Last month we had the privilege of talking to Lindsay Tomasic, musician, composer, record producer and engineer. Even though her name may not jump out at you, you’ve all probably heard Lindsay’s music, since she is the owner of a very successful music catalog, Frameworks Music. Since 2005, her music and the music library she produces can be heard all over the world, across all major television networks, as well as in commercials and in film. Today, production music has become an essential audio ingredient for every major television network and production company. After a solo career, Lindsay Tomasic now works in the trenches creating an astounding library of music together with first class composers and musicians.
So Lindsay, tell me, when did you first pick up a guitar?
I was four or five.
Wow! Four or five!
Yes, but it wasn’t the guitar initially. It was a ukulele. My hands were not big enough to fit around a guitar neck.
So, were your parents musical? Or did you just know at age four or five you wanted to play? Or did somebody buy you a toy ukulele?
My dad was a professional musician. He was an accordion player and was musical and playful around me. It was really a wonderful influence to have as a child. He was always coming up with rhythms and I loved imitating them. It was a very exciting part of my childhood. My dad would pull a harmonica out of his pocket and play a melody and would then give me the harmonica. I would try my best to imitate what he played. By the age of five, I was entertaining the kids on the school bus with the songs I learned on the harmonica.
Did he play in a band?
Yeah, he had a band but he also played solo as well as in smaller ensembles.
And was that how he made his living?
No. Music was always an important part of his life, but he also had day jobs, from working on machines in his early adult life to working as a linotype operator at the Daily Mining Gazette newspaper in our hometown. He usually played gigs on the weekends though. Where we lived in upper Michigan, there were not a lot of opportunities for musicians other than playing at the local bars and there were maybe five or six to choose from.
Did your parents give you music lessons or did you teach yourself? How did it all evolve?
I am a self-taught musician. By the time I was six and ready for a ‘real’ instrument, my folks took me to the local dime store where they had inexpensive acoustic guitars that I had my eye on, and from then on, I was a guitar player. Although my fingers weren’t long enough, I started by wrapping my thumb around the lower strings to complete a chord and I had chord books around the house that were helpful. I always found myself attracted to the rhythmic aspect of guitar playing. It was the closest thing to being a percussionist or a drummer, and rhythms of all kinds inspired me. Sounds such as the windshield wipers on the car would turn in to metronomes for me, and I loved filling in the blank spaces with catchy phrases. I was a little shy about sharing my singing and guitar playing until around the third grade. There was a talent show in our class, and I had learned a song called “Little Arrows” that was popular on the radio. At that point I owned an inexpensive electric guitar and a small amp, which I toted to school. When it was my turn to perform the song at the talent show I let loose for the first time in front of an audience and my song turned out to be half musical and half comedy. I remember the whole class roaring with laughter as I exaggerated the chorus. After I performed that song, I went from being totally un-popular in class, to quite popular, and I was asked to accompany group singing on guitar, as well as to play guitar Mass’ at our church.
And what about recording? How did you become interested in it?
I was interested in recording from the age of about 12. My father had an RCA reel-to-reel recorder that I learned to operate. Around this time the cassette player was invented and an uncle of mine gave me one as a gift. I loved it and decided that I would try to multi-track my recordings. I would record a guitar part on the old reel to reel. I’d put the reel to reel in playback mode and I would put the cassette transport in record mode while playing another instrument. So, I had two layers. I went back and forth a few times adding more layers and of course, the sound was horrible! But, I was multi-tracking for the first time in my life!
So you basically played guitar throughout your childhood. Did you go to college for music?
No, I did not. At the age of 16, I went out on my own to pursue becoming a professional musician.
Good for you.
It is interesting because some of my role models like Joni Mitchell and Paul McCartney, are self-taught musicians as well who didn’t necessarily pursue academic music careers. I guess there is something to be said for being self-taught and self-motivated.
So, here you are in upper Michigan, age 16, guitar in hand, and you decided to become a professional musician. How did you make that work? Did you go to clubs or bars?
I had a few musical friends in the neighborhood. My friend, Mark, was an excellent guitar player and when we were 12, he and I decided to perform a version of Woodstock in my parent’s backyard. [Laugh] We had a band called “The Shades of Time”. I wish I had pictures of this band! There were too many guitar players in the group and we were without a bass player, so I was elected play bass, but I was also the lead singer. I wasn’t thrilled about it at the time, because my role models were guitarist/singers. The positive outcome was that I learned to play bass at a young age, and developed a better understanding of that instrument as well as how to sing lead and play bass lines simultaneously. It was a bit challenging, but I made it work! We played at the teen center and for a few benefits, and we managed to pull off that rock festival in my parent’s backyard. It was fun even though only four or five people showed up. [Laugh]
That’s so adventurous and after Woodstock...
When I was 16, I met a woman who was 18 who had just graduated from high school and was a fabulous singer-songwriter. Her name was, and is, Jesse Fitzpatrick. She and I both played acoustic guitar and we would sing for hours at a time. We listened to Crosby, Stills, and Nash; James Taylor; Carole King and Elton John. We worked diligently on vocal and acoustic guitar arrangements of some of their songs and started to dabble in writing songs of our own.
Did you try to go out and play gigs? Is this how you started to make a living as a musician?
Jesse and I had a regular Friday night gig at a local pub called The Douglass House in Houghton, MI and I think we each made $25. We began meeting other musicians in the area that were pretty good and we formed our first acoustic folk rock band. “Trees”. Actually, the real name of the band was “Trees Again”. We were all 70’s hippies and the philosophy of the name was that we were Trees before, and we were now “Trees Again”.
That's very cool! So when did you leave Michigan?
The girlfriend of an LA record producer heard us playing in Michigan and convinced us to come to LA in 1976. So we saved about $1,000 between us and we all traveled in a Dodge van from upper Michigan to Los Angeles and landed on the doorstep of this producer who took us into Cherokee Studios to record our first demo, which was a huge deal. George Martin was in the next room producing American Flyer. Captain and Tennille were in the same studio. We were in good company but our producer wanted to take our sound and really polish it up and make us sound more like a Carpenters sort of band, which we did not want.
Whow was the producer?
The producer shall go un-named because he is still a working producer in LA.
Was that hard – resisting - I mean, here you were, young and somewhat naïve to the big “music industry,” and a producer lures you in. Was it hard to stick to your own guns?
It was very hard, because I felt we should have at least given him a chance. Perhaps he would have seen that he was a bit too controlling, or maybe he would have been able to connect us up with someone more suited to our style. The rest of the band was very adamant about leaving and heading back to upper Michigan. I was pretty crushed. Here we were in Los Angeles, it was the ‘70s, and all of that Laurel Canyon groovy stuff was happening all around us. I felt like all we needed to do was stay a little bit longer and be patient with this particular situation. I was out-voted and so we ended up returning to upper Michigan. When we returned to Michigan, I decided that if I’m going to be in Michigan, I didn’t want to be in the middle of Podunk where there’s nothing going on. So that’s when I decided to figure out a way to move to Ann Arbor. So I made the decision to just make the move there. Within a few months of doing this, Jesse followed.
In Ann Arbor did you continue to play with Trees Again or did you go off on your own?
Yes, Trees continued to perform, but we’ve lost a few branches along the way. We hooked up with a new bass player and drummer in Ann Arbor who had a bluesy, rock and roll feel. We became a very popular band in Ann Arbor and had a huge Sunday following at a club called Mr. Flood’s Party. We always packed the place on Sunday afternoons. Trees also spent a couple of years working with a well-established “contact improvisation” dance troop called “Mirage”. They choreographed several dances to our music and we would perform concerts together. It was great fun. It led to Jesse and I spending over a year as artists in residence at the Highpoint Center For The Handicapped. We worked with the dancers there as a team and wound up getting a state of Michigan grant to write and record an album of music for children with special needs. The album was called “Let It Out” and was released in 1980 to a limited audience. We were also playing other gigs whenever one came available that was right for us. Although it was difficult to make a living as musician, we were doing fairly well getting gigs as Trees. I performed by myself every now and then as well as I felt inclined to be a street musician. There was a beautiful arcade in Ann Arbor with great acoustics. I would park myself and my guitar case in front of the flower shop there a few times a week and would sing for a couple of hours. I always made excellent tips there and I loved the spontaneity of street performing
Did you play cover material or did you do your own original stuff too?
We primarily played original material, but we also did some ‘60s and ‘70s covers
So for those ten years though, you, Jesse, and The Trees were a successful band in Michigan?
Yes, we were a really successful local band
During that time, since technology was very different. Did you ever have a chance to record anything?
Actually, yes. We were invited to record in a couple of really nice studios in the Ann Arbor area, but I wanted our music to be more “self-produced”. I had invested some money in a Tascam four track tape machine and learned to use a small analogue mixer. Little by little, my recordings became a lot more professional and I started getting better at producing the songs I was recording. This was a big turning point for me. At the point I felt ready to dive in to producing and recording on a professional level I had the great fortune of working with an outstanding recording engineer / producer in Ann Arbor named Geoff Michael. He helped me transition to an 8 track recording system and taught me so much. Geoff and I turned the basement of my duplex into a small production studio and we turned out some pretty good music in that little room! To this day, I still rely on the basic principals of recording that he taught me. When I decided to make the move to LA in 1987, I bought a small pickup truck and managed to load it up with all my recording equipment and instruments.
Was leaving Los Angeles one of your big regrets?
No, because as it turned out, I ended up in Los Angeles about 11 years later with a lot more confidence as well as some experience to actually be able to deal with the ups and downs of the industry and with more of an understanding of how to target what I wanted. Moving to LA at the age of 31 was so much better. The burden of trying to “make it” with Trees was now lifted and this was a golden opportunity for me to just go out on my own and try to fulfill some of my dreams even though I knew there would be obstacles along the way and that maybe my career wouldn’t turn out exactly how I had imagined it would.
So, how'd you get your foot in the door here in LA once you returned?
I tried to make my living playing cover songs wherever I could get a gig, because I knew it was going to take a while to establish myself as an original artist or producer. I went to the Chamber of Commerce to get a listing of all of the clubs and hotel lounges where there was live music and I found two or three agents and then narrowed it down to one agent who pretty quickly booked me into the Miramar Sheraton in Santa Monica. However, the Sheraton only had a piano lounge and I’m a guitar player. So he said to me, “Look, learn four or five songs on the piano for your audition, because the general manager never comes down into the lounge to really listen to music. They just want to know you can play the piano.” So I learned “Let it Be” and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”, and a couple other standards, well enough on the piano so that during the audition, I could sit there and sing and play piano and sound like I knew what I was doing, and I got the gig. Anytime the general manager would show up in the lounge I would immediately switch from playing guitar to playing the piano, but for the most part, I’d play my sets on guitar. Drum machines were big at that time, and I spent hours programming drum and percussion parts to just about all of my songs. I covered a lot of ‘80s songs and of course threw in all the classic rock stuff that I had known for years.
How long did you play there for?
I played in hotel lounges from 1987 until 1992. I was super ambitious and eager to work. In 1988, I would play the Happy Hour at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel from 5:00 until 7:00pm. Then I would get off work, have a little dinner, and head to either the Miramar Sheraton or the L.A. Hilton or the New Otani Hotel and Lounge in downtown L.A. and play from 9:00PM until 1:00AM six nights a week.
Wow, that was some life!
Yeah, it was crazy and during the daytime hours, I was also doing business recording and producing demos for songwriters in a small bedroom studio in our Santa Monica apartment.
And is that how you started to get into the whole producing thing?
Yes. The bedroom studio in Santa Monica was where I honed my production, recording and songwriting skills. I became a member of the National Academy of Songwriters, They held Saturday meetings in Hollywood and they would bring a music publisher in to review original songs. I met a lot of interesting people at these song pitches who wound up being very important in my career. One of them was a woman named Barbara Jordan, who eventually became the owner of one of the biggest TV and Film song catalogs, “Heavy Hitters”. Until she sold her company around 2003, she was calling me to write songs that would be pitched to many TV shows, and the amount of placements I had with her was incredible. During the late 1980’s I also met music producer, Tena Clark, who at the time was working as an independent producer for Motown and Capital Records and working with young R&B bands. My bedroom studio quickly became Tena’s demo studio, and I learned how to work under pressure as a recording engineer; to meet deadlines and make sure the recordings were up to snuff. While working with Tena, I also made a great connection with her then drummer, Quinn.
He and I went on to produce our own demo reel to present to TV and advertising producers. One of our original instrumental pieces caught the ear of a producer who was working with Roseanne Barr. Roseanne was about to transition from her sitcom to a talk show of her own and needed a theme song. The swampy sounding instrumental piece that Quinn and I wrote became the theme for the first year of Roseanne’s talk show. It was one of the highlights of our composing career as a team. In the mid-90’s we went on to produce a small music library that was exclusive to CBS Television producers. After having success with the Roseanne show as well as with CBS, I became well aware of the value of songwriting royalties. Singer/ Songwriter Lauren Wood also came in to my life during the days of the Santa Monica studio and we collaborated a lot, writing and producing some great music together. In fact, we still make music together today.
During this time, did you ever do any session work?
Yes, I did. I’d get asked to sing or play on other people’s demos. However, I was never 100% comfortable as a session player or singer, given the fact that I play by ear. A lot of the time, as a guitar player in particular, people would put a chart in front of you and they’ll just start playing a track. For me, if somebody wanted me to play on their session, I would really want to study the music by ear and get to know it and work up some parts and bring that to the session. Lauren Wood gave me the opportunity to join her on her recordings in the 1990s. She had some nice things going on and she loved my guitar playing.
So you don't read music?
No, I never have.
Was there ever a point that you thought to yourself, “You know what, I need to learn how to read music?”
Yeah, there were several points where I considered learning. I would say, “Okay, I’m going to do this”. But, I just never got around to it. I guess I wasn’t motivated enough to do it. Many people have said to me, “Well, if you’re able to identify the chords that you’re playing, you’ll be okay” and the truth is, that’s kind of how I've gotten around it. I pretty much know all the chords that I’m playing and I can follow a guitar chord chart now and I’m fine with it.
You must have an amazing ear.
I think because of my dad, I acquired a really good ear. I heard an interview with Joni Mitchell once and she’s kind of in the same boat. She had no idea what she’s playing either. It was through osmosis and playing with some of the greatest musicians in the world that she got a handle on what she’s playing, but even in recent interviews, I’ve heard her say, “No, I don’t understand anything about music theory. It just kind of comes from inside.”
That’s really an amazing talent.
Oh, thank you. Well, I think that a lot of the Motown musicians were untrained as well and Michael Jackson, for one, he could come up with all these parts and not know a single thing about music theory or song structure and just be able to create amazing music.
That was probably true also of the early rock ‘n’ roll and blues pioneers. It was all coming from within rather than being schooled musicians. The music evolved...
I think some musicians, pobably acquired those skills, but initially, I can’t imagine The Beatles were sitting around reading music charts.
Yes, in fact, when Paul McCartney was working on the string parts to “Yesterday”, he really knew nothing about writing music, but he was able to communicate with George Martin what he was hearing in his head. So he had somebody next to him write the charts and get it to the musicians and, in this day and age, I really don’t feel like I’m in a bad position because I have my bass player, Larry Tuttle, who is such an amazing music transcriber that whenever I write a song, I send him an mp3 in an email and he sends me fully notated sheet music for the song.
Ok. Now, let’s talk about Frameworks Music. Your production music catalog. How did that get started and what made you decide, “I’m going to create a music library”?
To make a very long story short, I made a bunch of cold calls to all the Television networks in LA back in the mid 1990’s. I finally made contact with a very kind man, Warren Giancaterino, who was working as a composer himself, at CBS in the on-air promo division. Through his generosity and interest in what I was doing, I had my first opportunity to create a small catalog of music that became accessible to CBS producers. His amazing guidance put me in a unique position. After at least six months of on-air success, Warren introduced me to Elisabeth Oei from the Sonoton production music catalog, (based in Germany). Elisabeth commissioned me to compose a series of albums for the company. Within a few months, other production music companies in Los Angeles and around the world were offering me contracts to write for their companies. I was able to make a living taking on new productions with these companies and it started making sense to me that this could be a good career direction for me. The CEO of DMI Music, Tena Clark, was so impressed with how far I’d come in this realm that she approached me in late 1999 about starting a production music catalog as a division to her already very successful company. After thinking about it for several months, I decided to take her up on her offer and came on board as one of the founding members of 5 Alarm Music, (now one of the largest independent production music catalogs in the world). I was the catalog’s executive producer during its formative years.
After getting a better feel for executive producing a large catalog I thought it might be good timing to leave 5 Alarm and build something that I could own. I wanted to be my own boss and create my own schedule and I had a different vision for the kind of catalog I would produce. It was not an easy step or an easy choice. By 2003, In addition to working for 5 Alarm I became the manager of the world class Firehouse Recording Studios in Pasadena, making a great living and feeling somewhat financially comfortable, but by 2005, I decided to leave that comfort zone behind and take the plunge. It was then that I launched my company, Frameworks Music. I am so grateful today for this act of faith in myself.
What happened to 5 Alarm Music? Does it still exist?
Yeah, they’re huge. I should’ve had a better contract though. [Laugh] I should’ve tried to own a piece of it instead of just being an employee.
Right, well, you live, you learn, right?
When you started Frameworks, did you have to struggle to get your own company going or did it all seem to flow seamlessly from 5 Alarm Music?
I had to learn how to manage the workflow, but once I had my first five albums done, I ran into obstacles of how best to distribute the music. It was more difficult than I imagined and I wound up with a small distributor in Santa Monica who was a bit too small. Eventually, I signed Frameworks to a larger company called Nonstop Music, which has now become Warner Chappell Production Music. Currently, Frameworks is part of their distribution catalog in the USA. Signing with a distributor anywhere in the world, means having to give up a 50% of the income. This is standard in our industry. It has turned out to be a good decision though and as Warner Chappell PM grows and becomes more of a force in the industry, we are seeing continued success as well. Our catalog is about to release album #70.
There’s always a price to pay, isn’t there?
There is, but sharing 50% of something is better than making 100% of not so much! These days the industry is going through quite a roller coaster ride. Between the digital music revolution and the royalty free catalogs that are out there, we are presented with so many more challenges in increasing our market share. I’m just happy to be looking back over the past nine years with gratitude that Frameworks has managed to ride the waves and remain successful.
That’s really wonderful. You hung in there and now you’re reaping the rewards. So when did you start trying to establish yourself as a solo artist?
Right, the solo artist period was between 1995 and 2012.
Is that something that today you still lust after pursuing?
Well, I sort of lost my steam for it. I had to come to terms with how much touring and self-promotion a person has to do to get their music out there, and with running a production business full time, it’s a bit daunting. In the singer/songwriter world, it is also much more difficult to establish yourself. It’s not like other music genres. I’d have to put myself in the trenches with all the 20 and 30 year olds that are doing the same thing you’re doing, only in your mid-50s, it can really be exhausting and not very financially rewarding.
Recently, you began producing young artists yourself, right? Can you talk about your indie label "Datolite Records" and how it differs from your other artist driven catalogs, "Ear Parade" and "Song Junkies"?
Yes, I decided to further develop Datolite Records to include other artist material besides my own. It started with discovering indie artist Radz, who caught my ear as being an incredible raw talent. I took Radz in to the studio and surrounded him with the “A” team of musicians. We worked on six of his songs over a period of nine months and then released “Ramshackle Heart” as his debut EP www.datoliterecords/radz Radz is starting to get some nice attention. The EP caught the ear of a music supervisor at CBS Television and has led to Datolite Records being signed with CBS as an indie label. I’m also working with Americana singer /songwriter, Abby Posner, a Colorado native now living in LA. Although I have released some of her songs on my production music labels, we are also working on a handful of her songs that will be released later this year on Datolite Records. It’s been quite a year for me, being in the producer chair with incredible talent. I’m also working with a pop duo from the Inland Empire who call themselves “Actual Size”. We are now completing a ten song album that will be released in the fourth quarter of this year.
“Ear Parade” is distributed by Current Music in Los Angeles, which was started in 2012 as a partnership with two highly successful industry partners, Maddie Madsen and Christian Salyer. It’s a very fresh catalog with a contemporary sound. “Ear Parade” features talented young artists in styles you would hear on the radio today.
“Song Junkies” was established in late 2013 as a division of Frameworks Music and features TV and Film friendly, world class, vocal music. Our current releases with Song Junkies include: a collection of European songs, a classic singer-songwriter collection, a nu-grass album and we are in production with some vintage style vocal music.
I’m excited to be getting all of this great music out there and it has been so worth it to me to involve more artists in the process.
I think that’s smart. I guess it’s probably been a decade or so now, that TV series like Grey’s Anatomy started playing songs that had some reference to the episode as opposed to just background music.
Absolutely! That’s exactly where these catalogs can fit in.
And how are Song Junkies and Ear Parade doing?
They are doing well, but I think the difficulty still remains in just getting ears on the music because of the saturation. So it is even more important to have all irons in the fire. Promoting artists outside the realm of production music has been an interesting departure and I’ll be curious to see where it all lands. It’s been nice getting positive feedback with Radz.
So now, Lindsay, tell me how "The Peculiars" came about?
Well, The Peculiars actually came about nearly 20 years ago but never had a name, we were just friends jamming. It was Novi Novog, Lauren Wood, Larry Tuttle, Larry Treadwell and me. We’d play at a birthday party in my backyard and there were would be a few family members and friends present. We realized that we kind of had a cool thing going and so a friend of Lauren’s was having this big party in the Hollywood Hills to show off her new home. She’s a designer/decorator, so she said, “Do you think your jam band can come play at my party?” So “The Peculiars” got their clever name last August by playing on her deck and maybe 100 people heard us that night and started asking us if we were available to play gigs. [Laugh] That’s when we realized that having a band name was a good thing. When Larry Treadwell suggested being called “The Peculiars” we all chimed in, “We’ll take it. Sounds great.” [Laugh]]
Very cool. And now you’re playing all around town. Your next gig is at Café Cordiale in Sherman Oaks on August 31st, right?
You concentrate on playing mostly ‘60s and ‘70s music?
Yes. The music is terrific and it’s really a fun thing. We just love playing together and we always have a good time doing it! A lot of other talented singers, actresses, and actors have been interested in performing with us. Our second set has become a bit of a showcase.
Yes, there’s over a generation of experience and talent in this one band.
There is. We just get together, feel the music and play. We don’t even have to rehearse.
Wow! Having seen The Peculiars perform, I would recommend to all our readers if you’re in the area when they play, don’t miss out on a really fun concert.
Your story is so interesting, Lindsay. From a little kid in Michigan who wanted to be a musician, you’ve taken your love of music, your desire to play, compose and produce, brought it to Los Angeles and turned it into a successful career without having to be the ‘rock star.’
Yeah, I guess you’re right.
You know how it is though. Sometimes when you’re doing it, you don’t realize what you’re doing.
You created a set of circumstances for yourself, that allowed your talent to flow to become successful rather than wait for somebody else to do it for you.
Yeah, well you summed that up. [Laugh]
You beat the system. You’ve proved that you can be a successful musician without having to say to yourself, “If I don't have a hit record I haven’t made it.”
Exactly and an important point that I would like to make out of all of this and that is to encourage young musicians who are just starting out to fill up their bucket with a ton of music that they can get licensed out there in the world and to spend time learning the art of creating music that can be utilized in TV and Film because you can make a really nice living doing this. A lot of young artists are just so focused on being a star and a very few people actually live that dream.
Great Advice for young artists reading this. Was it harder doing it as a woman?
It is harder doing this as a woman, but there are more and more of us surfacing these days as engineers and producers. It’s a great time. 10 years from now they may call us “pioneers”.
You are an inspiration to all young musicians out there: don’t give it all up if you can’t get that million dollar record deal, just keep the music coming.
Exactly, just keep the music coming.
And don’t forget to put August 31st on your calendar if you are in the Los Angeles area and go see a remarkable group of musicians, The Peculiars, play their hearts out!
Datolite Records indie artists – Aaron Radz - Radz hails from the deep woods in the far north of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. His music portrays Blues, Roots and Soul sensibilities with lyrics derived from a place of provincial isolation.
Abby Posner - From new-folk, to bluegrass and pop, Posner twists genres to create a fresh, catchy sound. The sounds you hear are both pleasantly dark and playful. With banjo and percussive grooves paving the road for each unique composition. Abby’s clever songs and vocals are both forces to be reckoned with.
Photo Credit: First Image and Home Page photograph: Sherry Rayn Barnett