Matthew VanderBoegh, Keith LuBrant, Randon Purcell, Marcus Cohen and Terrell Burt during their panel at TAXI’s Road Rally convention.
Moderated by Michael Laskow
Panelists: Matthew VanderBoegh, Keith LuBrant, Randon Purcell, Marcus Cohen and Terrell Burt
Matthew VanderBoegh is a full-time composer for film and television, specializing in hip hop, dramedy, tension, elimination, and quirky instrumental cues. He started this journey in 2012 with no knowledge of how to make music on his own, and within five years turned it into his full-time job. His music has been placed over ten thousand times, on more than 1,750 episodes of 235 TV shows. He learned everything he knows about this business from TAXI, and frequently collaborates with other TAXI members.
Keith LuBrant is a songwriter/composer from New Jersey. He has performed at several music conferences and festivals, and also has had tracks used in more than 600 TV shows on major television networks such as HBO, NBC, CBS, ABC, MTV, VH1 and many others. Keith also created music for Mattel Hot Wheels television campaigns, Philips Lighting, and several online commercials. He is also the creator and CEO of Composer Catalog, the popular software that helps musicians keep track of their music catalog.
Randon Purcell grew up playing classical piano, which turned into writing and performing electronic music with a band through the 90’s and early 2000’s with some small degree of success. By 2014 he had changed focus to his true passion of writing instrumental cues and trailer music, which is where TAXI came in! Since then he has written and licensed nearly 500 tracks with many different publishers around the world and has enjoyed many placements on various television shows and promos for major networks, including HBO, ABC, NBC, CBS, Discovery and many more. Some of his promo placements include popular television shows, such as Gotham, Lucifer, Big Brother, NFL Football, NCIS and X-Files. He also works full-time as a software engineer and double-time as a coffee enthusiast.
Marcus Cohen aka CaiNo is a professional full time vocalist/composer/producer/engineer running his own successful studio; producing, writing, and mixing for up and coming and seasoned artists since 2001. He has also had the amazing opportunity to mix for some of the music business finest and most notable artists including Carly Simon, Neil Diamond, Justin Bieber, Bebe Winans, Kenny Loggins, and many more. His songs, instrumentals, and mixes can be heard all over the industry, on records as well as on Film and TV. In 2016 Marcus joined forces with his mother Sherry (a successful producer and writer for advertising) to focus on writing songs for music licensing, and they now have well over 500 new songs signed and published in the last 2 years alone. Marcus has been a TAXI top ten artist, SingerUniverse Vocalist of the Month, and has had over 100 placements on networks like MTV, E!, CBS, ABC, VH1, VICELAND, and more.
Terrell Burt is a rapper and songwriter who can’t remember a time when he didn’t love everything about music. Writing lyrics and recording music on his computer as a hobby during his teenage years has progressed into Burt becoming a successful TAXI member with placements in TV shows such as The Young and the Restless (CBS), Keeping Up With The Kardashians (E!), Fuller House (Netflix), NCIS: New Orleans (CBS), Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta (VH1), Black Ink Crew (VH1), Genius: Picasso (National Geographic), and Claws (TNT). While working full time for the county Tax Collector and still pursuing music through film and TV placements, Burt received his Masters of Business Administration from Saint Leo University in the spring of 2017. In September of the same year, he married his bride, Lindsay, who has been an encouragement to him in these pursuits.
Why is it that some musicians get discouraged and give up too soon?
Randon: I know a lot of composers in the trailer industry, and even for the ones that are super-successful, self-doubt is just a beast. I mean, these guys that I have really looked up to are posting things online like, “Ah, I kind of did this track and it doesn’t sound great. What do you guys think?” When those thoughts start to creep into your brain, you’ve just got to say, “Stop it!”
But the other thing is, so many musicians are really bad about taking criticism from others. Even the ones who say, “I really want your honest feedback.” But as soon as they get it, they don’t want it anymore, right? Maybe what they really mean is, “I honestly want you to tell me how great I am.” [laughter]
So I think a huge part of it is really just dropping your ego at the door. When I started pitching to TAXI, it really steamed me when I got rejected. That’s just the bottom line. No one likes getting rejected, but you can sit there and dwell on it or you can go, “Hey, what did they tell me? Why did it suck?” Well, not that TAXI ever tells you it sucks; they’re nice about it. But you know what? The libraries aren’t so nice if and when they give feedback. There are a lot of rude people out there that will just blatantly tell you how terrible it is without giving you any advice on making it better.
So use TAXI, man. These people are nice, and they give you really great advice on how to fix it, and you’ve just got to drop your ego at the door and take that advice and try the next time. And then they’ll tell you, “Hey, you fixed like 50% of it, the other 50% still kind of blows, but you’re getting there.” And just keep doing it.
"When I play a big piano thing within a trailer or something, I can be so lazy about it and record it four measures at a time, and I can go back and fix it when I’m done."Randon Purcell
Keith: I think a common thread too is when we first started submitting to TAXI, they’re like, “Oh yeah, I can do solo piano. Yeah, I can do that,” And you can’t, so you’ve got to go with your bread and butter in the beginning, and then expand our palette. Once you’ve started to with bread and butter then you start doing... “Wow, I’m doing calypso.”
Marcus: Going back to your question, I remember my first year I was in a room with Russell Landwehr, and he said something that really struck home. And over the years I’ve talked to other people about it to see if it’s just us. But Russell said that it’s called imposter syndrome, where musicians and artists and composers sort of always underneath everything feel like someone’s going to figure out that you’re a phony. Like one day you are all going to realize that I’m not as good as you think I am. And Russell was talking about that and it was just so deep, because it’s true. We are all sort of fighting that thing about living up to what people think, or what we think. It’s like there’s this imposter syndrome. And the musicians that do quit early often give in to that. But if we always feel like we’re going to get discovered at being fake, like someone’s going to find out.
Man, oh man, we’ve got five minutes left. Do you guys in the audience have any questions for them? OK, I’m gonna come down the aisle.
Audience Member: Hi. You guys are amazing. Really, I am humbled to the point of being a little humiliated at this point. But you guys, you’ve got this energy, you’ve got talent to come into this thing. One of my issues is, do any of you actually play an instrument that you have to practice every day? One of my time things is for me to maintain the heart of what I do, playing piano. And I have to take an hour to warm up every day, and an extra hour to actually work on all the stuff just to maintain my skills so when someone calls me, I can play the way they expect you to play. And so one of my issues is weaving that into the other things. You know, we don’t have any kids, but still I find that an hour or two taken out of actually doing other music... What would you suggest? Don’t tell me to get a job. [laughter]
Randon: You know, earlier on I grew up playing classical piano, and I did practice for an hour, hour and a half every day. But I’ll be honest, it’s a little different if you’re playing for clients and they need you to be a really great player, that’s kind of a different story, and that’s going to be necessary when you do that. I always say—and my mother would kill me, because she was my piano teacher for 15 years—I’m a terrible player ever since I started composing, because I started writing one part at a time instead of a piano piece that I had to learn and play. And even when I play a big piano thing within a trailer or something, I can be so lazy about it and record it four measures at a time, and I can go back and fix it when I’m done. So every now and then I’ll still sit down and try to play an old Beethoven song or something just for fun, but my 15-year-old is a much better player than I am now so it’s kind of gotten where I don’t want to play so much. It’s a little embarrassing. But if you’re doing that for part of your living and playing for clients, that’s going to just be part of the deal, you’ve got to keep the craft up. It’s no different than us practicing mixing or anything else, it’s just a different instrument.
Maybe split your effort and realize that you are like a fine artist. Going back to the fine artist and the house-painter analogy—if the jazz guy is in the room that hates me saying this, please don’t send me any more emails. [laughter] He despises me every time I say this, but you are a world-class piano player. And again, I don’t want to make cues sound like there’s some lesser form, but you don’t need to be at this level to do some kinds of cues. So you can do both.
"If I ever give up on something, it happens within the first 10 minutes."Keith LuBrant
Audience Member: Terrell, you said you work an 8 to 5 day job. And you said that your wife is super-supportive. Maybe I missed it, but did you actually say when you make time for music? Is it scattered all over the place, or do you set certain times throughout the day?
Terrell: Both. Usually a lot of writing occurs on my lunch break. I actually got a song signed for a brief, and I wrote it on my lunch break. So you have to find those little pockets of time somewhere, because I don’t have... In the evenings, I try to cater to her, you know, and do the real-life things—help with dishes, fold laundry. And on Thursday evenings she’s out of the house, so that’s my time to write or record, even on weekends as well. So I find those pockets of time, but also the lunch break, where I have an hour. In an hour I can do a lot.
Randon: One other thing I’ll point out: Your phone is your friend. I have my iPhone with me all the time, and if I’m busy working and I don’t have time to switch over and work on music, I just pull out my little iPhone recorder and I hum in whatever thing I’ve got going on in my head, or I drum on it, whatever. It sounds like garbage, obviously. It might take a few times and you’re like, “What was the hell was I thinking?” But I use those all the time; I bring that up every time I go in the studio, and I’m like, “What was I thinkin’ earlier?”
Audience Member: Marcus, I think you’re the one who brought this to my attention, but anybody can weigh in on it. I’ve only been doing this for about six months, and one of the processes I use is I don’t get married to my stuff. If I spend two or three hours working on a cue of some kind, I have no problem with just dropping it and saying, “No, I’m not feeling this,” and I’ll move on to the next thing and work on that. Does anybody have any thoughts on that?
Marcus: I would be careful with being OK with... It’s great to be able to move on, and it’s great to know when something’s not working. But be careful with being OK with throwing stuff out, because then you get comfortable with throwing stuff out, and then you get used to being like, “This isn’t that good.” Either figure that out quicker, like, “I’m not really feeling this yet,” or after the two or three hours, make it work. Make it work. Not being married to the track, and when I say that—I don’t know what I said earlier—but it’s more along the lines of where it ends up is fate; which publisher it ends up with could end up being who called that day.
So I’m not married to where it ends up with like, “Well, I gotta get it to my big-money guy,” and, “I gotta make sure that this happens.” Write the cue, then go to the next one, and then maybe the next day listen to that first cue, and you might go, “You know what? This isn’t that bad, all I gotta do is switch out the drums,” or, “This might be OK for this publisher, because they need stuff that sounds like this. So let me stop trying to make this sound like an EDM smash hit and just take a couple of the elements out, and maybe I can just get this in some sort of hybrid thing.”
So it’s cool to be not married to the endgame, but don’t get comfortable being like, “This sucks—next one.” Because then you end up with 10 or 11 things that were just sitting there, and you didn’t know that they could be something if you really went back to them another day, maybe.
Randon: Usually, if I’m just not feeling it on something, I save it off to a different folder and I start something different. But nine times out of 10, I revisit it later and turn it into something else. I revisit a few weeks later and I’m like, “Oh, damn, that wasn’t bad.”
Marcus: Sometimes it doesn’t work, but try to shorten that time period. I definitely do it, and she can attest to that. We are sitting there writing, and, I mean, I could be 40 minutes in and have a lot of it done, and I just get out of the mind of being this close and I get about this close, and I go, “Ahh, not there.” But get that earlier; get that before three or four hours, because in three or four hours you should be done and be OK with moving to the next one. So shorten that time with realizing that this isn’t what you’re looking for.
Keith: Yeah, I’ll jump in on that one too. I’ve run into situations where three to four hours in I have the same thought, “This isn’t that good. Maybe I should just sit on it for a while.” But my problem is I never go back to stuff—ever. So if I don’t finish it and get it out, then it’s just three to four hours of wasted time. So at that point I’ll finish the mix wherever it’s at, and then maybe a couple of days later go back and listen to it and say, “Hey, I think it’s done after all.” But if I ever give up on something, it happens within the first 10 minutes. I don’t give up on something I’ve put in three to four hours on.
I gotta say that I am so glad that none of you guys have given up, because my staff and I are proud to serve people like you. We really are. You guys are an amazing example of everything that every TAXI member should aspire to be. Not that they can be exactly like you in every way, but you guys... You know, people say sell dreams. We don’t sell dreams—everybody in the room has already got the dream. We sell the tools that help people achieve the dream, and you guys are a great example of that. Thank you, guys! [Applause]