I’ve been a musician all my life. I grew up with pianos and guitars in the house. I’ve always had instruments around and I’ve always played them. I also had a personal computer from the earliest time they were available and have always been a total geek. Some of those things you do in life that aren’t necessarily meaning to lead to something in particular end up setting you up with skills that can be combined into something that can take you a long way.
I just couldn’t stop thinking, “This is that chance you always hear about… that break.”
Back in 2009, my wife and several of my good friends were working on a TV show called The Phone which was supposed to go on MTV. It was a big action high-budget reality show. We were hanging out one night watching an early cut of the show when my friend Rick turned to me and said, “You should make some music for this show.” I was mainly a guitar player at the time, and the show’s music was huge orchestral score in the vein of Bourne Identity.
My immediate reaction was, “Who, me? I don’t know how to make that kind of music?!?” Rick said he couldn’t offer me a job or anything like that, but that if I could make some music that he thought fit the show well enough and was high quality enough, he’d pass it to the editors. If they liked it, They might temp it in. And if they temp’d it in and it stuck, then it might end up in the show.
Next day, I just couldn’t stop thinking, “This is that chance you always hear about… that break.” I bet I can figure that out. My amazing wife’s response? “I’m working right now… drop everything and do it”. Great wife.
So I did. I was working as a computer coder and website designer at the time, so I had pretty good computer skills anyway. I got a copy of some cheap music software and started making some music. Turns out industry standard tools are industry standard for a reason. So the cheapo software I was trying to get started with simply made it impossible for me to make music that sounded professional, regardless of the quality of my writing. I bit the bullet and upgraded to Pro Tools. Wow… talk about a steep learning curve. Suddenly I was faced with thousands of possibilities and millions of complications. With power comes complexity. I couldn’t imagine how I would ever learn Pro Tools in a reasonable amount of time.
Then it hit me. My buddy Alex U’Ren is a pro audio guy (and musician). He works in Pro Tools every day. So I called Alex up and he said he be more than happy to help me out. I went to his house a few days later and sat down with him at his workstation armed with some questions and a lot of things I didn’t know.. Alex asked me what type of stuff I was planning on doing with Pro Tools, because it can be used for composing, mixing, mastering… you name it. Since my main focus was going to be composing for television, Alex started me off with software instruments and some basics in mixing and mastering.
Because I was actually sitting face-to-face with Alex, rather than watching him in a pre-recorded video, I was able to ask questions and he was able to craft the information specifically for me. Because of the interactivity and hands-on nature of this kind of of learning experience, I was able to learn enough in those four hours to get me started on the road to being a composer. I had just experienced my first micro-mentoring session!!
The music I made when I got home that night sounded 1000% better than anything I’d recorded previously. Within two weeks I had submitted a piece that Rick felt was good enough to hand over to an editor. A week later I visited Rick at the production office and heard an editor walking down the hall humming my melody, then cursing, frustrated because it was stuck in his head and he couldn’t stop it. I’d call that a win. 😉
I kept at it and ended up placing 6 or 7 cues in that show. Hearing your music on TV for the first time is AMAZING, let me tell ya.
That same year, I landed the job as composer for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution on ABC. Major network prime time. With that kind of pressure, I booked another session with Alex…. just a few hours to step up my game and clear a few things up. Once again, the quality of my work jumped dramatically. That first season of Jamie Oliver won an Emmy. That propelled me on to the next thing and the next. Within a few years I’d build a production music house with a roster of more than 30 composers and was writing themes and providing score for reality shows, game shows and ads. You can hear some of that music at http://russellspurlock.com.
I can’t overstate how much of a difference it made in my life to have been able to sit down with a pro like Alex for a few hours. No amount of YouTube videos or user manuals could have gotten me there… certainly not in such a short time.