As part of Indiana University Southeast’s homecoming celebration and a music performance class, Jonathan Wolff, the award-winning composer most often cited for the Seinfeld theme, presented a lecture about his experiences in the music business.
Wolff described years of hard work both at learning the craft of music and developing a viable music business. He said that during his first 10 years in the business, “I was a musical utility tool,” doing whatever was needed. He was a musician, a recording engineer and an early adopter of electronic music.
He built a studio in his home and expanded his range of services to arranging, producing and recording. “The job I wanted didn’t exist,” he said, “so I created that space for myself.” When the Writers Guild went on strike in 1988, he reinvented himself and went on tour with people like Diana Ross, Tom Jones and George Wallace.
“I began writing music for George,” Wolff said, “and it turns out Jerry Seinfeld had a good friend named George.” So George Wallace referred him to Seinfeld. Eventually, he wound up writing music for 75 steady prime time TV shows.
Wolff described himself as an astute businessman. “I was not the guest composer in LA,” he said, but I was probably the best closer.” He knew how to get into the room with the decision makers, got to know all the people on the set, did favors for people and guarded his client list.
He gave the students several pieces of advice. Do the research, he said. Read the trade magazines so you know what’s going on and analyze the data so you can predict where the work will be and make the connections.
He also told them not to give their work away. It is common practice for producers to ask composers to make demo CDs to show what they can come up with for a theme for a show, but once Wolff decided he was no longer going to do that and told producers if they hire him, he will produce what they want, he began getting more work.
In the best working relationships, he said, the composer meets with the producer or director, they discuss what is needed for the project in question and then the composer goes off and does his job.
Wolff said he walked away from Hollywood because he wanted to have time with his wife and children and he has no plans to go back. “My next career,” he said, “is talking to students, in particular music students.”