Interview Transcript – Episode 1: Rich Dickerson

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If you’d like to follow Rich, you can find him on Instagram @richmusic, or at richdickerson.com.

Rich Dickerson has written music for both early direct-to-video Scooby-Doo movies and What’s New Scooby-Doo?, including, most notably, the theme song. Photo courtesy of Rich Dickerson.

AL: What’s your relationship with Scooby Doo?

RD: I loved Scooby Doo. I watched it, probably all of them. I’m as much of a fan as anybody else. How it all came about was — I’ll tell you the story — I was the head of music over at a company called Icebox.com, and I was doing theme songs and overseeing the music for a bunch of their shows. When Icebox went under, Joel Kuwahara was VP of production and he went over to Warner Bros. And he called me up one day and said “Hey, I like what you were doing over there at Icebox so come over and meet some people at Warner Bros.” So I went in, just thinking it’s a meet-and-greet, and I went into a room and there were about five or six people there. I told them my story, and they literally slid a cassette across the table and said “Well, we’re doing a new Scooby Doo: Legend of the Vampire movie, do the music.” That’s how it all got started. Then right behind it they were doing Monster of Mexico, and they were very happy with me so they put me on that, and I got to write songs for that. And then when What’s New Scooby Doo the show was about to happen, which was pretty much right after Monster, they put me on that also. And then Christopher Keenan, who’s executive producer, called me into his office one day and said “Hey, I like the songs you’ve been writing. I want to have a new theme song, and the name of the show is going to be What’s New Scooby Doo. I want you to have first crack at it.” 

AL: After starting your career in a band, how did you end up moving over to working on movies and animation?

RD: Well, I’m from Long Island, New York, and I played in a band and had a record deal for about five minutes with RCA — it went away. I had done enough, and I literally packed my car up with my two guitars, an amp and some clothes, and drove across the country. My bass player had moved to LA and said “Come out here,” and I did and really just started making my way. I didn’t want to be on the creative side at all, I wanted to work for a record label or publishing — and that’s what I did. I got into music supervision, but I always wrote. When you’re a writer, songwriter, composer, you’re always writing. So eventually at Icebox was when, there was just a moment, it was a last minute thing where the creator of one of the shows wanted a theme song for his show and the show was going to air you know, that night, so I just wrote it. Just because there wasn’t time. And he liked it and then another show asked me to write a song, and then a show asked me to score the show, so everything came full circle. And then when they went under, Joel made that call to me and it just put me right back in the creative side of writing music.

AL: Was Legend of the Vampire your first experience with full length animation?

I loved Scooby Doo. I watched it, probably all of them. I’m as much of a fan as anybody else.

– Rich Dickerson

RD: Yes. Icebox was three to four minute flash animated episodes.

AL: What was jumping into that like?

RD: Scary. But I think pretty quick on my feet. I can tell you the first music review, everybody was in the room, like a couple executives, producers and stuff, and they’re pointing things out that I had missed, because in animation you have to hit everything, especially in Scooby Doo. So, if he blinks his eye, you’ve got to hit with a little triangle, or you know what I mean, every movement. I learned really fast that in animation the music really supports the action that’s on the screen. So I was very good at kind of just saying “Oh well you know, this is just the first pass and we just wanted to get you a feel of what the music’s going to be like, there’s so much more that we have to do,” and they were all like “Oh, okay.” And I was like “Oh man,” you know. I did not sleep for months because I’d never done it before, really. But I learned really fast and they were very happy with me, so.

AL: You mentioned a bit of the difference, but to elaborate, what are the differences between working on music for live action film, vs. working on music for animation?

RD: Animation usually is wall to wall (music.) Not always, but it’s wall to wall music because it’s supporting the story, it’s supporting the action, it’s supporting the movements of the characters. And live action, you’re supporting the scenes, you’re supporting the mood, you’re not supporting, not normally, the action of the actor. I mean, it’s not written in stone, lots of shows call for different things now, but Scooby Doo is wall to wall music and you know, four different genres of music in one episode. It’s a lot more work, if you ask me. But it’s a lot of fun too. No show is the same for me, fortunately.

The sheet music for the song Merry Christmas Day, which appears in the What’s New Scooby-Doo? episode A Scooby-Doo! Christmas (season 1, episode 10.) Photo courtesy of Rich Dickerson.

AL: So what is the writing process like when it comes to writing (music) for animation?

RD: Usually we get an animatic, and, boy, people ask me this and well… First you’ll sit down with either the creator or the producer, showrunner, you know, whoever’s running the show. And you discuss what they’re looking for. Depending on who you’re working with, they either have a very strong idea of what they want, or they don’t know at all.

And the whole point is to you know, you’re coming from two opposite goal posts and you’re trying to get to the midfield, right to the middle, to that happy place where everybody’s like “This is the music that we want, this is the style that we want.” But once you get to that point, then it really is, you know, you’ll get an animatic, do a music spotting session with the director, as to where they want music, or where you think you could put music. Or where they don’t want music. And then, really, (you) go from the beginning of the time code, 0:00 and just start scoring scenes and coming up with ideas.

AL: And are you constantly tweaking until the final cut of the episode is done or is there a moment when music finishes? 

RD: Yeah, I tweak. When I go through it, I could watch it 100 times, and think “Oh, there could be music there,” or “Man, there’s an extra snare drum hit that just shouldn’t be there.” The littlest things. Or adding a finger symbol, you know, everything’s done, but all of a sudden it’s like, “Oh man, a finger symbol, a little ding right there would be so good.” Yeah, I do that.

AL: One of the main things with Scooby-Doo is obviously the chase songs, what was it like getting to take a stab at those?

RD: That was the most fun I ever had. The first season they just let me write them for the most part. They didn’t put any thought into “Oh, we could promote Warner Bros. bands here in this chase scene.” They just let me write them and so songs like Hong Kong Holiday and things like that were just too much fun to write.

Christopher Keenan asked me one day, he said “Rich, how do you score the show and write the song?” And I said “Well you know, we started 0:00 and we go to how many minutes and then there’s that one minute chase scene and so then I just switch to ‘I gotta write a song.'” Whether it’s Gonna Get Away or whatever’s taking place in the theme of the show. Most of the time I do it in the shower. It’s true, I’m either driving or in the shower when I come up with the ideas for the songs.

AL: Were there ever any times where you wouldn’t be writing the lyrics for those songs or did you mainly write both the score and the lyrics?

RD: I usually write both, there were some instances where some of the writers wanted to write some of the Lindsay Pagano stuff, Jim Krieg is a great writer, and he was like “Hey, is it cool if I throw some lyrics together?” And I’m very happy to co-write and collaborate, so I did that with him, I don’t know about anybody (else)… I mean I’ve done it on other shows with people, and I’m always happy to do it. It’s fun working with somebody, but for the most part, (on) Scooby it was just me writing lyrics and just sitting with my guitar or the piano and just writing the song right there. 

AL: Do you have a process of writing music first or lyrics first, or does it all kind of come together?

RD: It’s either or. There’s no set way for me.

AL: So when you were working on Scooby did you have complete freedom to write anything you thought fit within the episode or the movie you were working on, or were there specific parameters that you needed to follow?

RD: Not really. It was pretty wild, wild west you know. I was working with Chuck Sheetz on the series and Scott Jeralds on the movies, and you know, it’s really what I love about animation is that everybody respects everybody else’s abilities. And they respected mine. If they didn’t like something they would tell me, like “Can you take another pass at this” or something but I don’t really have a memory of anybody ever saying “Can you write something different”… They liked everything I did for that.

AL: How hard is it to write a song that fits within the theme or tone of the episode or movie that you were working on?

RD: Another question people ask me and it’s, you know, I don’t want to make it sound so easy but I just look at it. I can look at a one-sheet, like if a show is going to be developed, and they want to have a theme song, I’ll say “Just send me a one-sheet with all the information and any artwork that you have,” and for whatever reason, I can just look at it and then something pops into my head. Like “Oh, this would be good.” And then I just write it. I base, lyrically I base it off of, what the story’s about, you know, as far as with Scooby-Doo, or like I said for any shows that are being developed, I’ll read the one sheet and they’ll give you sort of what the log line is of the show, and character descriptions and I’ll create lyrics out of that.

AL: How far does it push your songwriting skills when at one point you’re writing songs about running away from vampires in Australia for Legend of the Vampire to road tripping to Mexico for Monster of Mexico, to all the various story lines in What’s New Scooby-Doo? episodes?

“To Rich: Just a short note to thank you for some great music!” A note from Scooby-Doo creator, Ken Spears to Rich Dickerson. Photo courtesy of Rich Dickerson.

RD: I think about that, and when I was a kid, the radio was in the car, (and it) played everything. And my parents didn’t, they were not musical but they loved records and radio, but they had no genre that they stuck to. So I grew up just listening to everything all over the map. I mean everything. So I think that’s what helps me when it comes to “Oh, I have to write Scooby-Doo.” Like I have a new project coming out and it’s all very pop, it’s going to be pop type songs and there’s going to be a lot of them. And I was doing a Zoom meeting this morning and I said “Yeah, I got to start listening, getting my head back into that world.”

AL: So you had mentioned being interested in a soundtrack for the Scooby-Doo projects that you had worked on, would you be interested in doing something like that now if the opportunity came up?

RD: Oh yeah, sure. But they don’t, there’s been a new regime over there at Warner Bros. All the people that I worked for and that put me on everything — some Tom and Jerry stuff and some Firehouse Tales, and things, they all got fired, there was a clean sweep. I don’t know how that all works, but you know, board of directors or whatever, they let everybody go, and they were all the producers that kept me on. And the new people that came in pretty much just said “Well we have our own people,” so I haven’t been back there. I’d like to, but they haven’t reached out to me.

AL: If the opportunity arose to work for Scooby specifically again, would you hop on that?

RD: In a heartbeat. It’s a great, great show.

AL: What are the benefits and most fun things about writing (music) for a Scooby-Doo episode or movie?

RD: That’s a good question. I guess the subject matter, like Hong Kong Holiday or you know you’ve got something like that, you’re all over the map. And that’s, the notes from Warner Bros., as far as scoring the show, when I first started, they said “We want to be able to close our eyes and know that the gang are in Russia or they’re in Mexico or they’re in Japan, so incorporate those instruments into the score.” Which made it a lot of fun to work on. So that goes hand in hand with the songs also, and that’s what the fun part was, like (with) All the Pirates Sing, it’s one of my favourite songs. 

AL: In contrast, what are maybe the challenges or difficulties in writing for Scooby-Doo?

RD: To be honest, I’m trying to think of… It was a great three to four year run, and it was, there wasn’t really any to be honest. I mean, the people I worked with were great, Chuck was great, Scott was great, everybody was great. And you know, the notes were so minimal. I remember we would start, and there would be seven, eight executives or producers in the room reviewing music, and by episode three, there were two, and one of them said “You guys got this, I don’t have to come anymore.” So to be honest, I didn’t have many challenges at all in that show.

Rich Dickerson wrote the What’s New Scooby-Doo? theme song in about half an hour.

What’s New Scooby-Doo?

AL: Moving more to chat about What’s New Scooby-Doo?, when it came to writing the theme song, were you aware at the time you were writing of who would be performing it?

RD: No, but I’ll tell you some good stories about that song. So, as a writer, like I had said before, you’re always writing. You know, you just come up with ideas and you’re writing. And I had written this chorus that I thought was the best thing I ever wrote, so catchy, right. And the lyrics were very different, it was: “And I’m talking to myself, there’s you and no one else, and all my colours turn to blue. When the daisy petals fall and there’s nothing left at all, I’ll remember you.”

And I was like “Man, this is so good, if I could finish this maybe I could get it to like Blink-182 or somebody like that.” And I couldn’t really come up with a verse for it, I could never finish a verse that I was happy with. So Christopher calls me into his office one day, like I said, and he says “I want to give you first crack at it, the name of the show is What’s New Scooby-Doo?” And immediately, that went right into that melody that I had for that song. By the time I got to my car in the parking garage, I had the whole song written in my head. Then I went back to my studio, sat on a couch, wrote out the lyrics, wrote the verse, came up with the verse, chords, and melody, and I put that song together in a half hour. And sent it back to Christopher by the end of the day. I had to use a messenger because you couldn’t share files then. And he calls me like “I have no idea how you did this so fast, but I love it. I love it. It’s gonna have to pass a few committees, but I love it.” So as it was going through the channels at Warner Bros., at one point, the woman that was head of the music department said “Hey, we’re gonna get Tom Jones to sing this.” And I was like “Okay,” you know.

“So we need a version with horns and stuff for Tom Jones.” So I was like “Alright.” Now my mom was a huge Tom Jones fan, so I knew what the horns should sound like and everything, so I did it. And I sang the scratch vocal, and I did it in a goofy kind of Tom Jones way, and sent it over, and they were like “Hey, this is great, we’re gonna get Tom” and all that, and I was disappointed because I did write it as a Blink kind of song.

I don’t know, it was like only a few weeks before the show was gonna air, they called me and said “Hey, we have a Warner Bros. band, Simple Plan, and they’re in Canada and they’re going to do it.” And I was like “Great.” I was very adamant that they do it exactly the way that I wrote it, with all the same harmonies and everything. I said “I will fly myself there, I’ll put myself up, just so I can just be there.” And they were like “No,” and she, the woman in charge of music said “I’ll be there, Rich, if there’s anything wrong at all, I’ll call you and I’ll get you up here.

And when they did it, it was exactly how I’d done on the demo. I never got to meet them, and a few years ago, a friend of mine, he’s a music publisher, and he said “Hey, Simple Plan is playing over at the Troubadour, you wanna go?” I was like “Yes.” So we were at the back of the Troubadour, just watching, I didn’t expect them to play the song. And all of a sudden they started playing the song. And I got choked up, you know. Because it was really cool. I got to meet them afterwards and I got to know the guitar player pretty well.

AL: What was it like to watch them be playing your song live?

RD: It was the same as when I first watched the first episode on TV. Because it was the biggest thing I’d ever done. I struggled in my band, and my parents were always very supportive of me. I did it probably longer than I should’ve been doing it. And it was that morning watching the Saturday morning cartoon, and I kept thinking that they’re going to replace it. I just didn’t believe it. I thought, not until I’m watching it on TV am I going to believe it.

And I sat there with you know, Cocoa Puffs and the whole thing, and I just started crying because I thought about my parents, it kind of gave it validation for me, working so hard, for so long. And it was the same type of thing, it was like, “Wow this is playing,” cause I was in a band like that, and it was so great to see it live, you know.

I’m really happy and thrilled and it kind of gives me meaning to my life, you know. I did that. That was one thing. I’ve written a lot of other things, but none as famous as that. And so I definitely feel like I contributed a little bit, you know, to making kids happy.

– Rich Dickerson

AL: The What’s New Scooby-Doo? theme song has become such a fan favourite, and it’s up there, and even surpasses the original Where Are You? theme song in some peoples’ rankings. Did you ever imagine that it would get that kind of reaction when you first wrote it?

RD: Well, that’s news to me right now, to be honest. No, I didn’t. I’ve had two weird instances with Ubers. I got in an Uber, and the guy just starts singing it. And I said “Why are you singing that song?” and he goes “Oh, when I was a kid, that was my favourite song, it was my favourite show.” And so I said, “I wrote that song.” And it was another Uber thing that was similar. So those were the only two. I mean some people really, I don’t know, I’m really happy and thrilled and it kind of gives me meaning to my life, you know. I did that. That was one thing. I’ve written a lot of other things, but none as famous as that. And so I definitely feel like I contributed a little bit, you know, to making kids happy.

AL: Being behind the scenes in the music department, you maybe don’t get as much fame and glory from that, but do you get the amount of pride that you can be in an Uber and be like “Oh, I wrote that song that you’re humming right now.”? 

RD: Yeah, because you don’t think about it. So it’s always like a surprise. You know, I don’t think, “Oh I wrote the Scooby-Doo song, you know.” Because I’m always looking for the next gig. I’m always looking for the next show and trying to keep the career going. So you just don’t think about it. So those are reminders. And it’s like “Oh, yeah.”

AL: Was there more pressure writing that theme song than there was for writing the chase songs within an episode?

RD: No, cause like I said I did it — by the time I got to the parking garage I had the whole song written in my head, it was that fast. And those are always the best songs. As a songwriter, anything that I’ve written that I consider really good, when I think about it, it’s always the ones that I wrote quickly.

AL: At the time, What’s New Scooby-Doo? especially was using a lot of songs that would kind of fall into the pop-punk, pop-rock, punk-rock genre. Obviously some Simple Plan songs used as chase songs, and Ramones as well. When it came to the songs that you were writing, were you asked to write songs that fit within that genre or was that just something that just happened on some of them?

RD: It was just the way the show was. And it’s one of my strongest, that’s my wheelhouse, you know what I mean. That’s kind of how I write. I mean, I’ve written a lot of girl pop songs for Disney’s Next Big Thing, or Twinkle Toes, I’ve done a lot of pre-school stuff, but that is where, that’s where I’m strongest I guess if you want to put it that way. And also like Chuck Sheetz, that was his, like he chose all those Ramones and all those other songs, so he had that sensibility also, so we got on really well.

The sheet music for the What’s New Scooby-Doo? theme song. Photo courtesy of Rich Dickerson.

AL: In addition to writing a lot of those songs, you also performed quite a few of them as well. Did you have a choice on which ones you got to perform yourself, and which ones other people were brought in?

RD: That’s funny, because when I was in a band, I was the singer. And so, but I would just do them as scratch vocals. I would do my best, but it was always, you know, you lay that down and then they’re going to bring somebody else in to do it, or I’m going to get somebody to do it. But sometimes they would never, they would just say, “No, this is fine. It’s good.” So that was kinda cool too, like when I hear some of them, especially ones I’ve forgotten, and it’s like, “Oh yeah, that’s me.”

AL: What was it like to be watching an episode and actually hear your voice?

RD: Yeah, that was a big thrill. Cause you know, I never thought I’d be doing this. I never thought I’d work in animation, or even less work on Scooby-Doo. I was just a songwriter like I said, hoping that maybe you know Blink-182 or whoever would do one of my songs, but I never ever thought I’d be in animation. And I love it. I loved it from day one. And it’s a lot of fun. And it’s the people too. You know I’ve worked in live action and I’ve worked in animation and I can tell you that the difference is the people. People are a lot of fun to work with in animation. 

AL: Were all the songs that you had written for the show or the movies used, or were there any that didn’t end up making it?

RD: There’s probably a couple that didn’t make it… or no, you know what it was, the pirate song. That was supposed to be in an episode I believe, and for some reason, it was a mistake they made somewhere along the line. Because they told me “Oh, we’re so sorry,” it was some kind of mistake. But they said “We promise you, we’ll get it into something.” And so then they put it in (Scooby-Doo Pirates Ahoy!) And it’s one of my favourite Scooby-Doo songs.

AL: What was your favourite song that you’ve written for the Scooby franchise?

RD: Well, it has to be What’s New Scooby-Doo?.

AL: After working on Scooby, and also being a Scooby-Doo fan growing up, what’s your favourite Scooby-Doo memory, is it from watching it as a kid or is it from working on it?

RD: Oh, definitely from working on it. Because you know, writing music you’re one of the last in line in a production. So, and you know, you’re not in the building, you’re in your own studio so you don’t get to see a lot of people. Especially when you’ve been doing it for a while and it’s just you and the director and you don’t see a lot of the other people unless there’s a wrap party or the Christmas party or something. But I do remember a producer coming up to me, somebody who I had never met, and I think it was a bowling party, I remember that. And I didn’t know anybody so I’m not really talking to people, and he went out of his way to come up and say “Hey, I love the music on the show. I absolutely love it.” And he had nothing to do with the show. And I just, that meant a lot to me that, you know, here’s an executive coming up to me going out of his way to recognize the music.

AL: What was it like going from growing up on a show to working on it, especially a show that has such a big reputation?

RD: I was too scared to think about it, you know. All those years from Legend of the Vampire all the way through What’s New Scooby-Doo?, you’re so consumed, you know. It’s weird. You’re not sleeping, you’re completely consumed in the show. Which I absolutely love. I don’t have hobbies, you know. I live and breathe this stuff. So you don’t have time to think about it until, like I said, when it came on for the first time and I sat there and I watched it, all those emotions came up.

All those years from Legend of the Vampire all the way through What’s New Scooby-Doo?, you’re so consumed, you know. It’s weird. You’re not sleeping, you’re completely consumed in the show. Which I absolutely love.

– Rich Dickerson

AL: Last question, moving a bit more broadly, why do you think that a cartoon series about a talking dog solving mysteries with his friends has been able to have so much staying power throughout various incarnations across 50 years now?

RD: One of the explanations, I forget who it was, a producer told me, that the reason the show has legs and staying power is because kids can watch it, because they know, even though it can be scary, they know at the end when they unmask that villain, that it’s not going to be a monster, it’s going to be a person. So, there’s something about that, that gives the show legs. Plus, you know, all great shows have great writers. And also the VO actors on this show. You have to have great writing for a successful show, I always think that. And Scooby-Doo always had great writers.

AL: Is there anything else you wanted to add at all?

RD: I’m trying to think with Scooby-Doo… I mean, like I said, it was the best time of my life. It was the most work I ever did, it was just non-stop no sleep, and also it was the best group of people that I got to work with, it was just wonderful. From the executive producers all the way down it was just a great, great bunch of people. It was just a lot of fun, I really love it. And I’m always hoping to do another Scooby thing at some point. But it was my favourite time of my life.

AL: Do you have any recent projects that you’d like to promote?

RD: Well I can tell you a couple of things that I’ve been doing. There’s a new show that’ll come out, I don’t know if I can say it. I did a show called Tasty Tales of the Food Truckers, and I was working with Dan Clark and Oscar Covar and they’re great. And they have a new show that I’m working on. Which is really good, but I can’t say what it is. I’m going to start finishing up the second season of Rainbow Rangers. I did P. King Duckling. I did a show called Sharkdog, it was shorts for a show, it was Nickelodeon UK, that was one of my favourite shows. Club Penguin I did. I just did a show for an Irish animation company called Urban Tails, which is really good. I just did Purple Turtle for another Irish company. So those are the things that I’ve been doing recently.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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