Though growing up in Illinois, Nicole Russin-McFarland declared to her parents she wanted to be “a famous movie director!” at age 12, Nicole spent many years working in journalism since she was 13 – back in the early 2000’s, people didn’t Google anyone, never learning they were hiring a junior high school student – and later, pursuing entertainment print journalism so she could transition into filmmaking. Today, Nicole has finally arrived at her destination: becoming a film director/writer, working on her first film, The Eyes of Old Texas.
Thanks to her extensive food journalism resume and cookbooks, Nicole one day hopes to have a TV food show and more culinary opportunities, including selling her own food wares at department stores like her culinary heroes, Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck.
As a film music composer, Nicole spent her childhood studying classical music. Starting around age 11, she enjoyed pretending she was composing background music for her films one day. The world first heard her compositions with the release of The Eyes of Old Texas soundtrack on iTunes in May 2015.
Exposed Vocals: So tell us your story. Where did you grow up? What made you decide to become an artist?
Nicole: grew up in downstate Illinois in the United States and always every weekend going to either St. Louis or Chicago as my parents were bored in the town and are both from big cities. I value the weekdays I spent in my town for the wonderful food I learned about and the positivities, but it was so boring that there was nothing for me to do other than work on developing skills. I practised music a lot, but especially I loved writing music. And this love of the writing and craft itself is what stuck with me forever as I did anything. I was always wishing, “OK, will this job lead me to being a film director and film score composer? Will it help me meet people?” And oddly, I wad right. I met my film’s business partner when I interviewed him on my ELLE Spain blog. Brian Tsao is a triple threat: celebrity chef, businessman with his restaurants and rocker!
Exposed Vocals: What do you think about online music sharing? Do you ever give your music away for free? Why?
Nicole: I think artists can and should give away some music for free as a thank you to your fans. Or to get the momentum going. Otherwise, we wouldn’t see hip hop stars doing mixtapes. Though I’m a classical music composer, I like to believe I can drop a mixtape my own way and free tracks! I released two tracks entirely for free on my SoundCloud that aren’t on the film score’s iTunes release. And I intend to keep doing stuff like that. Free is awesome. It makes you feel special, and I always love it myself when I hear rappers’ mixtapes. So why not do that for orchestral sounds?
Exposed Vocals: Since everyone was a start-up once, can you give any smaller or local bands or artists looking to get gigs and airplay some tips?
Nicole: I’m not sure how much a composer can advise rock bands. I’ll try. What I suggest is you need to hustle like people talk about on those radio hit songs. I hustle. I do anything and everything it takes to get people to meet me online or if I go out somewhere to an event. I’ve been at this game ever since I was not promoting my music, and now that I’m officially known as a classical music composer doing film scores, you can bet I’m doubling that up. Things won’t always work out, but half the time, they do. And a quarter of the time, they don’t only work out. Things succeed amazingly. Give it your all like you’re running a marathon. Do any crazy thing you can think of to promote your work. Expect people to make up stories about you on the rumour mill. Expect people won’t always like your work. But know for every bad thing you have happening, at least ten more good things happen to you.
Exposed Vocals: Do you ever make mistakes during performances? How do you handle that?
Nicole: Well, sure! On the soundtrack, all I did was rewrite and rewrite until I got the tunes down. The fact they’re classical doesn’t make them any different. Brian Tsao and his band recording their end on the tracks that have orchestra and rock combined also did the same. We e-mailed songs and I laid my work over his work. Mistakes happen. You learn from them. I definitely threw out plenty of music you don’t hear that didn’t make the final cut on my end because I knew it wasn’t up to par.
Exposed Vocals: Do you tour? Anything interesting happen on tour that you think our readers would enjoy hearing about?
Nicole: The new trend is having a film score’s music played live by an orchestra in front of a giant screen as people watch the movie. Currently, they’re doing this with John Williams’ work for Jurassic Park. That’s as close as a composer could get to a tour. Sounds cool though, right? I’m eons away from that though. I’d need to do a live action film score first!
Exposed Vocals: Where do you usually gather songwriting inspiration? What is your usual songwriting process?
Nicole: I suck at keeping a diary. What I do really well is writing down my feelings in note form. I will write down stuff on my iPad or computer. If you look at a song like “The Chairman’s Waltz” off The Memoirs of A Geisha soundtrack, you hear so much emotion and romantic longing that goes unfulfilled by the lead character without any lyrics. This is ideal to classical music in general and film scores. The music has to speak for itself. And I hope all my work does that. Being moody works as well because I can get anger down or boldness I wont have if I’m thinking happy things.
Exposed Vocals: Do you have a band website? What online platforms do you use to share your music?
Nicole: I share my music on YouTube and SoundCloud. And anyone can keep up with my official website aptly called OfficialNicole.com.
Exposed Vocals: What are some really embarrassing songs that we might find on your mp3 player?
Nicole: Wow! I actually don’t listen to any embarrassing songs on my iPod. I listen to them on the radio! Yes, between my classical music station and my hip hop station, I’ll sneak in that awful pop for 8 year olds. Or really bad Top 40 one hit wonders. I do it all. My iPod is restricted to beneficial music. I find that rap and hip hop have a lot of classical music influences, so that’s allowed. And I have a LOT of orchestral music, but that’s it on the iPod. The only cheats I have are these few Britney Spears songs because for one of my live action movies I’m dreaming of making, I have some special things in mind I want to do with those songs in a way nobody would see coming. A good way, I’ll add. Making them cool. Not that Britney isn’t cool, but I will make her “cool” to people who would say her music is terrible and tragic. Wait and see. A few years, sure, but you’ll see!
Exposed Vocals: If you were given half a million dollars and a year off, what would you do? How would you spend it?
Nicole: I’m not focusing on anything musically other than saving ideas that pop into my head and promoting my current music. As much as I’d love to say p, “Oh yeah, I’m a famous composer now. I’m like, OMG, the girl John Williams or girl Hans Zimmer!” Not happening. If you want to be the top of your genre, you need to promote your music. Or nobody will know about it.
Exposed Vocals: How do you find ways to promote your music? What works best for you?
Nicole: In full honesty, I friend lots of people on social media, show them I’m human by doing stuff like posting my food or whatever, and hope they like me. Sometimes, people once they think I’m cool and get to know a bit about me go on my website and ask me about my music on social media. I love it when people get invested in me without me forcing my music down their throats. Because classical film scores aren’t the hottest sell out there. I am competing with hip hop women who are as sexy as their lyrics are good, rock boys who could write golden lyrics in five seconds, guitarists, and so many people online, and that’s NOT counting people who’ve already gotten super famous. My goal is to make classical music cool again. And I hope I’m doing a good job providing that narrative. Because sure, classical girl alone, there are a bunch of those. But how many of them compose instead of playing flute or singing opera? Few. Now, how many female composers write for film? Few. How many of them do modelling too? And direct movies, brand themselves, so on? Only me. I’m unique. I focus on standing out from the crowd.
Exposed Vocals: If you could perform anywhere and with any artists (Dead or Alive) where and who would it be with? Why?
Nicole: If I had a time machine, I would go back in time with Brian Tsao and his metal guitar and force Bach to let his “ruin” his classical music. Number one. Because I don’t know, I have the guy on my mind today after there was a Bach marathon on the radio. He represents so much of what most people know of classical music…and not very well. So yeah, first off, I’d try to liven up classical music from the past to be a rebel. Then, I would come back to this time period and beg Danja the rap producer to do some serious beats over my classical tracks. It’s risky and could sound either horrible or amazing. I love taking risks.
Exposed Vocals: So, what’s next? Any new upcoming projects that you want to talk about?
Nicole: I need to finish this movie! If it’s not out by next year, I will have no excuses. This thing needs to be at festivals. It’s so timely and relatable for kids and their parents. Or you. Anyone can see this cartoon and relate to it and find it humorous. Secondly, I need to ensure my business is going perfectly so we can embark on producing our next films and do say, two films at a time, minimum. Then, we have to develop more media websites and get more authors out the door with books published. I have a lot going on.
Exposed Vocals: If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing?
Nicole: If I weren’t doing music, I wouldn’t be living. How about that? Because my top two loves are film and music. My films would feel incomplete if some of them didn’t have my music. I’d be so angry. And my music is impossible without my movies I’m going to be making. Food is great, as is modelling and my new business, but yeah, if I weren’t doing film and music, I would be dead inside and not care about anything. You have to understand, my life events I cared most about were publishing a cookbook, finally releasing my classical music with my first album on The Eyes of Old Texas soundtrack, and becoming a movie director. Everything else to me was and is, meh. My goal is no more of the meh. I want to lead a happy life and do! Only doing work I love.
Exposed Vocals: Do you remember buying your first album? Who was it? What was going through your head?
Nicole: My first album was by the Spice Girls. What was going through my head was probably hearing them on the radio, not knowing any real artists other than them, and finding it cool I got a CD. Luckily, my next album I bought was the Titanic score. I was saved.
Exposed Vocals: How do you juggle the rest of your responsibilities while trying to stay ahead in your music life?
Nicole: You can’t! You need to do a Justin Timberlake and focus on one thing at a time. Do you see how Justin never records while making a movie he’s acting in? You know who recorded an album while making a movie in 2004? Lindsay Lohan. She’s a fun girl, but come on, do not tell me Lindsay Lohan’s first album turned out anything comparable to John Williams’ scores he only focuses on forever. Don’t do too much in one day. Or week. Set aside a month for you to only record. If you have a day job, take off a certain day per week if your boss lets you and book a studio. Or use your home studio. There’s a lot less pressure when you are at home. Don’t go record after half a day at work. You’ll fail at the goal. You need time to yourself. If it takes you doing it over six months instead of one week, so be it. Life happens as it should. Don’t force life or your art.
Exposed Vocals: What should fans look forward to in 2016?
Nicole: I’m doing so much in 2016. If fans of mine want to hear more of my music, I may release some YouTube only work turning popular music into classical styles. I’ve had that goal for a long time. Until then, they can keep up with my movie, The Eyes of Old Texas, on its public Facebook page, or see what I’m doing overall on my social media. Again, understand, we are still shooting the movie. We are now having Heath Broom an associate producer film across South America. He went to Machu Picchu! We take this seriously. This movie isn’t done in a month. We want it to be good, and know we at least tried so hard, we couldn’t have put more heart into it. I forever want to have this passion for all my work, music, film, or whatever it is!