Any successful musical requires an entire team of dedicated professionals – musicians, sound engineers, composers, lyricists, vocal coaches…the list is endless. Earlier this year, I had the great honor of being able to interview one of the industry’s finest lyricists – Mr. Glenn Slater. Taking time out of his busy schedule, I was able to interview him once more and ask a few questions about this season.
Stay 2uned: Where did the inspiration for ‘My Dragon Pal and Me’ come from?
Mr.. Slater: “When my kids were younger, they refused to eat meatloaf. In order to coax them into trying it, my wife (who also writes musicals) and I made up a fake 1960’s sitcom called “Tina and the Loaf”, about a girl and her meatloaf pal, complete with a “That Girl”-style theme song. Over the years, it has become an elaborate family joke (we’ve now invented about 10 seasons worth of episodes!), but the theme song in particular is by far the best part. Fast forward, to the moment where we got the script for Episode 5 and learned that King Richard would have a moment in which he was trying to cheer himself up by singing to his “dragon”.
Alan Menken and I tried several different approaches, none of which felt quite right, and then I suddenly remembered “Tina and the Loaf” – how perfect would it be to create a sequence for Richard and Tad Cooper that felt like one of those sunshine-y and innocent old sitcom themes? We called the writers and pitched the idea at them, and they said, sure, go for it. As soon as Alan came up with the melody (he writes fast, so…about two minutes later, basically), we knew we had found the right tone, and the lyrics came very quickly. Needless to say, this is probably my family’s favorite song in the whole series – when we got the first recording of Tim Omundson singing it with the orchestra, we all piled in the car and drove around for about an hour playing it over and over again!”
Stay 2uned: How do you work your lyrics so they don’t become tongue-twisters for those who sing them?
Mr. Slater: “One of the most important things that a lyricist needs to be aware of is “sing ability” – that is, how easy it is for a performer to make the words clear and understandable while also maintaining tone, staying in character, acting, etc. It means making sure that long notes are matched with open vowel sounds, important words are matched with higher tones, and so on.
For “tongue-twister” lyrics, the important things are: making sure that you alternate vowels and consonants fairly regularly, making sure that you don’t end a word and start the next with the same consonant (for instance, ‘some more’ – the second ‘m’ gets swallowed and it sounds like ‘some ore’), and making sure that you don’t pile up consonant blend that clash (like ‘milk plan’ – the ‘lk’ and ‘pl’ are too hard to get ones mouth around quickly). I’ll sing through a lyric over and over again while I’m writing it to make sure it’s easy to sing – if I can’t do it while sitting at my desk, there’s no way the actor is going to be able to pull it off while riding a horse!”
Stay 2uned: On a non musical note – can you tell us how ABC reacted to the mortal wounding of the main character?
Mr. Slater: “By now you know that Galavant wasn’t mortally wounded! Even so, the network has given us an almost shocking amount of leeway in creating this show – on most network programs, the writers receive piles and piles of notes from the executives, but we often walk out of the room astonished at how far they’re willing to let us go. As far as I know, nobody raised a single objection to Galavant “dying”. We do get some pushback on some of the “naughtier” material, largely because we do have a lot of younger viewers…but even then, they are very willing to let us go right up to the line.”
Stay 2uned: What is the typical recording session process? Are all the actors in that number recording at once or one by one?
Mr. Slater: “Ah, the recording process…VERY complicated! Menken and I write the songs at his studio in New York, and Alan will record a simple demo – usually keyboards, bass, drum, sometimes a bit of synthesized strings or brass for flavor – and sing all the vocal parts himself. (Except for the rap battle – I got to do the vocals for that demo!) He’ll send the demo to our MD (music director), Michael Kosarin, who will write out all the vocal parts and harmonies so that they’re in the proper keys for our performers’ voices. We’ll then send him and the demos to Bristol, where the actors are shooting. They’ll dedicate a few days in the studio to recording the songs for a set of episodes (usually three or four at a time) – they’re all there at the same time, including the guests.
They sing to Menken’s demos, and we make sure that we get the cleanest and clearest versions of each song down on tape. Next, those recording are shipped to wherever they’re shooting; while the song sequences are being shot, the actors are singing live to Menken’s demos (while they’re riding or dancing or whatever); each song takes about a full day to shoot. The hope is that we get good clear live vocals while the shooting is happening, and we usually do (we have VERY talented performers!); if, however, something happens and the live recording isn’t usable, we have the studio recording as a back-up, and we can blend the two versions together seamlessly in the studio.
Once the scene is shot and edited (still with Menken’s simple demo music!), the final version is shipped to Los Angeles, where we go into a studio with a huge orchestra (well, pretty huge – we use 52 pieces, which is enormous for TV; but for comparison, we used 90 on “Tangled”). By this time, Menken’s original demos have been fully orchestrated by some of the top Broadway orchestrators, and sound absolutely amazing.
The orchestra will play in a room with an enormous screen, upon which our footage is playing, and Michael Kosarin will conduct the orchestra while watching the screen, making sure that everything they’re playing matches up perfectly to the action. It’s then turned over to Frank Wolf, our engineer, who tweaks the various vocal takes so that each one is as clear as possible, and who balances each instrument so that all the details (some of which can be funny in and of themselves, weirdly enough), can be heard. And only then are we done…just in time to start the whole process again on the next batch of episodes.”
There it is – an inside look into how the making of Galavant. I would again like to thank Mr. Slater for answering these questions and giving us an inside look to how these emotionally charged songs are created. You can follow Mr. Slater on Twitter – @SlaterLyrics and catch Galavant this Sunday (set your DVRs) at 8:00 PM on ABC!