Sometimes, Your Career Finds You

Mike Turner, a CRAS Graduate, Who Didn’t Even Know What a Music Supervisor Was Until Age 30, Now Excels in His Career with Numerous Award Nomination and Wins

Most don’t imagine ending up in a career that didn’t openly interest them while growing up and especially during the college years, much less being successful in a career one didn’t even know existed until it knocked on their door at age 30.

Mike Turner is one of those few that found his true calling a bit later in life than most.

Growing up in Seattle during the Hair Metal 1980s and the Grunge period of the ‘90s, Turner took piano lessons early on, which he admits really didn’t do it for him, so he started playing guitar in the seventh grade.

“Around age 11, I borrowed a guitar from a friend and played it in secret because it felt like my own thing,” Turner explained. “I formed my first band in the 8th grade after having my mind blown by hearing Pearl Jam’s album ‘Ten’. We rehearsed in a friend’s basement and we were terrible, but everyone in Seattle was in a band at that time and it was just the thing to do.”

Turned admits to loving music, but ski racing was center stage in his life during that time. He ultimately went to a boarding school for ski racing in high school to pursue his dream of being on the U.S. ski team.

“I didn’t return to music in a big way until I quit ski racing halfway through my freshman year in college due to injury and burnout,” he continued. “But then I really threw myself into music. I played in various bands and I interned at a recording studio in the summers. It was all I cared about.”

Ultimately, Turner attended Whitman College in eastern Washington and studied English Literature.  While there, he started thinking that he wanted to seriously pursue a career in the music industry, even if he couldn’t make it as a rock star. Without much music oriented career classes to choose from, Turner found one elective class called “sound synthesis” where a professor in his spare time was teaching students how to use an early version of Digital Performer in the basement of the concert hall where the orchestra performed.

“I ended up taking that class and learning the program so well that he offered me an opportunity to teach it the following semester because he didn’t want to do it anymore,” Turner explained. “So, I actually ended up teaching it for a couple of semesters, and it was really fun.”

While still attending college, Turner came across The Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences (CRAS) in Tempe, Ariz. He quickly knew he wanted to attend CRAS to pursue his career in the music industry, so he immediately started planting that seed with his parents.

“Once I found out about CRAS and looked at what it had to offer on its website, I knew it was exactly for me,” Turner continued. “I had been interning at a recording studio in Seattle during my summer breaks from college and I loved it, but the main thing that I realized is that there was no way I could learn everything I needed from just from looking over someone’s shoulder. So, my parents agreed to let me attend CRAS as soon as I got my college degree in 2001. And within a year after that, I had also attended and then graduated CRAS, as well.”

When Turner began at CRAS, he thought that he had wanted a career in music production or as a recording engineer….or both.

“But as it turned out, I think the most important thing I learned is that neither of those paths were really for me, but the foundation I learned at CRAS was very useful for my path moving forward,” Turner admitted. “After I left CRAS, I got an internship at a little artist management and marketing agency in New York City. I was looking for more of a music business internship rather than a production/engineering one at that point. This place was co-founded by one of the partners in the Ministry of Sound label and they were doing some interesting things. They hired me for an A&R job after a three-month internship, but then the company unfortunately shut down shortly after that.”

Turner lived in New York City for about year, and then fled to Miami when he was out of money. “A friend of mine was a big shot at MTV down there and he got me some freelance production work with them for a while,” he said. “I bounced around all over the country for most of my 20s doing different things in music, but none of it seemed to have a future for me. However, all of those experiences contributed in some way to the skill set I draw from today, including live sound, booking shows, assisting in recording studios, writing about music for alt-weeklies, and things like that. But nothing became a career.”

And then, it happened.

Turner was living in Chicago and through a referral from a friend, he stumbled into a job in music publishing for a big indie publisher based in L.A. (now owned by BMG). They had needed someone in Chicago to interface with all the ad agencies there. That job is what opened his eyes to a whole other side of the music business that he never knew existed. 

“The licensing of music for movies, TV shows, and commercials was this huge multi-billion dollar industry, and after working for this publisher for a while I realized I wanted to be on the other side…a buyer rather than a seller essentially,” Turner explained. “So I then had direction and I knew there was a robust career to be had in that space.”

Not long after that, Turner said he got really lucky and someone let him music supervise a massive ad campaign for Microsoft because nobody else who was involved knew how.

“I kind of exaggerated my abilities but after that, people just kept hiring me,” he said. “Ultimately, I switched my focus from ads to film and TV because I like the creative work better.”

Now, after those experiences and with a dedicated career as a music supervisor, Turner is the head of the music department on a film or series.  He manages and helps create the music budget during pre-production by breaking down the script in a special way and working with the director and producers to pin down their vision for the sound based on the resources they have available. He finds and hires the appropriate composer(s), find the right songs to place into various scenes, negotiate licenses with the respective record labels/publishers and managers and makes sure that all of those people get paid.

“Sometimes original songs made special for the production are required so I will make sure those get produced to the satisfaction of the director,” Turner continued. “At the end of all of this, sometimes we put out a soundtrack album, so then I engage the proper label partner to help us distribute and market it and I will act as producer of the soundtrack album when needed. It’s a pretty broad scope of work. Basically, anything music-related on a film or TV production is potentially in my jurisdiction to figure out.”

After more than 16 years as a music supervisor, Turner’s accolades continue to accrue. He supervised the music for the very first Netflix movie “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday” (produced by Judd Apatow), he won an Indie Series Award in 2015 for a show called “Wallflowers”, he was nominated for a Guild of Music Supervisors award this year for an Owen Wilson movie called “Paint”, he just completed music supervising a film for Mel Gibson starring Mark Wahlberg called “Flight Risk”, and a documentary produced by Wes Anderson called “Uncropped”. Turner has been able to work with a lot of cool people along the way.

“A director even cast me for a role in an upcoming Jenna Ortega movie due for release by the end of this year that I music supervised called ‘Winter Spring Summer or Fall’, so that was a new and fun experience,” he said.

Turner continued, “As a music supervisor, you are often the ‘executive music producer’ when it comes to original music created for the productions you’re supervising. So, having maintained a Pro Tools system for all those years after CRAS has made it possible for me to be very hands-on in those situations where many other music supervisors can’t be. It also allows me to do my own music editing which saves a lot of time and can help sell ideas through to the directors and producers.”

As it turns out, Turner explained, a lot of those skills he learned while at CRAS are also quite useful now as a music supervisor which was a job that he didn’t even know existed when he was at CRAS. 

“I absolutely loved the hands-on engineering training that I received at CRAS, and I totally lived in those studios in the evenings and had a blast writing and recording songs with my classmates,” he said. “It made me a better musician and it helped me make a living as a live sound engineer in various cities when I was between jobs in my late twenties and early 30s.  Everything serious in post-production for film and TV is AVID-based in Hollywood, so a solid understanding of Pro Tools has been invaluable when it comes to communicating not only to the music team but the whole post-audio team.”

In the end, stay curious.

“To today’s students, keep looking outside of the lane you think you’re in because there are so many unique niches in entertainment,” Turner advised. “I didn’t even know what a music supervisor was until I was almost 30.”

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