Wednesday, June 23, 2010

From starving artist to 'Twilight' songwriter: A Chicago musician's soundtrack success

Imagine this: One day you’re a bona fide “starving artist” in a big city, creating music you’re passionate about year-after-year while sometimes struggling to pull together enough money to pay the month's rent. Suddenly, within a matter of weeks, you’re listening to your song on the soundtrack to a massive blockbuster film and watching one of your favorite musicians perform it on national TV.

This is the kind of scenario most indie artists will only ever dream about, but for 34-year-old Chicago-based songwriter, performer and producer Rob Kleiner, it’s a dream come true.

Recently, Kleiner co-wrote a song called “What Part of Forever,” a soaring, uplifting pop-rocker that very well could have suffered the same obscure, unjust fate as thousands of other excellent songs composed by indie musicians who simply never get their “big break.” Instead, you can now find the track as number 14 on the official movie soundtrack to “Eclipse,” the third installment of the wildly popular teen vampire series “Twilight.” It comes right after Band of Horses and a few tracks after Vampire Weekend...and oh yeah, it’s performed by Cee-Lo Green of neo-soul giants Gnarls Barkley. The song will also play in full during the film’s end credits.

How does something like this happen to an artist who considers himself downright “unconnected”?

“A ton of it was luck, but I guess you also make your own luck,” Kleiner said. “It was a ‘When that opportunity presents itself, are you ready for the challenge?’ kind of thing.”

And ready he was. Since graduating from college over a decade ago, Kleiner has devoted his life to music. He’s been with his band Tub Ring for over 10 years, at one point playing nearly 200 shows per year throughout various countries. He’s also one half of Nintendo/electro pop duo Super 8 Bit Brothers, and has been involved with New York City synth-punk act Mindless Self Indugence. If that weren’t enough, Kleiner can also claim to have been a member of infamous Windy City punk band the Blue Meanies, even if his stint was incredibly short-lived - the band broke up two days after he joined. When not performing, he has also scored independent films and produced material for other artists.

The "Eclipse" opportunity came about, he explained, via a friend and fellow songwriter who uses the moniker "Oh, Hush!." The songwriter had ties to a publishing deal and asked if Kleiner might be interested in co-writing a song to submit for Green's contribution to the film, knowing he was a huge fan of Gnarls Barkley. The two decided to take a stab at it while keeping their expectations low, fully aware their work would be competing against a long list of other tracks. 

“It was a long shot, but it seemed like something that would be worth the effort,” Kleiner said. “Then when it was done everything just happened really quick – the label wanted to buy it and Cee-Lo was tracking it two days after we gave it to him - it was crazy.” 

At that point, the soundtrack had been mostly wrapped-up. “What Part of Forever” was a late-stage addition. Now, the song is planned as the soundtrack’s next single and was recently performed by Green on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

“To actually see a guy I pretty much idolize singing a song I wrote…there was something even cooler to that than seeing my name in the CD credits,” the songwriter said.

Although clearly driven and dedicated to his craft, Kleiner said that he never saw an opportunity quite as game-changing as the soundtrack placement coming - especially since he works as a completely DIY artist with no manager, agent, or publisher. He equates it to “a rookie hitting a grand slam on his first at bat…which also happens to be in the World Series.”

To Kleiner, this "grand slam" means not only a greater amount of monetary compensation for his work than ever before, but also a significant jolt to his career – a career that, up until recently, he thought would be focused on making music for indie films.

“The money is for sure a godsend, but honestly what’s more important is the doors that this is opening for me,” he said. “By the end of the year I’ll be able to have a platinum record that I can hang up in my little home studio, and I’m going to be able to work with artists of different calibers.”

So far, the new opportunities include being asked to work on a track for Green’s upcoming solo album, as well as to write for other well-known names that he can’t yet divulge.

For the countless indie artists still struggling to be heard and wishing they could catch a similar kind of break, Kleiner stressed the importance of simply continuing to do what you love and never giving up. Even if he never came into the soundtrack opportunity, he said, he would have indefinitely continued to make music regardless of the amount of money it brought in.

“Honestly, just keep going – you’ve got to follow-through,” Kleiner said. “If you get up to bat enough times you might strike out 100 times, but then you hit that one and everything’s different.”


Video: Cee-Lo Green performing "What Part of Forever" on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, June 14, 2010

1 comment:

  1. the key that Rob Kleiner kicked off his keyboard and signed for me at a Tub Ring concert going to be worth money now? It shall remain mine forever!