Multi-award-winning producer, songwriter, and composer Tommee Profitt has achieved wild success in the past few years especially. He has done it by creating music that is entirely original, self-described as genre-warping. Profitt’s style brings epic cinematic orchestration into the world of songwriting, put simply – cinematic songs. Originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, he is now based in Nashville, Tennessee, spending most of his time in his incredible custom studio space.
Take us back to the beginning. What’s your musical background?
When I was eight years old, my parents bought me a little Casio SK-1 keyboard for Christmas, and I fell in love with it instantly. I didn’t show any prior interest in music, but I immediately started trying to play songs that I was hearing on TV. They kept buying me bigger keyboards, and by the time I was 12-years-old I was programming MIDI on my parents’ computer using a notation software called MusicTime. I made MIDI instrumental albums with twenty tracks and sold them to my friends at school for $3. It really started that early and I couldn’t stop making music.
As I got older, I started listening to a lot of soundtracks and scores. I was really influenced by Trevor Rabin, especially Deep Blue Sea and Gone in 60 Seconds because of the electronic elements, and also Steve Jablonsky’s Transformers scores. Eventually, I fell in love with trailer music even more than scores. I had no clue that I would actually have an opportunity to pitch music for trailers someday, I just listened to it because I loved it.
I started a band in college with my buddies. We traveled around the country for ten years, performing at concerts and events. But my number one love was producing our music. It finally dawned on me – what if I started producing other people’s music, not just my own? And so, I built the studio and started producing for other people. My really good friend, Nate Feuerstein–who later became known as the rapper NF–came over one night, and we wrote a song that got him signed with Capitol Records. He pulled me along as a producer and writer. That was the launching point for both of our careers.
What was your first success?
It was working with Nate. He didn’t hire me. We were just friends hanging out and making music. Once I was signed with Capitol, I was traveling to Nashville all the time to write. One particular time I heard about a film/TV composing camp where you write trailer and TV show music. I freaked out because that was my favorite thing ever! So, I did a couple of sessions that week, and both of those songs ended up landing in really big placements. It was like love at first sight – to first see and hear my music in a trailer is still to this day one of the coolest things that I’ve experienced.
Why is Nashville the place to be for you?
Most of the people that I work with live here – artists and writers and friends that I work with. Nate lives here, Capitol is here. I do some trips out to LA every once in a while to work with other artists and writers, but they’re often coming to Nashville just to change scenery. Of course, over this past year, we’ve been working together remotely over Zoom and Skype. It’s awesome the way that we’re able to still work through whatever comes.
Can you briefly talk about one particular collaboration with an artist and describe how you work together?
I think it would make the most sense to cover NF because he’s my main guy, one of my best friends. It’s such an awesome process to work with him because we both were in it together from the beginning. When it’s stressful, we carry each other through; we don’t turn on each other. We love sitting down together and opening up a brand-new session, just going through sounds. I might play a few melodies or lay down a few chords and he’ll go on the mic and freestyle something over it just to see what we come up with. I do a lot of the music and he does the lyrics, obviously.
It’s a really awesome partnership. Our challenge now is just continuing to come up with new and fresh things because we’ve done so much together – we’ve done more than five albums together. But that’s always the challenge for any artist or musician now.
What is your strategy for getting placement in film, television, and/or trailers?
I usually just make songs that sound like they would go to a trailer. I have people that pitch my music to all the music supervisors and trailer houses. Capitol is pitching on behalf of my publishing, and there’s a company in town called Resin8 that I’ve worked with from the beginning. They represent my master side, and they basically license a use. I own my masters with the people that I collaborate with and we share them 50/50. When we pitch them, you never know where they will land. I then also release the songs myself.
How would you describe the style of music that you’re creating?
Early on, I got the idea to build this brand around the cinematic thing. Basically, I create trailer music with vocals on it and feature different singers on each song and a couple of instrumentalists.
I think a lot more people listen to epic cinematic music than people realize. There’s this massive following of epic cinematic trailer music that people listen to on Spotify or YouTube or whatever, but somehow, it’s not really taken seriously as a genre yet. It’s not pop or hip-hop or country, so it doesn’t count. People might think it’s just for sync or just for film/TV, but no, there are millions and millions of people that listen to this every day when they work out or when they run, or when they drive to soccer practice. It makes people feel like their lives are an epic movie and I think people like that; it takes them out of the mundane and makes them feel larger than life for a moment.
Can you talk about your studio space, how did you design it and what aesthetic were you going for?
I knew I wanted this space to be personal, inspiring, and comfortable. I’m in here by myself 70% of the time, so I wanted a sense of nostalgia and things from my childhood. I knew I wanted this space to be black with Philips Hue bulbs. Mainly I worked with a guy that designed the sound treatment for me and another designer for the furniture. I told everyone that I worked with, “I want it to feel like one-third Batcave, one-third movie theater, and one-third the inside of a Tesla car.” And I feel like we accomplished that.
We designed the whole house from scratch, and we intentionally put the studio here over the garage with a separate entrance. My wife got the whole house to design and this was my little area. The whole thing is controlled by Siri, so everything is Apple HomeKit compatible including the lights and the motorized shades behind the curtain. I’m just a nerd about smart home stuff. It’s basically my playground.
How much do you use Cinesamples libraries?
Dude, a lot! I have my go-to patches from all the companies, but CineBrass Pro is one of my huge go-to’s, especially the Twelve Horn Ensemble, which is massive, and also the Monster Low Brass. I’ve been using the 90’s Retro Trumpets (now part of CineBrass Sonore) library a lot lately too. I love brass and horns. A lot of people ask me, “How do you get that big, epic sound?” They’re using stock sounds which are tough to get a lot of dynamics from. A lot of people think it’s strings only on hits and it’s the brass that’s the thing that anchors it and brings it home, so I put that in all my stuff even if it’s tucked in. It might be louder or quieter based on the song I’m doing.
I also heard the Tina Guo Acoustic Cello library in your music a few times. And of course, you’ve recorded music featuring Tina in real life too, right?
Yes… oh my gosh! Tina Guo cello! That’s the best thing I’ve ever heard! I tell everybody about that, and I use both volumes, but especially the first Tina Guo legato patch is just in everything that I do, layered over an ensemble cello patch. It’s so emotional and it works for the slower emotional stuff. It is literally the best thing I’ve ever heard. I mean, I don’t know how they did that.
I got to work with Tina on a Christmas album that I did this past year, and to me, it was kind of like a mini dream come true. I saw Hans Zimmer Live a few years back, and she was upfront as the lead cello player, so I know that she’s been involved with all of those soundtracks over the years, so getting to have her work on my album was amazing.
Do you have any very quick music production tips? Whether for mixing, mastering, or vocal effects plug-ins, what are the absolute go-to’s that you use on every track?
Well, it’s funny, I know that I slam my master bus way too hard. But that always feels bigger and more aggressive to me and that’s why I do it. I like it to feel like something is right in your face about to explode. So, I hit the master bus, not to the point where it’s distorting and sounds horrible, but just right at that level where it’s a little crunchy, and then I put a limiter on it to cap it off. I think the mastering is a bigger part of my sound than anything.
On vocals, a go-to for me is the UAD Teletronix LA-2A compressor. I record the vocal through two LA-2A compressors, printing it as I record. I get it pressing pretty hard but not suffocating it, then after it’s in I’ll put one or two more on it with some other stuff. The number one thing that people need to learn about vocal production is how to use a compressor, and I think the LA-2A is a good one for learning because there are only two knobs. It’s very visual and you can see what it’s doing. Also, Waves has the CLA-3A compressors, and I just throw those on everything because it just makes everything feel bigger, louder, and bolder.
So, there’s no technical science telling me why to do these things; I just like the way it sounds. I think a lot of times people mix with their brain instead of their ears. It’s easy to watch the graphic on a plugin and say, oh, that’s too much or too little, but that graphic is just an animation that’s supposed to emulate what real compressors do. The animation might be wrong, so don’t go off the animation alone. I would close your eyes and listen to the compression or EQ. Does it sound right? It doesn’t matter what it looks like because you will know if it sounds right. I’ve done things before where I’m like – I know this is wrong; a real mixer would have a heart attack and tell me not to do it – but I just like it this way.
It’s really important that each musician/artist/producer/mixer has their own sound and style, and my advice is to develop a sound that people want to come to you for, because what you do is unique and they’ll only get it if they come to you.