As the Walt Disney Company gears up for the 2019 celebration of Mickey Mouse’s birthday with “Mickey’s 90th Spectacular” Sunday on ABC, the company is also preparing to drop an original tune, “It’s a Good Time,” written and produced by New York’s DJDTP for use in Disney theme parks around the world.
Formed 18 months ago by music attorney Doug Davis and rap artist Ali Theodore, DJDTP is taking a slightly different approach to custom music with its focus on pop tunes. The start-up has already recorded about 600 original songs, including new music from Rachel Platten and a single for Nickelodeon rising star JoJo Siwa.
“We wanted to change the way people view custom music and show people what passionate artists who put their heart into every note can really do,” Theodore tells Variety from the set of a client’s video shoot.
When the company launched – bringing in a third partner, James Petrie, to oversee operations – “everyone told us we were crazy to locate in New York, but we enjoy being the lone holdouts,” he adds. “All the songwriters have gone to L.A. or Nashville.” While their client base leans toward movie studio and television networks, DJDTP does have its share of advertiser clients, but Theodore is adamant in proclaiming “we’re not a jingle house. We don’t get the call for the 15-second Gillette spot for YouTube. If somebody wants something high-end they’ll come to us. When Adidas wanted a really powerful female-driven hip hop track for World Women’s Day they asked us.”
One clear distinction is that even when DJDTP creates advertising music, they deliver complete songs, not music snippets. Indeed, the company’s 2,200 square-foot studio in midtown resembles modern Tin Pan Alley or Brill Building, with multiple sets of writers and artists collaborating in individual corners. “You walk in at 10 a.m. and you’ll hear music coming out of every room. There’s a lot of happy, creative energy,” Theodore notes.
That’s exactly the upbeat vibe Walt Disney Imagineering & Parks Live executive in charge of music Matt Walker was looking for in a song to celebrate Mickey’s 90th. “We wanted a celebratory track that was musically infectious, memorable and made you want to dance,” he says, adding DJDTP’s “felt fresh.” The resulting single, “It’s a Good Time,” lives up to its title, combining big brass and a Broadway feel with a hip-hop bedrock of strong rhythm, layered with top 40 melody and vocal arrangements, according to Theodore, who also references the classic M-I-C-K-E-Y, M-O-U-S-E chorus. (Minnie gets equal time, since it’s her 90th too.) “I wanted the pre-chorus to be rap, the verses to be song and then the chorus to just explode into a giant party,” he says. It is currently undergoing translations into multiple languages for distribution around the world.
The company’s work also includes custom music for the movie trailers “Central Intelligence,” “John Wick 2” and “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.” For the animated feature “Ice Age: Collision Course,” the company did a cover of Jay-Z and Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love.” “That was tricky, because we had to re-create the samples” (of the Chi-Lites “Crazy in Love”), Theodore explains.
“I am really proud of Ali and his creative team’s ability to deliver A-plus material every time,” says Davis, who recalls his interest in production music being juiced by law clients who would inquire as to whether he knew of any artists interested in creating custom tunes. “There had always been limited interest by the contemporary hitmakers we represent in creating music to a brief and we had to pass on these projects, but it was clear that it was an opportunity I had to seize.” In “Ali Dee,” as Theodore is known in the industry, Davis found the perfect creative-slash-business partner. “It was an obvious moment of inspiration,” Davis notes.
Both have famous parents – Davis the son of legendary label chief Clive, while Theodore’s mother was the Broadway actress, director and choreographer Lee Theodore. “I grew up a New York theater kid, hanging out with Ann Reinking and Gwen Verdon,” says Theodore. “I was surrounded by music since I was born.”
Initially, he had his hopes pinned on becoming a dancer. Then he heard Run DMC’s “Sucker MC’s” on the radio and his life changed. “I literally fell in love with hip-hop,” he says. He started rapping at 16 and by 19 had a deal with Chrysalis Records.
Today, his recording efforts are collaborative though no less satisfying. He was thrilled to get the call from Nickelodeon to do a writing session with rising star JoJo Siwa, who the network signed last year after her self-released single “Boomerang” accrued 195 million YouTube views. It now has more than 574 million, and the DJDTP venture, “Dream,” drops later this year.
With Platten, it was Paramount Pictures music chief Randy Spendlove who put them together on the 2019 film “Wonder Park” and the single “Wonder.” Says Theodore: “They had the song but felt the production needed some work and approached us to take it to the next level. We whipped up a new music track, making it very contemporary and radio-friendly. We had the amazing Manny Marroquin mix it and everyone at Paramount was thrilled.”
It’s the type of result you get with a crew like DJDTP’s – all first and foremost writers, artists and musicians. Sure, they create music to brief, but “it’s from a feel and an emotional place, not over-analyzed,” Theodore says. “Dance and rap stem from rhythm – it’s a feel. It literally moves you. The reason we’re having success with our film and TV clients is that’s what we do.”