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A native Californian born in Glendale, Dreith showed a talent for music at an early age. He learned to play a variety of keyboard and reed instruments while still in his teens. He formed a jazz combo in the late 1960s; the late music promoter Raymond D. Bowman (1917–2001) scheduled them for a number of Monday night concerts at the legendary Ice House in Pasadena.
Dreith grew to work as a musician in the film music industry and eventually worked with the Recording Musicians' Association (RMA), becoming its president, a post he held for over 15 years.
Although Dreith has been the composer for such films as Purple People Eater (1988), The Punisher (1989), and Gag (2006), he has never scored a major motion picture theatrical release. The Punisher was released in theaters worldwide except in the US (because of the studio's being bought by a company not interested in theatrical distribution). He is better known in the industry as an orchestrator and conductor of film music scores. His work (often uncredited) can be heard in the soundtracks of Jurassic Park, Misery, Braveheart, Addams Family, Sleepless in Seattle, Heart and Souls, A League of Their Own and others. He has been providing services to several well-known composers. Among them, John Williams, Lalo Schifrin, Dominick Frontiere, Marc Shaiman, Hans Zimmer, Elliot Goldenthal, Mark Isham and Cliff Eidelman.
Dreith was also a member and consultant for the American Federation of Musicians Negotiating Sub-committee for every major electronic media agreement negotiated by them. During that time, he was also AFM liaison to both the Theatrical and Television Motion Picture Special Payments Fund (MPSPF), and the Phonograph Record Manufacturers' Special Payments Fund, even addressing the House Sub-committee on Intellectual Properties in support of Digital Performers Rights legislation in Washington, D.C. that was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in November 1995.
In 1996, he traveled to Japan where he negotiated and executed a "Friendship Agreement" between the Musicians Rights Commission of Japan and the RMA, which in turn has resulted in the substantial distribution of Japanese royalties to U.S. recording musicians.
Dreith is currently the Administrator of the Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund as well as the Independent Administrator of the AFM & AFTRA Intellectual Property Rights Distribution Fund, overseeing the Japanese Record Rental Royalty Fund, the AHRA Fund (Audio Home Recording Act), and Digital Performance Royalties on behalf of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA).
For several years, Dreith has his own publishing company "Magic Closet Music" and is a partner in "Maverick Music", a music production company for films and commercials. This is not the same "Maverick Music" music label and publishing company previously owned by Madonna and now owned by Warner Music Group.
Dennis Dreith is a frequent panelist for music industry seminars and has often been a guest lecturer at a number of universities. He has been a speaker at a variety of music education and related conferences in the United States and at the Cannes film festival. He is a former member of the faculty at UCLA Extension as well as a past member of the UCLA Advisory Board to the Department of Entertainment Studies and Performing Arts.
Dreith is on the board of directors for a charity "Environment of People Foundation, Inc." which according to its website "strives to ensure that music remain a central part of our children's lives and growth.