Randon Purcell, Part Three
Interviewed by Michael Laskow
Randon Purcell in his studio with his favorite book, The Study of Orchestration by Samuel Adler. We have no idea how Randon finds the time to read anything!
I’ve seen plenty of cases where great songwriters, artists, and composers get an open door because of their work, and then proceed to blow the relationship because they make rookie mistakes and act less than professionally. Can you tell our readers some of the things that define professionalism in the context of working with music licensing professionals?
Being modest, open to ideas, and receptive to criticism are probably some of the top professional attributes I can think of.
Here are a few key points that might help. I’m going to use the term “pro” below to refer to publishers, music supervisors, or anyone in the professional music industry.
- If a pro gives you feedback on your music, accept it happily and with grace. DO NOT argue, DO NOT try to justify your decisions, and DO NOT act upset or offended. BE GRATEFUL. This is gold you are getting, even if you don’t like the sound of it.
- If a pro tells you that your music isn’t quite what they are looking for, DO NOT bother them with a million questions about ‘why,’ etc. Instead, try politely thanking them for their time, and perhaps even ask if you could possibly send over some other tracks 6-12 months down the road after you have built up your game a bit more. I’ve done this. It works, and I’ve signed tracks to publishers who once rejected me.
- If a pro asks you for some changes prior to signing your music, just say “okay” and do it. Don’t talk about compromising your art or argue about the changes. If you are trying to get licensing gigs, accept the changes required to get those gigs or don’t bother trying in the first place.
- When you’ve sent music out for review, DO NOT send emails asking if they’ve had a chance to review your music. These folks are busy and will often only reply if they like your music. If you don’t hear back, don’t bother asking. Let it go and maybe even try again 6-12 months later.
- When an industry pro does contact you for music and you deliver it, don’t bug them with emails asking about the progress. Let it ride. If a few months go by and you still haven’t heard back, then sure, drop an email just to ask if they have everything they need from you, cause hey, everyone drops the ball from time to time. But give it a few months, seriously!
- Once you’ve signed some music to a library, DO NOT bug them with emails asking if they’ve had any placements. You will find out when you get your PRO statement. Let it be! They can’t monitor every track and notify composers about placements all the time. That might be different for trailers or big placements like that, but generally speaking, you won’t hear good news from your publisher – you’ll hear it from your PRO.
- I find in any business it is always good to be grateful. I take the time to email my publishers from time to time when I see placements to thank them for getting my music out there. Why not? Everyone likes to be appreciated from time to time.
- When you’re trying to “sell yourself” to a publisher, DO NOT oversell. Don’t try to make your accomplishments sound grander than they really are. Just tell it how it is. After all, if you were already an A-list composer, you wouldn’t have to be out there selling yourself. They’d already be coming to you! They aren’t expecting you to have a resume like Danny Elman. Don’t try to make yourself sound greater than you are. I think this is true in any business, but particularly in the music industry where there tends to be a lot of blowhards.
That’s all incredibly strong advice Randon, and I’m going to suggest that every one of our readers print that section out and hang it on their studio wall, dead center between their speakers. They should also have it printed on their pillowcases as well, so they see it every night before they go to bed.
To give some perspective: How many pieces of music did you create per year when you first joined TAXI, and how many do you typically create in a given year, now?
Prior to TAXI, I probably wrote 10-12 pieces of music per year, in a good year. I just sort of took my time on every track.
Now, since becoming a TAXI member, I put out 70-120 pieces of music per year. Wow, I just realized that’s an increase of 7 to 10 times more! If I wasn’t doing a lot of heavy orchestration in a lot of my pieces, I could do even more. But, I’m content with those numbers given the small amount of time I have at the moment.
That’s impressive for a “part-timer,” especially when you’re doing complex orchestral stuff much of the time – super impressive! Got any workflow tips on how our readers can become that productive?
I won’t lie – I could probably change my own workflow to be more productive! Here’s the thing, though – many composers swear by creating those giant templates with all their instruments loaded and ready. I don’t like it. It feels overwhelming and puts me off right from the start. Plus, I have way too many instruments to have them all loaded, and I tend not to use the exact same ones all the time. So, I don’t have a lot of tips, but here’s something that works pretty well for me.
In my DAW I do have a few “starter” templates: One for straight orchestral, one for hybrid trailers, one for EDM, and one for TV cues. These templates don’t load up any instruments, but I do have the default track groups setup and folders for the MIDI and AUDIO groups (brass, woods, strings, percussion, synths, fx hits, fx rises, etc.). That way, I can add instruments and have them in folders right off the bat. That helps me quite a bit in staying organized.
I keep a document updated with the hard drive locations for my instruments. I have seven external 500GB – 1TB drives loaded with instruments, so you can imagine how easy it is to lose track of some. So I have them broken down by type and then the hard drive location. So when I know I need some big percussion, I know right where to look. Or if I need a synth, I know right where to go. It’s a simple thing, but it does help quite a bit.
See... to me, that sounds like “big boy” composer stuff! Simple, yet I would imagine that the people who work for Hans Zimmer at Remote Control are expected to have that sort of organization going on. That sounds like the difference between being an amateur and being a professional composer. There’s so much more to the gig than just creating awesome music! Got any other suggestions?
Here’s a simple one, but I find it to be effective. When I start a new track, nine times out of 10, I sit down and have a sketch track set up with a piano. I play around and figure out the chord progressions I want to use for the track, and record those first. Once I’m happy with the chords, I’ll begin writing the actual song, breaking the chords out to different instruments, inverting them, and so on. But having those initial chords blocked out right up front makes the writing process much easier for me.
Randon's older albums that can be downloaded for free on his website, http://randonpurcell.com/
If I’m writing a trailer piece, I’ll often start with the climax section and work my way back from there.
That’s a great idea!
I know it seems weird, but it just makes sense to start with the most explosive part and then go back and work up the build to that point. I don’t always do that, but many times I do. Regardless, I always block out my chords for the climax before writing a note of any other section.
C’mon, I know you’ve got some more. Keep them coming!
Time. I block my time for music. Back in the day, I’d just work on music whenever I could – 30 minutes here, an hour there. That’s terrible for productivity. Now, I simply block out the first three hours of my morning for music. It lets me focus without interruptions, and I get a lot more done.
Most of our most successful TAXI members structure their writing and production time like that. Maybe that’s why you’re all successful! What else? I know you’ve got more tips in that head of yours!
I use my iPhone recorder a lot. If anyone listened to the voice memos on my phone I’d be so humiliated. Recording after recording of me humming in melodies or motifs or mouth-drumming rhythms, etc. It sounds terrible to listen to, but it is the only way I can guarantee I don’t forget any good ideas. When I need to start a new song, I usually start by listening to a handful of these recordings to see if I like anything. Then I usually end up deleting a bunch of them cause they are terrible ideas, but I do get some good stuff this way.
Also, I don’t wait for inspiration to strike. If I don’t have a melody or rhythm immediately in my head, I just sit down and start playing broken chords and arpeggios, etc., just to see if something, well, strikes a chord with me – no pun intended. I think of my music writing as a really fun job. When I go to work on music, I don’t waste that time. I dive in no matter what is going on in my head.
How do you keep yourself from drifting stylistically off-target when you’re working on assignment?
I keep the brief or TAXI listing up on a notepad so I can continually refer to it. As I work through the track, I just keep on looking back to make sure I’m not missing what they’ve asked for.
How did you get to the point where publishers were willing to pay you up front to create albums in certain genres?
I’m not really sure. It’s a mystery to me!
Okay, in all seriousness, we all know that only some publishers do this, so part of it is just good fortune that I ended up with a couple that do. That said, I got to that point by following the TAXI tips and suggestions and getting my music to a point where I felt confident approaching some of those publishers directly.
If I hadn’t followed the TAXI screeners’ advice and the various tips I heard at [TAXI’s convention] the Road Rally, my music wouldn’t have evolved to that point. But I did, and when I approached those publishers, I managed to get my foot in the door. I keep my foot in the door by always delivering the best quality product I can for those folks. I want to keep them happy so they’ll keep paying me. Simple.
So many “newbies” look at contracts offered by music libraries and remark, “Holy crap, they want 100% of my publisher’s share! I’ve always been told to hold on to my publishing.” Can you fill them in how on how the norms of the publishing aspect are different in most aspects of music licensing?
Well, it is actually very simple. You want to get paid for writing the music and having it used. Your publisher wants to get paid when your music is used as well. If you own 100% of your publisher share on a track, what incentive does your publisher have to get that track placed?
Sure, you can hold on to 100% of your writer’s and publisher’s share, and then you can be your own publisher. Now, good luck going to music supervisors and trying to get them to license your music. Think of granting your publishing rights to your publisher like paying them for promoting your music. And you’re paying them with publisher shares you’d probably never make a dime on without them. Seems like a pretty straightforward win/win to me.
Remember, giving your publishing rights to a publisher does not mean they own the copyright. It is just the publishing rights. So, if your song gets placed in a show and ASCAP or BMI (or whatever PRO you use) get a cue sheet and calculate payments, they are going to pay you the writer’s share and pay your publisher the publisher’s share.
This is perfectly normal and shouldn’t scare you off. I even do a lot of work that is considered work-for-hire where the client ends up owning the copyrights as well, but I still retain the writer’s share for any television placements. You just have to look at these contracts and decide if it is worth it to you or not. Most of the time, it is probably going to be a much better deal than trying to self-publish.
How much gear do you have in your studio?
Well, if by gear you mean “hardware,” not a lot, actually. Here’s the short list:
- Mac Pro with 128GB RAM
- Seven 500GB – 1TB SSD drives running via thunderbolt to house my recordings and sample libraries. My OS is on an internal drive with my applications. My recordings all go to one drive. And all my samples sit on the other drives.
- Universal Audio Apollo Twin audio interface
- Universal Audio UAD-2 Satellite effects processor
- Native Instruments Komplete 88 note keyboard
- Adam Audio A7x monitors
- Neumann TLM103 Microphone
- Loads of sample libraries (mostly Spitfire Audio, Heavyocity, Output, Music Sampling, Performance Samples, East/West, 8dio, Keep Forest, SampleTraxx, Orchestral Tools, Audio Imperia, Gothic Instruments, Spectrasonics, Waves)
I sold off all of my hardware synths years ago as I got more into orchestral writing and found those libraries to be ridiculously expensive. I really miss my Virus single tier, though.
I know every mix is sort of an entity unto itself, but do you have a starting point that works well for you?
When I’m finished writing a song with all the MIDI tracks, etc., I immediately destroy the mix by setting solid high levels on each track and bouncing them all to audio. Then I mute all of my MIDI tracks and organize my audio tracks. With a zeroed out mix, I start from the ground up using the audio tracks. I do this for two reasons: It gives me a fresh approach to the mixing stage, which often reveals a problem or two that were masked previously. The second reason is; if I ever move or delete software instruments, my track is no longer dependent on them. I have it all in audio form to use as I wish next week or 10 years down the road. Also, every single time I finish a mix, I make a high quality MP3 of it in case I want to use it on my website or something for promotion. And while the audio tracks are rendering, I go ahead and create a little poster art for the track. Nothing like a little multi-tasking to get the blood flowing!
Don’t miss Part 4, the final installment of this incredible interview, in next month’s TAXI Transmitter!
Hear Randon’s music at: http://randonpurcell.com/