Dan Solovitz

An interview with programmer, engineer, percussionist, and composer Dan Solovitz
by Tina Hall
October 2010

Dan Solovitz

Dan Solovitz

Classically trained as a percussionist and composer, Dan Solovitz began his career as a programmer and engineer in Los Angeles cutting his teeth assisting on sessions for Sabrina The Teenage Witch, The Nutty Professor 2, and The Replacements.

By combining his formal training with a computer technology, Dan has created a unique skill set that has led him to an active career as a composer across the various fields of the entertainment business. He has produced hundreds of pieces for recording artists, television, and film. His ability to produce ‘stand-out’ sounds has landed him advertising work with corporations like Porsche, Converse, Merck, SONY, Corona, and Target. Dan has also produced award-winning remixes for artists like Tommy Lee and Chainsaws & Children.

Maximum Ink: Can you tell us a little about where you are from and what shaped you into who you are today?
Dan Solovitz: I grew up in Minneapolis so by definition, that makes me a nice guy. My parents encouraged me early with music lessons of various sorts, starting with piano at age 5. Then came violin, viola, and percussion. I was also lucky to be surrounded by computers from as early as I can remember, getting my very own computer in 6th grade (a laughable statement these days, but hey, this is the late 80’s we’re talking about). I started arranging little MIDI compositions about that time, played in various bands, and had a lot of fun learning how to do all things music. After getting my degree in music composition I moved to Los Angeles for continued training in engineering and production, and got to work in many different environments and see what I enjoyed the most. 

MI: Did you always know you wanted to work in the entertainment industry?
DS: Actually, I did. I was set on being a composer starting from about age 12. I used to hang out in the garage with my drum set, a cheap keyboard and two cassette tape recorders, bouncing from one to the other and back…pretty much the lowest-level multitracking imaginable. So the choices I’ve made for a long time have been focused on that goal, and I’ve enjoyed pretty much all the different twists and turns along the way so far.

MI: Do you prefer to work as a programmer/engineer or percussionist/composer most? Or do you like to do both equally?
DS: The way I work they all pretty much go hand-in-hand. I’ve worked as just an engineer, just a percussionist, etc, and have had plenty of fun doing that. But when I take a job now, it’s usually expected that I’ll go from zero to finished, starting with the concepting and writing, and continuing all the way through production, mixing and sometimes mastering. Being seen as a “jack of all trades” can be a bad thing, but these day there are tons of people who make their living because they’re a one-stop shop, not in spite of it. 

MI: What is it like to have your work featured by some of the major corporations out there? When you first started your work did you ever envision that?
DS: I have to admit it’s fun to see your work displayed where others can see and hear it. The first time you see one of your national spots air during primetime, you generally have a big smile on your face. When I first started, I definitely envisioned that kind of exposure, but there’s naturally a lot of confusion about how to get there. In my case, I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to try writing demos for actual jobs at an established company, and after a few swings I connected. Once I knew I could do it, things got much easier.

MI: What was it like to work on productions with stalwarts like The Replacements and television shows likeSabrina The Teenage Witch?
DS: It was amazing. I was an eager kid right out of school, and I was able to learn from some very talented people. And those being my first major TV/film experiences, let’s just say I wasn’t exactly running the sessions. More like running the machine room, setting up the console for out-of-house producers, positioning mics and tending to all sorts of client needs. The sound designers, engineers and producers I worked with were hard-working, creative and extremely helpful in explaining what they were doing and why. I never thought paying my dues could be so much fun.

MI: Of all the works you have accomplished are there any that stand out as your favorites?
DS: I’ve done two Super Bowl spots, I’d have to say that was a blast. 

MI: What was it like to produce remixes for Tommy Lee? Are you a fan of his work?
DS: Absolutely, he’s gone through some major style changes with his music over the years, and when things started to feel more sample-based it kind of clicked with what I was doing. I remixed “Hold Me Down”, and I really dug the song. It was a remix contest - he made the individual stems from his original version publicly available for download, and everyone just had at it. When I remix a track I like to strip it down to just the vocal at first…everything is up for grabs at that point: tempo, chord changes, dance/rock/metal/slide guitar, etc. It’s all on the table, which is kind of the definition of remix…but so often adding a 4-on-the-floor kick and a dance synth over the original is what people expect from a remix. I try to come at it from scratch and really show an unexpected perspective. Where I was coming from at that time must’ve been so left-field that my track caught his ear and I came out with the win. 

MI: Do you find it challenging to meet various deadlines in your line of work? Do you enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that must come with
getting things done in a timely manner?
DS: I love deadlines. Some of my best work happens when the clock’s ticking and I know a client is expecting delivery shortly. And there are a lot of people turning work around really fast these days, so clients are coming to expect speed across the board. So yes, it can be very challenging sometimes, but if you trust yourself and keep your chops up, you just go into the zone and trust that good things will happen.

MI: If you could work with anyone who would it be and why?
DS: That’s a long list. Danny Elfman, Mark Mothersbaugh, Michael Giacchino, Marco Beltrami, Randy Newman all come to mind. But if I had to pick one it would have to be Elfman. Something about the way he interprets the emotion needed for a particular theme or scene…the end result seems so natural, but I’d love to see the methods that work for him in action.  Get a look into his bag of tricks, so to speak.  He can be so versatile, from dramatic action sequences to youthful whimsy to period romance.  Sure, those are traits that are recognizable in most successful composers, but I really admire how his scoring supports the picture without drawing attention away from it. At the same time, if you concentrate solely on the music, it’s unmistakable where it came from.

MI: What projects are you working on currently?
DS: Right now I’ve got two record projects in the works, co-producing with Ilona Europa. There’s a feature film on the horizon, so I’ve been doing a lot of prep work to make things smooth for when the wheels start turning. And I’m always working on a handful of ads, at various stages of completion. I guess you could say I enjoy keeping my plate full.

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Dan Solovitz
CD: Anticipation Record Label: Sabre Entertainment Records

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