Artist Spotlight: Marshall Usinger
The man behind the curtain for multiple cinematic projects, most notably Be Still The Earth, Marshall Usinger has become a fixture in the ambient and post-rock genres.
We caught up with Marshall to talk about his origins, why building a music career is a long game, and the relationships he’s built within the music industry.
How and when were you introduced to music creation?
Like many of my close friends and peers, I grew up playing in different bands with big dreams and aspirations. I toured with a band for a few years and around that time, I started becoming very interested in film scores and instrumental music.
Watching a film and hearing a song from a band I love was a visceral and beautiful experience for me. A favorite memory of this is the first time I saw “Moneyball” and hearing ’The Mighty Rio Grande’ by This Will Destroy You. It was really exciting to me to hear this dark cinematic post-rock in the context of a major film, where people are hearing music they would never be exposed to otherwise.
Overcome by inspiration, In 2013 I started writing what I would describe as ambient and cinematic post-rock music, with an intention to create emotions that were stirred in me by many of these films I loved.
It was also around that time that I started teaching myself how to record and arrange compositions in Logic Pro. It has been an ongoing learning process since then, and I always consider myself a humble student to the craft.. just growing and evolving with the process.
Which steps have happened since then, to get you to where you’re at now?
I believe that one of the key factors over the years that got me to where I am now has been building and maintaining relationships. This has been essential for me over time as I have gone through many ups and downs while trying to make a career of this.
I frequently check in and email people I have not spoken with in a number of years, just to say “hey” and see how they are doing. I have received emails back months later from something initially being sent that led to a further working relationship.
In a way, it’s a needle in a haystack type scenario, but the more active I have been, the more work I have seen come back. It’s truly been a gift to get to know so many different folks and agencies from all over the world.
Over the years, I’ve received many “no’s”, and I’ve had many different experiences with growing and learning how to treat myself like a business and take myself seriously. This is still something that I can always find areas to improve in, but it’s these small things that can really add up and make a difference in almost any situation, and for me especially as a self-employed business owner.
Describe a few of the hardest aspects of being a creative professional.
I sort of mentioned this above, but for me, one of the most frequent challenges is actually treating myself and my work as an actual business.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget to do this until you realize you’re in over your head a bit. Things like a schedule, budgeting, setting goals, creating opportunities, and so on; these are all aspects of running a business that I feel should be taken just as seriously (if not more seriously) that the creative output itself.
Rejection can be difficult as well, depending on how I’m feeling that day (hah!). My advice to anyone struggling with fear of rejection would be to trust that as long as you are creating music and art that is genuinely true to who you are, and you are actively seeking opportunities and putting the work in, the rest will work itself out.
The work will come. The opportunities will continue to present themselves.
As hard as this is to see in the moment, I have been shown this time and time again, even through all the rejection and uncertainty.
Which characteristic of yours has been the most important to your success?
Throughout slow times and seasons of uncertainty, I have continued to make music regularly, even when I wasn’t sure what the future would hold.
I don’t like to call it a ‘routine’ (because often times routines don’t work for me), but a better way to describe it might be just the practice of sitting down and creating.
To me, this has been such a crucial factor of keeping my mindset healthy, inspired, and ultimately productive.
Of course, while this has worked well for me, it’s important to note that everyone operates differently with their workflow and schedule. When I am away from making music too long, it can often be challenging to find motivation and inspiration when I try to get back in to the flow of things.
But I do think time away from the desk is just as important as well. Doing things like getting outside and running, going on a bike ride, or even just a 10 minute walk are little things that help keep my mind healthy and provide me energy to keep focused.
What is your biggest source of inspiration when it comes to writing music?
I often find myself extremely inspired by other artists in my closer circle of relationships. It’s incredible to see people I have known for years still pursuing music, and still making it work. In that sense, I get inspired in different forms.
One of the many benefits of feeling confident and true to who you are as an artist is that there are no strange feelings of comparison when you get to see your friends succeed. It’s incredibly life-giving.
I’ve found myself fortunate enough to be surrounded with a few artists who are absolutely standout brilliant at what they do. I get to learn from them and ask them questions. That’s something I am always grateful for.
When it comes to sitting down and writing, I would add that nothing is inspiring to me so much as the moment itself. There’s nothing quite like sitting down at my piano when it’s 11pm and the house is completely quiet. I press record, and just immerse myself in the moment and see what comes. I think other artists can relate to this feeling in this way: sometimes the music you are most proud of reveals itself to you in moments like this.
I’m just using my hands, and the music is sort of presenting itself and guiding me along. There’s nothing quite like it.
If you could go back in time 5 years, which piece of advice would you give yourself?
I would try to learn to not get too caught up in each individual moment or season. Building this, for me, has been the result of many pieces adding up over time.
I’d love to feel the confidence in the beginning that staying true to who you are and putting in the right amount of work really does pay off in the end. Although, I guess that’s something that can only be learned with time.
I’d also tell myself to not buy as many virtual instruments and plug-ins!