What topic will it be today — an addiction? A ghost encounter? A romantic reunion?
Drama is never far from the mind of Redding resident Ed Dzubak, an Emmy Award-winning composer who creates music for soap operas and news programs.
When writing music for a fictional show, “as far as storyline, anything goes,” Dzubak said. “I might be writing straight-up romance or about someone returning from the dead.”
Dzubak has won four Emmys for Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction for a Drama Series for Another World, Guiding Light, As the World Turns, and All My Children.
In addition, he has been nominated for an Emmy 10 times.
“I write, produce, and record, and I work for all kinds of TV and multimedia,” said Dzubak, 61, a graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Mass. He works out of his home from his production studio, Parkhill Publishing.
He plays piano, guitar, drums and electric bass.
Aside from soap operas, Dzubak creates music for news shows including Dateline NBC and ABC’s 20/20. He also teaches audio production at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury.
He’s married to Sharon Epstein, a college essay writing coach and former TV writer and producer.
Dzubak gets his assignments from composers. “We have a team of composers who work underneath music editors and music directors,” Dzubak said. “They tell you what kind of scenes they need and what the emotions are going to be.”
Whether he’s writing for fiction or nonfiction, Dzubak said his goal is for the viewer to feel an emotion that relates to the scene.
“It has to make the viewer feel something emotional, without drawing attention to the music itself,” he said.
He has accumulated an extensive library of music in reserve over the decades, which he uses for a wide variety of scenes.
Throughout the course of his career, Dzubak has met celebrities such as Paul Simon, John Denver, Randy Newman, Michael McDonald, Anne Heche and Paul Avgerinos.
Aside from writing music, Dzubak also creates sound design for scenes, which is when non-musical sounds are brought in to support a musical event.
“For example, instead of recording drums for a scene, you might use garbage can lids processed in software to sound like low-pitched, ominous, and clangorous bells,” he said.
He added that sound design is common today, as post-production has moved to computers.
He created sound design when working on the Ed Pressman film Sisters. “I had to score a scene where a guy was murdered with a frozen birthday cake,” Dzubak said. “I worked on ways to get each whack creamy, but murderous sounding.”
“The ability to shape sounds of all kinds into the uncommon and sometimes other-worldly has been a big boon to composers,” he said. “The difference between sound design and music can be very subtle; In some cases, a score may be almost all sound design and very little actual, traditional music — this is especially the case in horror movies.”
For as long as he can remember, Dzubak has had synesthesia, a condition where he hears music as pictures.
“It’s a condition of the brain where you hear music as colors, shapes, and pictures,” he said.
This has helped him immensely in his career, he said.
“Formally, it’s an asset because if I watch a scene, I get an impression right away,” he said. “If I see a character, it will make me feel a certain way musically, and I know it’s going to work.”
Throughout his life, he has memorized hundreds of songs this way.
“I never knew that other people don’t have this ability,” he said.
The music industry has changed greatly over the past few decades, according to Dzubak.
“It has gone from a formal industry to what has become a cottage industry where one person does the job of many,” he said.
Thirty- to 40-years ago, Dzubak said he would have been one person on a team. Today, he is a one-man show. “I am the recording engineer, musician, composer and arranger,” he said.
Also, he said there used to be more people who “control the news.”
“It used to be records companies had people called gatekeepers, and they would control who they were and were not going to promote,” he said. “Today, due to the relatively inexpensive availability of digital technology, an artist can produce an album from soup to nuts on a laptop, and the album can exist as a download. Every avenue of that product can be completely controlled by the artist.”
According to Dzubak, winning an Emmy has become very competitive since there are only four soap operas left in business — The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful, Days of Our Lives, and General Hospital.
“Soaps are going away. They are very expensive to produce,” he said.
Dzubak said his “ultimate goal” is to gain traction in the album area through his music.
“Today’s market for ambient music and new age artists is healthy on certain radio formats, especially satellite,” he said. “Also, people who like those genres tend to purchase the CDs.”
Dzubak is now at work creating the music for an album that he hopes to complete by the end of the year.
“It will be new age and feature lots of piano, guitar and electronics — all my own compositions,” he said, adding, “It’s a work in progress.”
Dzubak said he wakes up every day, eager to plunge right into his work.
“It’s so much fun,” he said. “It’s fun to know that you turn on your computer and look at a blank screen and within a few hours, you’ve challenged yourself. Your result would be something new that is yours. You’ve created it and you’ve learned something from it.”