When putting together the music that makes today’s tweens swoon, Steven Vincent, vice president of music and soundtracks for Disney Channel, likes to keep it both classic and hip.
“The most important thing is for it all to feel relevant to kids’ lives,” Vincent says. “We decided the music should be as cool as any music they were listening to on the radio. We wanted to find a way to use that music in musicals and speak in their vernacular.”
As for classic, Vincent — who studied film composition with the legendary composer-arranger Walter Scharf — believes the traditional structure of musicals keeps audiences in their seats. Familiar themes do the same.
“If you look, you see that ‘High School Musical’ is basically about peer pressure,” Vincent says. “And you have a young girl who gets her heart broken for the first time, so it’s easy to relate to those experiences.”
From the beginning, Vincent pursued top pop songwriters to work on Disney Channel projects.
“It started out that our productions were going after people like Matthew Girard and Jamie Houston to work on things like ‘The Cheetah Girls’ and ‘High School Musical,’ but that’s definitely changed,” Vincent observes.
Now, talent comes to him. If director Kenny Ortega wants each of “High School Musical 3’s” songs to have a different sound, reflective of the characters’ unique states of mind, Vincent has no trouble convincing the right musicians to participate. And the excitement extends to other Disney shows, too. Newly announced “American Idol” judge Kara DioGuardi wrote a song for an episode of “Hannah Montana,” for example.
Vincent thinks a changing recording industry is part of what makes these shows appealing to songwriters.
“We’re still selling a lot of records, while the rest of the industry isn’t,” Vincent says. “Kids aren’t quite at the point where they just want an MP3, because it’s more of a souvenir if they have the record. It’s the same reason why they still buy the mouse ears at Disneyland.”
Recent breakthrough: “‘Camp Rock’ because it’s not a break-into-song kind of musical. It’s more character driven and takes the classic musical a step further.”
Role model: “Walter Scharf, who was one of those old-time film scoring guys who taught me to take ego out of the process and make sure everything serves the film and director.”
What’s next: Has already released four singles from “High School Musical 3.”