for our studio time, our rehearsals and showcases. After a while, we were being courted by Don Arden who owned Jet Records. He was Ozzy Osbourne’s father-in-law, Sharon’s dad. It was a small record label but they had a couple of powerhouses on their roster like ELO and Air Supply. But then it was Russ Regan who wound up signing us. Russ played a major role in the careers of the Beach Boys, Elton John, Neil Diamond, Barry White, Olivia Newton-John — a bunch of classic acts. We recorded the album in ‘84 and our single “Obsession” hit in February of ‘85. At that time, I signed a three year contract with General Hospital because I thought that it was going to give me more time to rehearse with the band. I had a music partner at GH, so my work schedule was on a week, off a week and we could make up our own schedule. Mostly we’d alternate working three days one week and two days the next. In my young 20’s mind, I never entertained the thought of what would happen if the album was a success. What about tour support, etc.?
JR: Was this when you began to learn Music Supervision?
PA. Yes, when I had my ABC gig, there was a wide variety of shows I worked on such as AM LA, Daybreak LA, Eye on LA, Hollywood Close-Up, American Bandstand, Academy Awards, American Music Awards, etc. One of the shows I also worked for was General Hospital. They had a composer named Charlie Paul who wrote all the music from New York. But when the show would shoot their remotes, production could veer away from their working library and use outside pre-recorded music. At that time synths were just coming into vogue. Gloria Monty, God bless her, she turned the whole medium of Daytime on its ear. She was the first to use songs for the characters and storylines. There was a wonderful marriage, a symbiosis between the songs and the show. They used Herb Alpert’s “Rise” for the controversial Luke and Laura rape/seduction — and it hit #1. “Baby Come to Me” by James Ingram and Patti Austin also went number one. We used a lot of Tangerine Dream and tapped their Risky Business soundtrack quite a bit. We also used the Escape From New York (John Carpenter) soundtrack. It was so much fun. There was a whole new vista for us to explore musically. With Gloria at the helm, the sky was literally the limit. It was really a blast—a giant musical playground.
JR: The soaps audience made the shows part of their life they watch it almost every day and then music suddenly became theirs too.
PA: Exactly. Then it became really fun to find and place a song, especially if you found one that was lesser known because you had millions of fans/viewers that would propel it to the top of the charts. A great example is “Baby Come to Me” that we discussed previously. Christopher Cross’ “Think Of Laura” is an other good example. When I went back to GH in 1991, we started using a lot of songs. We used Bryan Ferry’s version of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” for the Luke and Laura characters. Back in the 80’s, we were the big money makers for the networks. General Hospital was making one quarter of ABC’s annual gross — which was insane! When the Luke and Laura wedding aired, they had crazy Super Bowl numbers for their ratings. Gloria Monty knew she was giving the network the bank for their evening soaps like Dynasty. GH also financed the first mini-series that ABC originally developed. It’s hard to believe that now there are only four daytime dramas left. CBS has Young and the Restless and Bold and the Beautiful, NBC airs Days of Our Lives, and ABC has General Hospital. We’re all holding up well and hope to continue for many years to come!
JR: How has your work on the soaps changed over the last 30 years?
PA: We used to program the music live while the actors were taping their scenes! We had all the music on pre-recorded audio carts that looked like 8-track tapes…thousands of them. We had a wall of cart machines and an audio engineer at the ready. I’d receive the director’s script the night before taping, go through and score it with all the potential cues I’d intend to use. I’d arrive at the studio between 5:30 and 6:00 in the morning, pull all the audio carts out and then get ready for dress rehearsal. I’d would then change the cues according to how the dress rehearsal went. After dress, sometimes they’d cut a number of pages or they might cut specific speeches or change the dynamic of the scene. The scene may’ve started out as romantic, but now it’s skewing tense. The wild thing was that sometimes the director would go out onto the stage and give the actors some notes and then—as an aside before taping resumed—open my door and say, “Oh, by the way, there isn’t going to be that romantic kiss at the end of the scene…she’s now gonna take out a hidden knife and stab him. Okay, in 5, 4, 3, 2…” I’d be flying across the room like a maniac to grab my music to rescore because we literally had thousands of audio carts around us. I really marvel at the fact that we knew the location of all the cues. This was necessary because if you missed laying in a cue to tape, you’d have to keep the crew on standby at the end of the taping day so you could lay the music in “wild” and give copious notes for the assistant director to take with him/her to the editing session. This would just add time to an already lengthy and costly edit session and you weren’t very popular if this happened often. We really needed to be on top of it at all times. When I went to New York in 1996 to music supervise All My Children, they were already using Pro-Tools to lay in the music, so there wasn’t the need for me to be onstage anymore. I was no longer governed by the taping schedule. Having this newfound freedom was amazing! Now I could lay in the music and edit it to picture and have it land exactly as I intended. Perfection!! I could try various cues and actually take my time tailoring every choice—what a concept! When I send my Pro-Tools session to my mixer, it’s EXACTLY the way I want it. I know what’s going to hit the air, and that’s been one of the biggest changes over the years.
JR: What is the biggest musical F-up you heard on a soap you worked on.
PA: (Struggling to think of anything) I gotta tell you, we were pretty on top of it! Honest to God, you were living in fear if you f’d up, you could have the whole stage pissed off at you! I remember doing a huge wedding scene where we had countless extras and just a lot of “business” where so much of the action was being cued by the music placement. Just before tape rolled, my producer leaned over to me and very calmly said, “You have everything set, right? Because if you fuck this up…I WILL kill you!”
JR: And the actors did not have more than it take or two.
PA: Believe it or not, it’s much worse today. The budgets have gotten so tight that they don’t have the extra time to give the actors multiple takes like they did in the old days. They used to give actors many more chances to get it right. There’s a whole lot more pressure on the actors to come in fully prepared and know their lines. What pisses me off is the way soaps can be looked down upon. If you’re doing a film, you may be only shooting a page a day. Sometimes a soap actor could have 4 to 8 pages of dialogue in one scene. Then, after dress rehearsal, production may realize the show is too long and some of it needs to be cut. The director will let the actor know, “Okay, you’re going to kill your 4th line, 8th line, 10th line…” and they need to commit this to memory with little to no prep time. People have no idea the amount of work that goes into our shows! If people could go onto the set and see how grueling a day’s worth of taping is—they’d have a much different perception of the medium. I remember when Dustin Hoffman came to the GH set to observe and do the research for his role in TOOTSIE. By the time he was finished, he absolutely got the idea of the intensity.
JR: Outside of these, do you have a second life in music?
PA: I do music for a couple of web series that are close to my heart. They’re called Venice the Series and Beacon Hill. Crystal Chappell is the pioneer who started the whole web series game. The Television Academy created new digital categories thanks to her brilliance in this arena. I just love working with her.
JR: Who has had the greatest impact on you in your career?
PA: My producers. I would say the first one to truly make an impact on me was Gloria Monty at General Hospital. She turned the medium on its ear. She just commanded excellence—starting with herself. She’d kick the shit out of me—in a really great way! I was in my early 20’s and very green in the industry. There was no one better to work for. Gloria was the Queen Mother of Daytime and has left an indelible mark on my heart. I always wanted to make her happy. But when I didn’t, I would hear her boot heels clicking down the hall, and I’d be praying she wasn’t going to come into my studio…and then the door would fly open and she’d say things like, “Dee-ah…do you see how you are single-handedly sabotaging this scene with your music?” Another favorite was, “Dee-ah…do you see how you’re unraveling the tapestry of my show thread by thread?!” Classic Gloria!
JR: What advice would you give up and coming musicians, songwriters and composers on what they should do to break into film/TV/streaming?
PA: Pay attention to what’s being used on any given show that you’re interested in pitching. Don’t bullshit the music supervisor. The worst thing you can do when sending in music is to say, “I have the perfect music for your show!” Then, upon listening, it becomes painfully obvious that they have never seen the show a day in their lives. It ruins it for everyone else because I find myself getting gun-shy with others who are also submitting music. I don’t have the time to go through and listen to endless cues and songs that won’t fit the bill. Do your homework. If you’re hitting the mark, you go to the top of my list.
JR: What advice would you give wanna-be up and coming music supervisors?
PA: Now that the Guild of Music Supervisors has been established—check them out. It’s an amazing organization that’s made up of the most brilliant and successful music supes in the business. Also check out the SCL: The Society of Composers and Lyricists. Go to their symposiums and events and network. They are two incredibly invaluable organizations.
JR: What was your impression of the Springboard West “Moment of Truth”
PA: I was incredibly impressed with the caliber of music and talent that was represented from around the world. There was not a dog in the bunch! There was SO MUCH fabulous talent out there with really great songs! I’ve been trying to do Springboard with Barry Coffing for years, but just didn’t have the luxury of time to take off and travel for a weekend. Now with the virtual Zoom conference, I only missed maybe an hour and half of work and I could get right back into the groove once we completed our session.
JR: Any final thing you’d like to say?
PA: Persistence is key. You can have all the talent in the world—but sometimes that’s just not enough. Situations can change on a dime and they often do…so don’t give up. Especially nowadays when you do have organizations like the Guild of Music Supervisors and the Society of Composers and Lyricists. Go out and meet the people…ask questions. Benefit from everyone’s experiences. It’s a wonderful thing. Persistence!
Interview by Julius Robinson firstname.lastname@example.org