Debbie Kruger
Mike Perjanik heading and pictures
November/December 2000


Debbie Kruger

His influences are varied and he sees himself as an accidental composer, but if Mike Perjanik’s career has been fortuitous, it has not been without finely-tuned skills and a commitment to newcomers in the industry.

As Chairman of APRA for the past 10 years, and a board member for 15 years, Mike’s driving motivation has been informing and supporting younger writer-musicians as they take their formative steps in the business.

He laughingly recalls his own beginnings in New Zealand. “I came from a small country town. At 18 I moved to Auckland determined to make a career in music. I got a great start, learned a lot and worked with a lot of talented people. I knew nothing about life, and I certainly knew very little about the music business.” Mike soon started writing, his songs recorded by the pop singers of the day such as Dinah Lee. He arranged for Ray Columbus and toured with performers like Gene Pitney.

Mainly self-taught, and a traditionalist when writing – “I still write scores on paper,” he says – Mike moved over to Australia in the late 1960s when a flood of musicians and entertainers migrated from New Zealand. And while his professional path might have been uncharted, the journey from teen rocker to pop tunesmith to screen composer has provided him with an enjoyably diverse career.

His greatest contemporary inspirations are the great pop writers of the 1960s and ‘70s – Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Jimmy Webb, Randy Newman. “That’s the music I love – I love songs. But it was very hard to say, ‘I want to be a songwriter, full stop.’ When I was younger you had to be everything. So I was an arranger, I’ve been a record producer for a long time, I’d score albums, I used to do a lot of commercials, write jingles. Jingles are a great discipline; it’s very hard to write a 30-second jingle that people can whistle in the shower, and that’s like mini-songwriting if you like, writing songs to order.

“And then I’d compose music for films, and I’d write television themes – which in a sense are songs.”

From Arnotts Scotch Finger Biscuits to Johnsons Baby Oil, McDonalds to Wrigleys chewing gum, Mike’s catchy mini-songs have sold millions of dollars worth of product. His television themes have included The Naked Vicar Show, The Restless Years (recorded and made a hit by Renee Geyer), A Country Practice, Rafferty’s Rules, Hey Dad, Kingswood Country, and Home and Away, which has been recorded in its third version this year by the Robertson Brothers.

Mike has also been writing the incidental music for Home and Away since it started 13 years ago. “With five episodes a week, we’re doing the equivalent a movie a week.”

His favourite international television composer is Mike Post. “He’s one of my heroes; over a 20-year period he wrote some of the great television themes like Hill Street Blues. I go back to my favourite themes like Mission Impossible by Lalo Shiffrin. Or Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn. Or Johnny Mandell’s M*A*S*H. Or more recently Mark Snow’s X Files. The guys who put these themes together get it right, and that is the craft.”

Locally, he admires Tony Hatch’s Neighbours theme and Alan Caswell’s Prisoner theme, among others. The secret is longevity. “You mustn’t write a hit song or something trendy that’s going to have a short life span. You’ve got to write a standard when you write a theme, and all the themes I’ve mentioned, all the great ones, are still great pieces of music 20 years later. They still work.”

Mike’s involvement with APRA, provides a welcome balance to his solitary occupation. “Composing is a pretty lonely business. You sit in your room and write away, and talk to nobody. And the only time you hear any new jokes is when you go to a recording session.” He enjoys being contacted by young composers for advice. “And I get the biggest kick out of knowing that some kid who’s just starting off in the business has got this organisation to support him and look after his interests. Even though he may not be that skilled at it, especially when he’s young, but he’s not going to get ripped off.”

Looking back, he says, “I’ve certainly enjoyed what APRA’s achieved in the 15 years I’ve been involved, growing from a fairly smallish company to where it’s now trebled its income in those 15 years.”

Equally important is that APRA has a much louder voice in the industry. “People now know that there is this organisation that says composers need to get paid for what they do.” Napster and the debates over music on the internet have in fact brought the issue more to the forefront.

“When you’re beginning in the business your main focus is, as it should be, a) writing the music and b) trying to get it heard. Recognition is an important thing. I have this attitude that people will kick your door in to record your stuff if it’s great. The eternal problem in this industry is that a lot of people are striving to get their material heard. So when someone says, ‘Throw it on the internet for nothing and you’ll become well-known, and your music will be heard,’ that’s fine. But the bad news is, you’re not going to make any money out of it.

“I personally think over the next 10 years the technology will help us monitor it all, the technology will get to the stage where logic will win out. People will realise that composers do need to eat, they do need to earn money, and that if their music is successful they need to be paid. But in the meantime you’ve got to educate people, it’s a continual process. They don’t really see it as a tangible thing. It’s free, it’s on the radio. When people buy CDs, no-one ever says, ‘I’ve bought a collection of great songs, I bought some compositions.’ The word ‘composition’ has almost disappeared from the vocabulary. But with APRA reinforcing the role of the composer, I’m sure this will improve in the future.”


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