COLUMBIA — On a cloudy day in early May, Matthew Thurman sits in his room.
The ceiling fan begins to vibrate and rattle on its hinges as Thurman turns up the speakers to better hear the tsk-t-t-tsk from the high-hat cymbal in his latest song. Using a software program that can turn his laptop’s keyboard into hundreds of instruments, he starts with the cymbal, then a synthesized sound called “symphony” and finally a violin. His head bobs with the beat as he samples the different melodies that are continually scrolling through his head.
Thurman, music producer and owner of Five Mic Productions, thinks in beats. It’s his job, his passion, his release. For $300 per song, Thurman has created tracks for artists from places such as San Antonio and New York City. One of his songs was even played on a St. Louis radio station as a promotional song for a concert.
Last month, Thurman, a graduating MU senior, received the Langston Hughes Creative Arts Award from the MU chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. With a humble smile, he says it's the first recognition he's received for his music.
Originally from St. Louis, Thurman, 22, was raised in a musical family. His mother, Sharon Thurman, is a member of St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s IN UNISON Choir. His father, Eric Thurman Sr., picked up the piano a few years ago and now plays more than anyone in the family. Thurman’s second oldest brother, Kevin, plays the piano, organ and bass.
But it wasn’t until football season during Thurman's senior year at Luther High School North that he felt an urgency to dedicate himself to his beats. In what he calls a “funny story,” Thurman played as the starting quarterback for his high school’s football team until his coach benched him.
Frustrated by his inability to influence the immediate situation, Thurman said he decided to take control of the rest of his life and find a hobby. So he went home and typed “music production” into Google’s search box.
Considering that Thurman plays the trumpet, trombone, drums and piano (since age 4), another musical hobby was not far-fetched. But what he really wanted was to “hear someone’s voice” over the music he created. When that eventually happened, Thurman said, “it felt amazing.”
Thurman, whose major at MU is business marketing, continuously promotes his company, named for the five-star (or, in this case, the five-mic) rating system used by Source magazine for reviewing producers and artists.
He has an unpretentious business card that he gives out, but he is almost out of them. Aside from the cards, Thurman said most of his business is generated through his MySpace page. A lot of the artists who have requested his services found him there; visitors to his page can listen to five of his own songs, which have a combined play count of more than 2,000.
Usually, artists request tracks from Thurman onto which they then record their lyrics. Thurman wrote his first song in MU’s Ellis Library during his junior year of college, when he says he should have been studying for a test.
Since then, artists like MU alumnus Jarrett Isaac, who said he “always knew (Thurman) as the guy in the back of the room with the earphones on,” have sung his lyrics to his beats.
“Just to be able to hear (the artists) sing what I think in my head — that’s pretty amazing,” Thurman said.
Tyrone Days, known as “TD” on his songs, met Thurman his freshman year of college. Davis said the first thing Thurman said to him was that he owns his own music production company. Since then, they’ve worked together on the songs “Super Bad” and “She’s Down for Me.”
“There’s a lot of people that are trying to produce rap; he’s hands down the best person to work with on campus,” Days said.
Thurman hopes to make a career out of producing. He said he’s applied to every major record label — except those in California because he doesn’t like the idea of earthquakes — for positions in marketing.
He hasn’t heard from any yet. But he remains undeterred about this summer's job prospects.
“If you have a dream, you really should pursue it," he said. "You might as well live how you want to.”
Back in his room, Thurman sits under his recording equipment rocking with the varying violin tones. He turns to the large TV screen on his right, which is filled with jutting scribbled lines, rapidly rising bars and blinking neon dots. As he describes the different layers of sounds, his voice booms — a habit he’s acquired trying to overpower the thumping speakers.
Under those speakers are stacks of marketing books. Above his desk hangs his Langston Hughes Creative Arts Award. Next to it is a black-framed poster simply stating: “Challenge.”