Meet Your Creator: Nyles Lannon
Having gone from a vibrant college band to a respected indie rock group and successful solo artist, Nyles Lannon's career has seen many peaks across different trajectories. Adding to an already extensive list of projects is that of production music. He's been working alongside Liquid Cinema and APM in the last few years to release music placed in over seventy shows and multiple commercials while playing in a band with his son.
We chatted with Nyles to learn about his career journey and how he went from playing frat parties to recording with Steve Albini, becoming an indie-rock staple, and finding success in the world of music for visual media.
Hi Nyles. A pleasure to be speaking with you. Can you tell us what your early days in music were like?
Nyles Lannon (NL): Sure. I grew up in the Bay Area, and my parents owned many records, so I was immersed in many classic acts like The Grateful Dead. I started playing guitar around eleven, but I was shy at the time and didn't want to play in public, so I just practiced in my bedroom and wouldn't even write full songs. I started playing more once I got to high school, and I was into popular guitarists like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Eddie Van Halen. I also played in a Rush cover band.
What was your college experience like at the University of Pennsylvania?
NL: I'd attended the summer program at Berklee School of Music before that, but the University of Pennsylvania was my first time experiencing an underground rock scene. Touring bands with an active fan base would play at our campus parties, so my band, Splendor Bin, and I immersed ourselves in that scene. One of the craziest events was called "Human BBQ," which was three days of nonstop live music with multiple bands playing back-to-back. This was in the early 90s.
Once you graduated in 1995. What was it like working with Steve Albini in 1996?
NL: We drove to Chicago to work with him, recorded all the music in one day, and did the vocals plus mixing the next day. Sure, we walked out with a record, but the songs had no time to develop, and we didn't even do any overdubs or multiple takes.
What happened to Splendor Bin after that?
NL: We were trying to evolve from being a college band to a real one that toured consistently, but we lost steam. We also lost focus since college was over and got pulled in different directions. I got sucked into the job at an online retailer near Philly called CD Now, where we sold CDs, vinyl, tapes, and anything else music related. That was my first job, and the idea of making money took over my life for the next few years. That said, I found time to play in a noise band called The Azusa Plane, which had some success. I was also part of a space rock band called Reizoko.
How did you go from working at CD Now to making music full-time?
NL: I eventually got laid off from CD Now when Amazon bought them, so I moved back to the Bay Area in 1999. I was given some Amazon stock as part of the layoff, but I thought the Internet was a fad crumbling when the dot com bubble burst, so I sold all of it. I've avoided doing the math, but it was worth about $5000 then, so I would've been richer if I kept it (laughs).
Let's talk about Film School, which was quite a notable band. What were the events that led to you joining them?
NL: I got a part-time job with a music tech company called Epitonic.com, which was a precursor to streaming. It lets you listen to mp3s for free that we made available in partnership with certain bands. Unfortunately, I got laid off right before 9/11 happened, which led to a year of unemployment. I didn't have to worry about money since rent was only $400, and I shared a house with others, so I lived off my severance, and the free time allowed me to finally get back into music. That's when I joined Film School. Film School's success was a slow process. I produced our EP, and Scott Kannberg from Pavement released it on his label, which got us on the map. The band got bigger over the years, eventually playing at SXSW and getting signed to Beggars Banquet, leading us to tour internationally. During that time, I released an ambient electronic album that I toured Europe with, and then came my solo album Chemical Friends on Badman Recording Co. in 2004.
How did you get into making music for visual media?
NL: I'd previously done some scoring for friends, but it wasn't until my second album came out in 2007 that I started getting phone calls out of the blue. A guy named Flip Baber had a music agency in Oakland called "Johnnyrandom," and he thought my music sounded cool after hearing it on the radio. He asked me to help him with a Sprint commercial since the score needed an indie-rock sound, but I needed to figure out how a 30-second commercial gets done, and Flip was kind enough to teach me the techniques of composing for visuals. It was immensely helpful to have a mentor, and I hit the ground running. Sprint didn't use my submission for that commercial, but it came down to the wire, and they ended up using it for something else. Anytime Johnny needed guitar music after that, he'd send the gig to me. I was getting lots of work, and within a month, I worked for three other agencies. Shortly afterward, I got a call from a guy near LA who'd heard my solo music. His company was called Hum, and he asked if I'd work on a commercial for him. That one was huge, and I composed with Hum consistently for ten years. They sent me many TV commercials from brands like Home Depot, Honda, Chevy, Lexus, Madden NFL, Visa, and State Farm. Indie rock was used in a lot of advertising in those days when The Strokes and The Postal Service were popular. Still, instead of licensing expensive songs, the agencies commissioned something similar from guys like me.
How much do those gigs pay? Did you land any big jobs?
NL: I've had a few home runs, mostly between 2010 - 2013. The first was with Hum and Universal - we created a band called Sea Dragon and a track called "The Feeling." It got licensed for Crystal Light, a big drink then, and the budget was $140,000. I walked away with $35,000 from that, which was great. Another home run came from Amazon in the form of multiple jobs, including a commercial and some online content. It paid about $80,000 in total. The best one was with Chevy, and it wasn't even a composing gig - it was a license. All of Chevy's cars used the same two tracks as mine for their year-end sale campaign, and the payout was over $100,000. The money came from my AFM and BMI royalties plus sync fees, and that income helped pay for our current house.
Regarding your work with APM, many of your releases have been with Liquid Cinema. How did you start working with them?
NL: A DJ called Chris Douridas at KCRW liked my music and used to play it on air. We kept in touch, and he called me one day to say he was working with a company called Liquid Cinema and that they had started a series of library albums. I didn't know much about library music, and my lawyer said it wasn't worth it since I'd be giving my music away for free, but it was better than keeping hundreds of tracks on a hard drive collecting dust. So, I chose ten tracks that had been unused from earlier commercials and made whatever modifications Liquid asked. The royalties started at around $100, but I grew more optimistic as things picked up, especially since the music houses I'd been working for were closing. Hum went down soon after losing Home Depot as a client, and others soon followed. I used to make two demos daily at the height of things, but custom music gigs have slowed since 2016 as the focus shifted to licensing. APM has always been the barometer for what to expect in this business because the Liquid Cinema albums distributed through APM were the first to do well.
What kinds of placements have you been able to land from your releases on Liquid Cinema?
NL: I got a big Subway commercial once and got stuff licensed for syndicated TV shows, which is excellent. For example, I got a license on SNL, where my music plays in the background for 15 seconds. The upfront fee wasn't much, but SNL will be on air forever, so it's added up to a chunk of cash. The royalties might start at $150, but when you add it up over the last two years, it totaled $2500. I have licenses in seventy-plus shows like Shameless, Shadowlands, and New Amsterdam, plus international commercials like Mcdonald's in Taiwan.
Let's wrap things up by talking about the band you have with your son. How are things going with Nyte Skye?
NL: It's going great. My son and I played a lot of music during the pandemic and decided to make an album together. He was twelve and had become a great drummer, so it was great timing. I don't know where he got his talent from since I'm terrible at drums, but he started playing around seven, and by ten, he was filling in for my drummer at certain gigs. He handled it like a pro and was soon offered a cymbal endorsement - someone came up to him after a show and asked if he wanted to be endorsed by their company, which I thought came out of nowhere (laughs). Regarding the Vanishing album, we recorded it all at my home studio. I had my friend mix it, and the album came out in January on Sonic Ritual. We just started playing gigs in February and I'll do more shows in July. We might start writing more songs after that.
Thanks for talking to us, Nyles. It's been a pleasure. What does the rest of the year hold for you?
NL: Liquid Cinema usually asks for ten to fifteen tracks yearly, so I make time for that. I'll also be making an album by Eternal and want to do another one with Nyte Skye. Film School has a new album coming in the fall. I've got two other albums that I'm contemplating what to do with. One of the projects is called Lupa Rosa, an indie-Americana band, while the other is an indie rock band, Total Brightness. I also have another solo album almost done. I have a lot of music, and I try to channel it into places where it can make money. Sometimes it takes time to figure out the best way to do that, especially when I am not touring as much.
By Sam Freeman