Wednesday, January 31, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, January 31, 2001

Island musicians play a part in Baywatch Hawai'i

By Elizabeth Kieszkowski
Assistant Features Editor

It’s photo op and demo session day for the musical arm of "Baywatch Hawaii," a soundtrack recording still in production, and music supervisor Glenn Medeiros, Island-music hitmaker Fiji and recording engineer Tony Hugar are at journalists’ service inside a recording studio in a cozy residential cul de sac just off the Pali.

Fiji is at the mike, singing, "It wouldn’t be no thang, baby . . ." and the music is booming — thumping, tuneful and radio-friendly.

Once the studio effects are applied to Fiji’s already powerful voice, this song sounds like another Hawaii hit. Put the emphasis on "sounds like," however, because for the time being, this music can be heard only during "Baywatch Hawaii."

The music’s primary purpose is to pump up the volume and the viewer satisfaction for televised episodes of the syndicated series. Along the way, the "Baywatch Hawaii" soundtrack has become another conduit for television money to reach Island residents, and in return, for Island music to reach an international television audience.

"That’s a take, Fij," says Medeiros from his seat at the recording console. Fiji puffs out air, gathers his breath and says, "Let’s do it again."

Music with an Island touch, recorded especially for the series, is featured on each of the 22 current episodes of "Baywatch Hawaii." The local connection gives the program an only-in-Hawaii twist. But it’s also a money-saver, allowing "Baywatch" to evade expensive licensing fees and certain royalties when the shows are aired.

Musicians who contributed to the soundtrack include Hapa, Willie Kahaialii and Amy Gilliom, Kealii Reichel, Reality, Natural Vibrations, Damon Williams and Typical Hawaiians.

Medeiros, a born-in-Hawaii musician who has had his own radio hits, has primary responsibility for scouting the musicians and getting the music together. He does so under a tight schedule and with a relatively small budget.

During the first year of filming for "Baywatch Hawaii" in 1999, Medeiros served as music director, choosing appropriate existing music to feature.

Last year, the series took over responsibility for writing and recording the music heard during each episode. Medeiros, Fiji and musician/composer/producer Carlos Villalobos worked in collaboration to write and produce the music.

Medeiros estimated that "Baywatch" spent $7,000-$8,000 per episode on studio time and performance costs.

Plans are being hatched to turn the "Baywatch Hawaii" soundtrack into a commercial record release, but whether any particular tune recorded for the series soundtrack will ever get radio airplay is still to be determined.

The CD’s fate is linked to the series itself, Medeiros acknowledged. If "Baywatch" is renewed for another year or more, the CD will likely be released. It originally was slated to come out this month.

"It’s 99 percent certain," Medeiros said. "But we still have to hear from (the production company), Pearson, and contact the artists."

Making music on the fly

Rewind several weeks, with "Baywatch" episodes still being filmed for the 2000-2001 season. On set at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, Carlos Villalobos, a Chicago musician who worked with Medeiros on previous projects, is on hand to watch the filming of a musical scene with a reggae band and vocals by Jason Momoa. The drummer may not make it to the session, but Villalobos is prepared to step in.

"I’m the one-man band," said Villalobos, a multi-instrumentalist who can write, perform, record and remix on the fly to keep the soundtrack moving.

"Each episode has three stories and one song," Medeiros said. "We need one song that will fit those three stories. They all have a common theme, but we have to find that theme. Trust seems to come up quite a bit — being there for somebody."

"It’s like an assembly line you’ve got going there," Villalobos said.

The composers look at a clip or an edit of an episode to gather "images and ideas," then "whip out a track every seven to 10 days," Villalobos said.

To keep the music-making on schedule, Villalobos and crew typically have a demo of the track ready for the guest musicians when they come to the studio to record.

On the other side of Diamond Head, writer and co-producer Frank South is in his office at the Hawaii Film Studios, multi-tasking: signing off on last-minute script changes before turning his attention to the recording schedule for "Baywatch" music. He pops a demo CD into his player and turns up the volume, displaying some of his trademark enthusiasm. "These girls are amazing," he proclaims, listening to local duo Reality.

"There’s nothing that signals the big changes that are going on with this show better than when you tune in the show, you don’t hear the old Baywatch’ theme," South said. "You hear this new music, and it’s integral to the episode."

Last year, Medeiros made the pitch to record series music by Island musicians. His first idea was to use "Ally McBeal’-style covers of top songs," with local musicians, but this was deemed too expensive, he said.

The Hawaii musicians featured on the "Baywatch" soundtrack were paid a flat $1,000 fee to record a song for the series, Medeiros said. According to the music supervisor, the initial costs are similar to those involved with licensing. Because "Baywatch" retains the credit for writing the song, however, the royalties paid out when the shows rerun will be smaller, covering only performance.

In past years, when "Baywatch" was set in California and the show was flying high, the series was willing to license music from all corners of the big-name universe, from country star Ricky Van Shelton to pop stars the Spice Girls. But "Baywatch" creator Greg Bonann soon learned that creating their own music was a financially astute move.

"Although it is rarely mentioned, a show’s music can be worth a fortune," he wrote in "Baywatch: Rescued From Prime Time," which chronicles the show’s history.

"Much in the same way that an actor is paid a residual each time his episode is rerun, the composer/owner/performer is paid a residual each time his or her music is used. The only difference is that the musician’s residuals don’t decrease over time, as do an actor’s residuals. These music residuals are paid by the production company."

In that first year of syndication, Bonann focused on the title song heard during each episode. Since the production company paid a royalty each time the song played, he saw the logic in using an in-house team to create this music, and along with it, a source of revenue for the show.

Putting it together

At the studio, Fiji and Medeiros sit down to discuss the process of making the soundtrack. Fiji agreed to sing on the theme music, heard at the beginning and end of each episode, early on. In 1999, he went to Los Angeles to collaborate with producers who’d worked on the original "Baywatch" theme, but current "Baywatch Hawaii" bankrollers Pearson Productions weren’t satisfied with the results.

"They put me together with Glenn (Medeiros) and Carlos (Villalobos), and — boom! -we clicked right away," Fiji said.

The admiration is mutual.

"When we chose Fiji for the theme, we know he set a focus," Medeiros said. "The music that’s happening right now is the music Fiji helped create: this fusion of reggae, Island music and R&B. . . . The other artists (on the soundtrack) look up to him."

Also, said Medeiros, "Fiji is a very, very good writer."

Most series music doesn’t have vocals at all, Medeiros said but the "Baywatch" music does, which he believes gives the music more of an edge.

On "Baywatch Hawaii," listeners will hear some rock, some reggae and some house-music inspired electronic beats. On "Respect," the song demoed at the studio, Fiji contributed Hawaiian chant, translated for him by his friend, Robi Kahakalau. That song also features a female vocal part sung by Elona Irvine.

Medeiros launches into an explanation of the vagaries involved in artists’ rights and royalties. Fiji nods once or twice, then his head drops, and he is asleep in his seat.

"We do have the right to release a CD now, because we own the masters. But the reason they hired me is to take care of the local artists," Medeiros said. "Some of these artists have their music playing on the radio, and they aren’t even signed up to (licensing agencies) ASCAP or BMI. We’re helping artists get signed up."

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