Passenger Profile:
Randon Purcell, Part One

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Interviewed by Michael Laskow

Passenger Profile Randon Purcell

Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
I grew up in a very small town – Manti, Utah. I lived in LA for almost seven years after getting married, but once we had kids we moved back to Utah.  We’re just south of Salt Lake now, in Sandy, to be specific.

Give us some background – Married? Kids? Day gig?
I got married at the young age of 24, back in 2000, and I’m still very happily married today to by best friend, Erin. I’m a very lucky man. I have three amazing sons, ages 9, 12, and 15. My family is everything to me, and they are pretty much the only thing that I’ll always put before my music.

I do have a day gig writing software and doing web development. It is a tad bit boring, but it pays for all my music gear and takes care of my family. Hopefully I won’t have to carry on both careers forever, but I really can’t complain… much.

Were you that kid whose parents forced him to take piano lessons or did you strap on a guitar and play in garage bands?
I did not have a choice at first, no. My mother is an amazing piano teacher, and that was just part of life from the time I was 5 years old until I graduated high school. I don’t recall ever disliking it though. By the time I was 14, I was really into electronic music and had started writing my own songs with my brother, so I always felt grateful to my mother for all those lessons. In fact, when we first formed a band, we named it Agnes Poetry, in honor of all the musical instruction from our mother, Agnes. Now she teaches my three boys (whom I dare say are now better players than I am)!

That’s cool! Do you remember what the first piece of music was that you wrote or composed?
Funny you should ask. Not too long ago my mother found the hand-written manuscript for a little piece I wrote titled, “Sonatina in C.” I was probably 9 or 10 when I wrote that.  That was a fun thing to get my hands on! But I didn’t really start writing a lot of music until I was about 14. It has been an ever-expanding and important part of my life ever since.

"I lived by the rules of writing often, submitting often and moving on to the next one."

Did you ever want to be a rock star, or was composing for media what you imagined yourself doing?
Oh boy…Yup, I wanted to be a rock star. In fact, I remember a job interview where I was asked what my future goals were. I was so obsessed with my music career that I actually answered that question honestly and told them my goal was to be a rock star (basically). Despite that stupid answer during an interview for a computer-related job, I somehow still got hired. A couple years later when I was moving away, the owner of the company gave a little toast to me and recalled how shocked he was at my interview, but he was very glad to have hired me anyway. I still laugh every time I think of that.

Actually, what I really wanted to be was more of an Alan Wilder from Depeche Mode. Rock Star, but slightly more behind the scenes. No desire to be a front man. However, Danny Elfman eventually became a driving force in my music choices after Nightmare Before Christmas found its way into my heart. From Oingo Boingo to his film soundtracks, I was really inspired to do what I had often done on the side – write orchestral music. That really took over my music writing in about 2014 just after I’d released what would be my first solo album of songs and my last album of songs (for now anyway). On a side note, if anyone wants any of my singles or my solo album, I have them all downloadable for free on my website at randonpurcell.com in the ‘older music’ section of the site.

Okay, I let you get that one plug in, now it’s my turn! How long have you been a TAXI member, and what motivated you to join?
I think I joined in 2014 actually … maybe 2013.  I was just finishing my solo album, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I had written it and planned to donate all the sales to a local homeless shelter, but I was hoping to maybe get some licensing gigs. I’d heard of TAXI many years earlier, and had always debated joining.

That’s a common thing we hear. What made you wait to join?
I never really felt like my music would find many homes via TAXI.

I guess you were wrong about that, lol!
Yeah, well, at t the time I was only writing songs, and only in an alternative/electronic rock sort of genre. But one day I just decided I needed to give my music one last shot before calling it a hobby, only. I started getting the TAXI opportunity emails just to check it out. One day I saw a listing that I thought could work for me, so I joined to go after that listing.

Did you have any significant publishing deals or placements with your music before you became a member?
No, not really. We had come close with our bands and even had some early talks with a couple labels with both Adom9 and Agnes Poetry – but none of that ever turned into anything.

What were some of your first observations – what were your earliest takeaways when you first surveyed the TAXI landscape?
My initial takeaway was that I could see a tremendous opportunity for instrumentals. I had always loved writing instrumentals, but being part of a band, my focus was always on songs. I did instrumentals on the side just for fun. But seeing all the opportunities via TAXI, it really pushed me to go after what I was really, truly passionate about doing.

Passenger Profile Randon Purcell

We’re glad to be of service! What was your studio like when you first joined? 
I’d always been a bit of a gear slut, so I had a decent little studio actually. A Mac Pro running a lot of pretty good software instruments (East/West, etc. … the typical stuff most people start with probably). I had a couple hardware synths too, including a Virus. I also had a good mic (Neumann) and a Universal Audio mic pre. So, pretty good stuff. It’s morphed a good bit over the years with better software and some killer monitors … but again, only cause I’m a gear slut and I have a day job that pays well enough to buy this stuff. Ha ha! 

"That advice from the screeners was tough to swallow, but I treated it as gold."

How often did you work on your music before you were a TAXI member?
Honestly, when I was younger, all the time. I had really bad insomnia, so I would spend all night working on music several nights a week. My first son cried for six months non-stop (no kidding), and that cured my insomnia permanently! After marriage and kids, I didn’t work on music as often, maybe a few evenings a week or an early morning or two each week. I started to lose the drive and didn’t really dream of being a rock star anymore. It made me wonder what on earth I could do with my music at that point.

That’s a familiar story that we hear from a lot of our members. Are you able to find the time more often, now?
I write music every single day unless I’m out of town. I wake up at 4:30 a.m., seven days a week so I can put in at least three hours of music before having to do anything else. Then there are a few evenings each week where my wife will give me extra time to work on music for a few hours as well – bless her soul. Mostly, I try to keep my evenings open for family time, etc., but my early mornings are pretty much straight music. That’s my most productive time.

So, now you’re sort of a reverse insomniac, in a very productive, early morning sort of way. Do you ever look back at some of the beliefs you had about success in the music business in the early stages of your dalliances in music and think, “Man, I must have been trippin’!”
Yes, all of the time. When I look back I feel like such a crazy moron. I wasn’t literally smoking anything, but I may as well have been. I was completely out of my mind and unrealistic about everything. 

What made the proverbial “light” go on for you?
TAXI, TAXI, TAXI! OK, to be fair, I had given up on the rock star thing, and quite honestly didn’t even want that by the time I wrote my solo album. But I had no idea what to do with my music either. I was clueless about any other avenues for a music career until I joined TAXI. This is when the light really turned on. The day I got a call from a library in LA after a TAXI forward for a cinematic dubstep listing. I was so excited, and this really flipped the switch for me to show me that I could actually do this.

What were some of the first steps you took that started to kick things into gear for you?
I followed advice from TAXI – mainly to treat my music as a business and dedicate time to that business. Hard work over and over again. I lived by the rules of writing often, submitting often and moving on to the next one. The whole Write, Submit, Forget, Repeat mantra that TAXI’s successful members live by, became my mantra as well. I just started writing all the time, whether I could find a target listing or not. When I couldn’t find a good match in the listings, I dug up old listings and wrote to those briefs just to build my catalog.

Once I had a couple libraries I was working with, I would contact them when I had down time to see if they needed anything in particular. I signed quite a few additional tracks this way.

I used failed TAXI submissions as practice. I took those tracks that didn’t get forwarded and I reworked them following the advice of the TAXI screeners. Eventually, I signed most of those to libraries after all or got them forwarded via TAXI on other listings. That advice from the screeners was tough to swallow, but I treated it as gold. I never got offended. I knew these folks had much better ears than I did, and I followed every bit of advice I got from them.

"Don’t be discouraged when only 10 out of every 100 tracks you write actually get placements. Be excited, because that’s probably a better percentage than many people get. And don’t forget, many times placements may come many years later when you least expect it."

Do you have any advice for our readers as to common misconceptions that are out there regarding becoming successful in the film and TV sync market?
Most definitely! First of all, don’t think you are going to take an album of songs you’ve written and get them licensed and placed in films and television shows to make you rich. Not gonna happen that way. You might get a song or two placed if you are fortunate, sure, but don’t make that your game plan.  As we’ve all heard over-and-over, this is a long game. You might hear about a $15,000 trailer placement or a song getting used on a show 300 times, making a good payout. But this shouldn’t be your plan. A goal, sure, but not a plan. You might hear that it’s possible to have a few pieces of music out there making thousands of dollars on royalties. Sure, that’s possible, but again, that shouldn’t be your plan. Plan to write hundreds of tracks. Plan to get them licensed by various publishers. Plan on a fraction of those tracks actually getting placed, but hope for more.  Don’t be discouraged when only 10 out of every 100 tracks you write actually get placements. Be excited, because that’s probably a better percentage than many people get. And don’t forget, many times placements may come many years later when you least expect it.
My main advice is simply to keep writing and getting your music out there. Always try to improve yourself and outperform yourself.

What are your preferred genres to work in?
I love writing orchestral music (trailers or background tracks), hybrid orchestral trailers, horror music, investigative tension, and inspirational instrumentals.

Are those also your most productive genres for getting syncs and generating income?
Definitely. Most of my music income has come from my investigative tension, hybrid orchestral and orchestral music.

Have you found that the 80/20 rule is true for your music – meaning that 80% of your income comes from 20% of the music you’ve created?
Yes and no. When it comes to royalties, this is a big yes – the 80/20 rule seems to apply. But a lot of what I compose has up-front payments, so a lot of my music income is actually coming in whether I get syncs or not.

That inevitably begs the question, “Why not just create more [or all of your] music in that or those styles?”
Well, that is a good question. Firstly, for me, I have to enjoy this whole thing, and part of that enjoyment comes from pushing myself and trying new things. If I’m not improving, it stops being fun for me. So, I don’t want to get stuck doing just one thing, even if that would make me more money. Secondly, even if I did stick to writing just investigative background cues, I might still only land in the 80/20 split anyway. You never know what is going to actually get synced, so I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket.
That said, if you find that you really love doing one genre and that is working well for you, I say go for it! But always try to dabble in other genres just to expand your catalog.

"Television cues live on that fine line of being boring and being interesting."

Any observations about the differences between writing for TV cues and trailers?
Well, I’m no expert here, but there are some big differences, actually.

First, when you’re writing for television, the music should be fairly subtle, and you always need to make sure there is plenty of room for the dialogue on top of it. The music will be sparser, not have too much going on, and there will generally be a single mood without a ton of dynamics and changes. Basically, I think of television cues as being just interesting enough to not be boring, but not too interesting, so that it takes anyone’s attention away from the show. So, television cues live on that fine line of being boring and being interesting. Maybe that’s a terrible way to put it, but that’s just how I view it.

"Trailers are about taking a very simple motif and exploding it into a massively layered, constantly growing monster. And the big trick is that you still have to have room for dialogue as well, which is why the overall music and melody have to remain super simple"

I think that’s a great way to explain TV cues. I’m going to steal that, and use it every chance I get! I’ll do my best to give you credit, lol. And trailers?
Trailers, well this is a whole other beast. Trailers generally have a very specific format, more than just having the typical three acts (intro, build, climax) or sometimes four acts (intro, build, climax, climax 2). Each of those sections needs to fit within certain times and needs to have certain breaks. You need to be constantly building, etc. So really, there is a certain formula for trailers. It is a tricky business to be creative and original, yet deliver what publishers want right now.

What do they want?
Unlike television cues, trailers have to sound huge. I’m not kidding. You almost have to enter the realm of ridiculous with these things. There are times when you might have 60 violins playing and realize you need another 60 panned to the left and up one octave. And I’m still learning, believe you me! What I’ve learned this past year or two with trailer writing is that when you reach that moment when you feel like your track is absolutely enormous sounding, you are probably about half way there. No kidding here. It is all about taking a very simple motif and exploding it into a massively layered, constantly growing monster. And the big trick is that you still have to have room for dialogue as well, which is why the overall music and melody have to remain super simple.
Not too long ago I pitched a track to a trailer house. They said something to the effect of it being a good track, but just not big enough for a trailer. So, I spent some time making it much bigger. All the Starbucks cups in my studio were tipping over just from the air movement from my monitors. And you know they said the next day? Still not big enough! It can be very frustrating to figure out the right balance on trailer music. I still have this happen with some very picky libraries, and I’m still learning and practicing every single day.

So, in summary, television music is simple, sparse and even keeled, dynamically. Trailer music is melodically simple, very dynamic and massively complex with regard to sound, mixing, and layers.

That’s a great way to say it. Thanks for sharing that, and I’ll bet our readers can’t wait to hear more of your great advice in next month’s Transmitter! Stay tuned for Part 2, folks!

Hear Randon’s music at: http://randonpurcell.com/