Since 1992, composer D. Brent Nelson has co-written the musical backdrop to one of America’s longest-running daytime television soap operas: Days of Our Lives, which has earned him three Emmys over the years and a collection of nominations. With a constantly evolving storyline and cast of characters, Nelson doesn’t face the doldrums that plague composers of other television projects. “The great thing about Days is, musically there are so many different types of music we can write. There’s always a fresh story; it’s like having a different show [each time],” Nelson says.
A songwriter since he was a teenager, Nelson abandoned band life early on for the more lucrative and singular pursuit of scoring drama, and so he studied music composition, theory and orchestration. He said he worked his way into Days slowly, composing a little here, recording and mixing there, working with producer Ken Corday.
In more recent years, he’s worn interesting hats in his professional life: dad and producer. A few years ago, Days of Our Lives debuted an indie singer-songwriter character, Claire, played by Olivia Keegan. Nelson’s daughter, Genesee Nelson, had the perfect song for the character, “When Time Was On Our Side,” which took home an Emmy in 2017. Nelson said he’s aware of both roles in his approach to the partnership. “I just wear a dad hat when I produce, and let her develop her own material,” he says.
For Nelson, it hasn’t been a challenge to maintain his imagination, even after 25 years with the same television show. “If you’re inspired, [your work] will stay fresh. For me, I’m always gravitating toward what’s more fresh and exciting, more fun,” he says, adding advice for composers that, as cliché as it sounds, is true: “Don’t chase the sound of another composer. It’s impossible. There won’t be a better version of Thomas Newman; you can’t be him. You’ll always do what you do better.”