As seen in SHIFT Issue 2//Vol. 2
Despite having eleven thousand followers on SoundCloud, with songs reaching over 225 thousand plays, Joey Pecorero does not have the classical training one might expect. While in high school he dabbled in several forms of music—including a brief stint playing guitar in a screamo band—before discovering jazz music. His inherent aptitude for making music prompted him to start messing around on a keyboard as well as with his brother’s music production software, Abelton Live. With those first small steps, he began producing jazz music himself.
“I started writing a bunch of jazz music. I literally cannot read music, but I would just take it one step at a time. Like cookie-cutter style, just hit a note and if I liked how it sounded I’d hit another one.”
Around senior year of high school, Pecorero became consumed with making music. He began forgoing his academic responsibilities to compose and produce his own unique sound. “You could say it was wasting time because I bombed all of my exams and I didn’t do my homework,” Pecorero said. “But I had formulated this really farfetched dream that I would play shows and tour and have people know me who didn’t know me.”
Pecorero’s ambitions were realized when he started to receive positive feedback from friends and family. So much so that friends prompted him to post his music on a burgeoning music sharing platform called SoundCloud. Soon enough, his sound gained the recognition of fans worldwide, including an associate agent from the Windish Agency. The agent flew from Chicago to Birmingham, Michigan to meet with Joey at a local Starbucks and convince him he should start playing live shows. At this point, Joey’s dream of becoming a professional, touring artist was starting to become incompatible with his parents’ wish for him to get a degree.
“So [this agent] comes over to my house and sits down with my parents and says ‘I think your son has a shot, he could do this. Right now I’ll put him on some shows.’ He basically convinced my parents to [let me] take at least a year off," Pecorero said. At the age of seventeen, he began playing shows at nightclubs and bars across Detroit, typically three nights a week from 2am to 4am, where he was making and playing “the deepest, techiest, untz untz untz kind of Detroit house music.” Ironically, he would play his set and then be kicked out of the bar because he was too young to be inside. Then in the morning, he would wake up and go to high school.
After he graduated, he began playing shows full time, eventually opening for well-known artists ranging from Purity Ring to James Blake and Gang Starr, one of the members of the Wu-Tang Clan. He even had the opportunity to headline his own sold-out show in Chicago.
He was simultaneously getting attention on SoundCloud from famous artists and major inspirations of his, such as Disclosure and Odesza. “It makes it a little more stressful because I’m under the lens of these idols of mine. Really, really good musicians who are listening to what I make. But at the same time it’s really cool because I’m getting validation for what I’m doing. It’s really important to be validated when you make music,” Pecorero said.
Though he was gaining recognition from the music industry, his work was still available on Creative Commons, which made it so his music could be legally downloaded and distributed for free. “I think that all music should be in an equilibrium pool, free for everyone to take. All of my music is on Creative Commons, so whoever wants to remix it or listen to it can. I have my music available for download on iTunes. If you want to buy it just to support me, you can, but if you can’t afford it, you can just download it. I give people the choice.”
The choice to have his music available on Creative Commons proved to be advantageous to his career when an assistant producer at Buzzfeed contacted him in 2013 asking to use one of his songs in a Buzzfeed video. A few months later, Joey unintentionally came across a funny video about how to “drink incognito in public places,” that used his song as the background music. Thrilled by the sheer number of views the video had, he wanted to capitalize on the fact that Buzzfeed wasn’t using any original scores for their videos and began composing music to send to Buzzfeed. After Buzzfeed changed their copyright guidelines, Joey became their sole independent music licenser.
This unique experience has shed light on his true career ambitions and helped him hone in on his dream of directing and scoring films. In order to deepen his knowledge of the film industry, he declared a Screen Arts and Culture major upon starting at the University of Michigan last spring.
To Joey, music has perpetually served as an emotional release. “I feel like I have a really bad time portraying emotion personally. You could talk to me for hours and not get anything, not even break the surface. But you can listen to one of my songs and know more about me from what I put into that song than a whole night of conversation,” Pecorero said.
In that vein, Joey believes the most cinematic and evocative aspect of any film is the music, so when he is writing a film, he begins with the score. He will sit down and produce an entire score with no particular film in mind. His primary intention is to create powerful, poignant moments in which the music itself can elicit vicarious joy, sadness, or fear.
So far, he has brought his cinematic ambition to life through two feature films—the first a creepy horror film called The Sad Witch, and the second a dark comedy entitled The Bite. Along with preliminary work with a production company that writes original scores for major national ad campaigns, for companies such as Samsung, Coca Cola, and Nivea. As of now, he is waiting to hear back about whether his score for the latest Samsung Galaxy Edge commercial will be picked up.
Joey’s infallible dedication to his craft is what makes him a true artist. It is clear he will stop at nothing to realize his dream of scoring films and creating gripping, unforgettable moments in time that last far beyond the duration of a film.
Written by Natalie Sherer and Lauren Diamond
Photographed by Courtney Evans