Joel McNeely is an Emmy® Award-winning composer, producer and conductor with more than 100 motion picture and television credits.
Born into a musical family in Madison, Wisconsin, McNeely’s interest in music began at an early age. A meeting with legendary composer Elmer Bernstein at the age of 12 inspired him to embark on a career writing music for film. At age 14, he was accepted into the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan and began concentrated music studies in composition and flute performance. After graduating from Interlochen, McNeely headed to the University of Miami, where he studied jazz composition and performance. While still an undergraduate, he toured the world, playing with legendary performers including Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Al Green, Melissa Manchester, Chuck Mangione, Bobby Caldwell, Jaco Pastorius and Dave Leibman.
McNeely earned a master’s degree in composition at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where the renowned educator Rayburn Wright influenced him deeply as both a composer and an orchestrator. At Eastman, McNeely also studied with well-known composer Christopher Rouse.
McNeely then headed to Los Angeles where he began working as a studio musician in the film industry. A year later, frustrated by his lack of opportunity as a composer, McNeely hatched a plan. He used his small savings to hire a studio and create a demo tape. Orchestra members were each paid $25 and a lottery ticket to record several different hypothetical dramatic cues in various styles. Put together in just one night, the recording began to circulate in Hollywood and created the buzz McNeely needed to get started. He was soon invited to be the first ASCAP Fellow at the inaugural Sundance Institute Composer's Workshop. After an evening of jazz jamming at Dave Grusin’s cabin, the young composers who participated in the workshop shared their tapes with an invited audience of their peers. An agent who was in attendance took McNeely on as a client and his career was launched. Early support from composers David Shire and Bruce Broughton was also critical in helping McNeely get established.
Today McNeely is the owner and principal composer of the Counterpoint Music Studio in Los Angeles. He maintains a busy schedule recording; conducting, lecturing, and composing for film, television and concerts.
As a composer for film and television, McNeely has worked with some of Hollywood’s most influential producers and directors including James Cameron, John Lasseter, Seth MacFarlane and George Lucas. He is currently at work producing and arranging a big band and orchestra album of standards for Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane for Universal Republic Records. McNeely continues his work on the Walt Disney Tinker Bell movies, having just completed the third film in the series. McNeely created all of the scores and themes for the Tinker Bell films as well as music for the entire franchise, which includes theme parks, ice shows and video games. Some of his film credits include The Tinker Bell Movie, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue, I Know Who Killed Me, Holes, Lilo and Stitch 2, Pooh’s Heffalump Movie, Mulan 2, Return to Neverland (all for Disney), Ghosts of the Abyss (20th Century Fox), Uptown Girls (MGM), Virus (Universal), The Avengers (Warner Bros.), Air Force One (Columbia Tri-Star), Wild America (Morgan Creek) and Terminal Velocity (Touchstone).
Television credits include Seth MacFarlane's American Dad, James Cameron’s “Dark Angel” (Fox), “Sally Hemmings: An American Scandal” (CBS mini-series), “Buffalo Soldiers” (CBS) and “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” (ABC).
As a conductor, McNeely led the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in an award-winning series of re-recordings of classic film scores. He conducted the BBC Concert Orchestra in a performance of Bernard Herrmann’s music for Hitchcock films in London’s Barbican Hall, and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in the world premiere of Uri Caine’s “Concerto for Two Pianos,” with Jeffrey Kahane and the composer as soloists. He has also worked with the London Symphony Orchestra, the Seattle Symphony, the Munich Philharmonic, the London Philharmonic and the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra.
McNeely also has produced and arranged songs for such artists as Carly Simon, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Linda Rondstadt, Rosemary Clooney and Jonatha Brooke.
McNeely received the Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition (“The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles”), as well as an ASCAP Film and Television Award (Air Force One) and a Gramophone Magazine Award for his recording of the motion picture score of Vertigo. He was given the Frost School of Music Distinguished Alumni Award from University of Miami and the Path of Inspiration Award from the Interlochen Center for the Arts. He was also nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction (“The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles”), a Grammy Award for Outstanding Classical Crossover Album (The Day the Earth Stood Still) and an Annie Award for Outstanding Music in an Animated Feature (Return to Neverland).
His concert commissions include “Three Portraits for Violin and String Orchestra,” for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, “Pacific Dances, Piano Quartet” commissioned by Pacific Serenades, and“J Dances”, a flute quartet, commissioned by Palisades Chamber Music.
McNeely continues to perform on flute, saxophone, piano and bass. He is a frequent guest lecturer on the subject of film music studies, and has presented at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, where he teaches master classes in film music composition and writing for brass instruments; the American Film Market; University of Miami’s Frost School of Music; James Madison University and the Interlochen Center for the Arts.
He is currently a member of the Board of Trustees for the Interlochen Center for the Arts, and the Board of Advisors for the DeRoy Motion Picture Arts Program in Interlochen, Michigan.