Finding The Time To Make More Music And Money
TAXI Road Rally 2018 Panel
Michael Laskow (from the back) moderates the Making Time to Make More Music and Money panel at the 2018 TAXI Road Rally, with panelists (left to right) Matthew VanderBoegh, Keith LuBrant, Randon Purcell, Marcus Cohen, and Terrell Burt.
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.
Randon is nearly 20 years-married and has three boys at home. He’s really happy to be here taking a break at the Road Rally. We’re kidding Mrs. Purcell!!! 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.
So this is a question for all of you guys. I want some input from each of you. Based on the reality of where you are all at now, do you think it’s a realistic expectation that you’ll be earning a six-figure income in the not-too-distant future? I mean, that could be a couple years, could be five years. But in the middle of your life, do you think that the day will come where you’ll be able to earn that kind of income? Let me go down to Matthew.
Matt: Yeah, next year. I don’t have a crystal ball, but, yeah, I think next year.
Matt is actually one of the few people that will send me a copy of a quarterly check and go, “Look at this, dude.”
Marcus: He sent that to all of us, by the way! Really fun. [laughter] Not to interrupt, but I was going to mention that, that he does that not to bust our balls, but to show that putting the time in, it does work. Matt and I have had conversations about this where I’m like, “Dude, I need me a piece of that.” And he goes, “Dude, just keep goin’.” He said, “My first ASCAP check was like $200, and yours was more than that, so you’re already way ahead. So just keep moving.” And that’s why it’s great to support each other, because in those moments when you’re like, “Ughh, my check was not that much.” You’ve got somebody like Matt saying, “Dude, keep pushing. Just keep goin’.”
It is gonna happen. I see it over and over again. And I love that about this community -- that there is evidence and there is support. What more do you need, you know? It’s not like we’re doing Tony Robbins stuff and I’m making you guys walk across hot coals in the ballroom or anything. There is no woo-woo, there’s no hidden thing or anything. It’s all out in the open and it’s there for the taking, and you guys are just guys who are taking it.
Marcus: And it’s not BS. I don’t want to say it’s nothing. There’s something special about everybody. But it’s not BS, like we are the elite, and that’s not how it works. And you mentioned excuses. That’s what’s got to fall away. I’m not going to mention where I was, but I was in a class and it was a Q&A, and nine out of ten of the questions started with an excuse. “Hi, I’m so-and-so and I only do dah-dah-dah, and I’m not sure if that’s gonna be enough.” He immediately started off with an excuse. Where it could be, “Hi, I’m so-and-so and I do this really well. I’d like to figure out how to do better.” “Oh, you know, I only make one cue a year,” or “I only play solo piano.” You’re self-defeated.
Keith: To get back to your question, I don’t view it like the six figures. Yeah, I’m getting there. Everything’s great—I have a full-time job—so I’m different than a full-time composer. But I don’t view it like that, and I kind of want to put it out there that we are all on different levels. And just because you’re not making six figures or you’re not full-time, it doesn’t mean you’re failing. Everyone has got their own path.
And you’re setting yourself up for retirement.
Keith: Right. It’s been a beautiful thing. We’ve put a new roof on my house, a new bathroom. Everything’s great, but everyone is on different levels, and don’t take it that you’re failing, because you’re not.
Marcus: Fall in love with the process; it’s not the end game. Like Michael says, these guys are gonna hit six figures; I’m gonna hit six figures. And then when you don’t, it’s like, well, this sucks. Fall in love with the process, not where it’s going. I don’t know for a fact, but I’m pretty sure that Matt when he started wasn’t like, “I’m gonna do this until I make six figures.” I’m like falling in love with the process, I’m doing well, I suck. It’s both, it’s up and down. One of my teachers always says, “When you’re new, you want to get good. When you’re good, you want to see where you fail.” You want to see where you’re gonna screw up, because now that’s what you need to fix. So everyone that’s new, get good; everyone who’s good, find out where you fail. “Man, this is difficult, I need to fix that.” It’s a process. It’s not like I’m gonna do this until this money comes in.
I mean, I have been there, for sure. There’s a point where you’re like, “I can’t do it, because I’m not making money, and what am I supposed to do?” Like I said, the therapist’s advice: “Stop that!” Get back in love with the process. I’ve had days where I’m making something and in the middle of it, I’m like, “This isn’t gonna land. I know my publishers; I know I’m not there…” You immediately get in your own head. Five minutes later, if I’m just working on the track, I’m no longer thinking that. I don’t give my mind that space. I do, but I’m trying to do that less, because my $500/hour advice is to stop doing that. [laughter] So I better be saying that to myself more than I’m saying it to you guys.
Randon: For me, it’s been a little bit different, because I started out going after just TV cues all of the time. And it was almost like reading the TAXI advice and some of the success stories and everyone saying, “Hey, my ASCAP check doubled, and then it doubled again each year.” And I was following that, and it was really cool, it’s happening. But what I really wanted to be was in trailers. I love doing TV cues too, and I plan to always do both of those. Trailers are a little different because they are hard to get, for one, and you don’t get paid any royalties on them, for two. But they have much bigger payouts when they do come. So I kind of split my path in the last year and really started going after more trailers and not doing as many TV cues.
Like you were saying, I kind of left the idea of having a monetary goal so much. I mean, I still do. I like writing music a lot more than software [laughter], so it’s definitely still on the table. But my goals definitely turned to be more like, “Hey, I want at least an independent film trailer this year,” and, “I want a major blockbuster film in 2019.” And hopefully next year when I come to the Rally, I can come show you which trailer I did by then.
Terrell, you look like you wanted to chime in with something a couple of minutes ago.
Terrell: I was just going to say I’m a little ways off from that income, because I guess I’m the only one on here that doesn’t do cues. I co-wrote a cue and it got placed, but I’ll be honest, my cue game is trash. I have to improve on that. I do more vocals and top-lining, so my catalog is smaller right now. I need to grow it and give more time to learning cues. I’m a ways off from that.
In my opinion, something that I have seen over and over through many years is that people work harder and do more than they have to [in order] to be successful—from a musical perspective. People will spend so much time on what I affectionately call stupid little instrumental cues. I call them stupid little instrumental cues because many of them, most of them, work well when they are really simple. People tend to over-complicate and feel very compelled to, “I’m gonna show everybody what an amazing composer I am.” And what I’m about to say makes it sound like I’m endorsing mediocrity, but I’m not. I am endorsing understanding what the market is that you’re pitching to so that you can make music that they want and not what you think is going to impress other people. So Matt, can you talk about your journey into discovering what really works? And am I right about simple often works better?
Matt: Yeah, that’s totally true. So when I started making cues, I did rock, loud rock songs with a ton of stuff in it. It’s what happens when you put like a composer behind a rock band with unlimited potential for tracks. Cool, I can have a thousand things going on at the same time. So that’s kind of where I was my first year of doing cues all by myself is… you’re not limited to four tracks, so I was like, “Oh, I’ll put this and this and this in there.” and before you knew it, I had like a hundred tracks going into a 90-second piece of music. That was one of the lessons I learned early on. Well, I didn’t learn it early on, it took me a while.
But really, you don’t need that much stuff. What used to take me maybe a week to put together, something with all this stuff in it. And then sifting through and doing the mix on that, oh my goodness. Who wants to do that? We’re not making symphonic, major label stuff here, so now if it takes me more than two to four hours… That’s my window of time to make a cue. And if it takes any more than that, then I’ve got way too much stuff going on. I’ve gone down rabbit holes that I don’t need to go down; I’ve fiddled too much with knobs. I think one of the biggest challenges that we have to overcome is that more is better.
So this is my thought when I got started: I don’t want to make something simple, that’s like cheating. Three tracks, no way. You’ve got to have 500. I felt guilty for doing simple stuff. I just spent an hour on that, surely I didn’t do enough.
That brings up an interesting point that Keith mentioned earlier, which is knowing your sounds and not spending time on each and every sound… But that also plops an 800-pound elephant in the middle of the room from a creative perspective. Does that stifle you? Is there a sameness? Is there a homogenized sound that everything you do sounds kind of similar, because you go back to the same quiver of sounds?
Keith: But you don’t. You’ve just got to know… Like drums for example. Like a ’60s drum set compared to a ’90s drum set, you’re not using the same drum kit all the time. But you’ve just got to be aware that that ’60s bass drum doesn’t have the click that a metal kick drum would have. So you’ve just got to know those different tones and everything. You’re not using the same stuff. Just write notes as to what and where they are…
How do you organize the notes about what sounds best and where you go to find them? Mentally, I would imagine, over time you just don’t even need the notes. Do you just know?
Randon: For a lot of them. If I’m doing a big hybrid orchestral track, I have got way too many libraries—everyone that knows me knows. I spend way more money than anyone should on virtual instruments, but I know which ones I like. If I’m doing some deep dark one, I know which violins are going to sound dark versus which ones are gonna sound bright. I know exactly where I’m going for all that stuff. It’s the little details I add in after I’ve written the whole track—all the swooshes, all the bangs and major hits, that kind of stuff. Those are the ones I’ll spend more time tweaking, because I’ve got to make them a little unique. I might need to add in some stutter effect, things like that. But when I’m doing the core of that piece, I know exactly which hard drive has every one of those orchestral instruments. Knowing your gear is a huge step in the right direction.
Is it a fair statement for all of you that you’ve gotten faster? One of the obstacles is, “I’m not tech-friendly”—I hear this frequently—and, “It’s so hard for me to figure this stuff out.” But it had to be hard for everybody in the beginning—Marcus’s story, Matt’s story…
Marcus: You suck until you don’t. If I want to make six figures, I don’t want to suck at this anymore. So the Internet is your friend. Everything you need to learn is there.
But how do you keep your head in the game when you are constantly feeling like you suck until the day you get good enough that you don’t suck any more?
Marcus: Don’t do that! It’s because you want to do it. You want to create that music, and you have that drive. If you hated it, you’d be like ehh. You’ve got to love the process. Because even when you’re not good at it, you still love the process and figure out how to get good at it. And usually when you suck, you don’t realize it until afterwards, right?