Creating soundtracks for modern pop culture

by David Chester

Dodgeville, Mich. Ever heard of it? Perhaps not. It’s just another small Midwestern town you pass through on your way to the big city. It certainly wouldn’t occur to you it’s where one of America’s most talented and hardworking composers was born.

Like her hometown, Lindsay Tomasic is not well known, despite the fact that millions of people hear her music on a daily basis. Tomasic, the daughter of a copper miner and professional musician, has been around the block a few times since leaving the bone-chilling winters of Michigan and arriving in sun-drenched Los Angeles in 1987. Armed with a sultry voice, a trusty guitar and a songwriter’s ear for contemporary music, this Dodgeville girl was certain that stardom was just around the corner.

Thirteen years later, she may not be a household name, but her music is in every household. With percussionist and writing partner Quinn (who uses only one name), Tomasic has the unusual job of writing television and film “trailers,” snippets of songs (10 to 30 seconds) used to advertise everything from prime-time series (“Chicago Hope,” “Murphy Brown,” “Touched by an Angel”) to upcoming attractions and special events (CBS’ coverage of the Nagano Olympics).

These trailers, produced with just as much care and attention to detail as major-label releases, are played in the background behind voice-overs from advertisers and celebrities. Though most viewers use these precious seconds to either grab another chocolate bar or freshen up, trailers are considered serious business. Savvy producers realize how much music affects whether a viewer will stay glued to the screen, or start touch-typing the remote control.

Tomasic and Quinn have been doing their job well. In addition to being commissioned to write for the largest music library in the world (Sonoton), Tomasic’s company Datolite Music Productions (named for a gem indigenous to Michigan) has a list of clients other composers would happily tune pianos for: CBS Television Network, Microsoft and Thomas Dolby’s Beatnik/Headspace. These are a few of the heavyweights who keep Tomasic stationed in front of her Panasonic 24-bit DA7 console where she and Quinn begin each day with just an idea that, eight hours later, will be mixed and mastered into a 30-second masterpiece.

While Tomasic is having fun (and enjoying a little financial security for the first time), the journey from Joni Mitchell-esque singer-songwriter to sought-after producer, sound designer and trailer composer (who plays the majority of stringed instruments on her projects, including guitars, mandolins and dulcimers) has definitely had its share of sharps and flats.

Tomasic got her first dose of reality when a record deal with a band she was involved with evaporated soon after she settled in L.A. But instead of sitting in a depressed daze like the other band members, she put her talents to work and picked up a choice gig playing piano and singing at the New Otani Hotel in L.A.’s Little Tokyo. This was during the bubble era, when, she recalls, tips from Japanese salarymen were “quite generous.” She used the money to buy recording equipment in hopes of producing her songs and getting a solo artist deal.

Her quest for the pristine sound she is now known for had a price. In order to update her first studio (contained in the bedroom of a small Santa Monica apartment she was renting), she became a producer/engineer, recording countless demos for other struggling L.A. songwriters, offering her other formidable skills as vocalist and instrumentalist to help give each demo an edge.

Her multiple talents eventually caught the ear of Japanese pop music producer Hikaru “Flash” Kanematsu, who used Tomasic’s catchy “Call Back” as the second single for short-lived pop idol Erina, as well as her lyrics and background vocal arrangements for recording artists A.S.A.P.

The quality of her demo recordings also attracted Lauren Wood, composer and vocalist of “Fallen,” featured on the “Pretty Woman” soundtrack. Wood (whose 1981 Elektra Asylum album “Cat Trick” was reissued last year by Warner Music Japan) started using Tomasic as recording engineer, backup vocalist and, more importantly, co-writer. Working with Wood, says Tomasic, “helped me to realize my own vision of myself as an artist.”

Inspired, she recorded her first CD, “Well Kept Secret.” She managed to get a copy to the head of music operations at CBS Television without giving it much further thought. The producers of CBS’ coverage of the 1998 Nagano Olympics felt one of the CD’s cuts, “Breaking Down,” was, according to Tomasic, “the perfect feel and length for promotional ads running for the Olympics.” (It was also chosen to be part of the soundtrack of a currently popular American indie film release, “God, Sex and Apple Pie.”)

The repeated airplay started opening all the right doors and suddenly Tomasic was in demand, writing songs that would be featured in popular series such as “ER” and the long-running soap opera, “The Young and the Restless.”

Though her years of demo recording were paying off with high-profile clients, Tomasic still heard the call of her muse. Last year she wisely put aside time to record “Paradise Road,” a stunning collection of autobiographical songs about the simple, but sometimes tragic, world of small-town girls.

Its lyrical directness and gentle, heart-tugging melodies give one a clearer picture of the Dodgeville girl who took a chance on stardom and now writes the music that sets the mood for many of America’s top-rated shows.