If you’ve been to enough local shows, you’ve surely seen Quinn Scharber and Justin Krol on stage. The veteran Milwaukee musicians have spent years playing together in Hugh Bob & The Hustle and in Trapper Schoepp’s backing band. Individually, the guitarist and drummer have been part of a range of accomplished area acts, such as Rx Drugs, The Championship, The Wildbirds, and Hot Coffin. While their on-stage pedigree is impressive, the longtime bandmates recently made a serious transition into writing music for use in television, film, commercials, and pretty much any conceivable medium in between.
Lately, the duo that creates compositions as “Justin Krol & Quinn Scharber” provided the score to a series called Hot Topics With Vera Drew, had Tim Heidecker and David Liebe Hart sing over songs they wrote, and added aural accompaniment to an ad starring Jennifer Lopez. With Justin Krol & Quinn Scharber gaining some traction, Milwaukee Record asked the namesakes of the creative team how they broke into the business, what they’ve learned since they started, how the scoring process differs from writing an album, and what type of projects they’d like to work on in the future.
Milwaukee Record: After playing together in a few bands, what ultimately led you two to embark on this venture together?
Quinn Scharber: We had an idea for a band and film project called “Gary Unlimited” which no one thought was funny but us. That was the beginning of trying to work together on a separate project outside of the bands we were in together. Justin put together a whole recording rig for the project, but then a bunch of babies started happening, so we thought using it to make a few dollars might be a more responsible use of our time. “Gary Unlimited” still may get off the ground, though, so keep watch for that.
MR: How did you guys first break into scoring? And when was this?
Justin Krol: We got our feet wet about four or five years ago, but it didn’t really pick up until a couple of years ago. Some of the bands we had been in before would occasionally get a TV show sync—a placement of a song in a TV show—and it was always super exciting when it happened. We originally reached out to some of the music supervisors that we had previous relationships with and kind of built from there, and started to write a prolific amount of library music to pitch for ads or anything else that came our way.
We did a handful of smaller regional ads early on in addition to whatever film project, whether it be student-to-super low budget production just to get the experience at first. The first super legit, high-budget production that we got to work on was a mini short-slash-ad for cross fit brand NOBULL, which was in the summer of 2018. We’ve since gone on to working on a number of projects for them, including a documentary feature this past fall.
MR: How does your approach to making music for TV and other visual media differ from the way you write together in bands?
JK: It’s effortless compared to the struggle of writing with four or five people. At this point, we’ve been playing together for so long that we know each other’s strengths and blind spots better than the other person. For me, it’s a lot easier to write when there’s a visual aspect to it. It’s also very exciting to watch the music and picture work together. I can sit in front of an instrument or a computer screen for hours and write nothing, but ideas will pour out of me very quickly from visual cues.
QS: Bands usually are stuck in one genre, which is understandable if you’re trying to make a record. You’re probably not going to record an acoustic folk song, a pop or dance song, and a soul ballad on the same album. That would be madness. This is a lot more variety and can change from day to day. It can be challenging, but I love that aspect.
MR: What are some things you’ve learned about the industry so far, and what are some adjustments you’ve made along the way?
JK: There’s a lot of annoyingness of the touring band business model that is gone now. With that, there’s also new problems that we have to wade through, but far less. You have to also write, produce, and record far more material in this world, and it took us a couple years to really get the hang of that. In the 10 years of bands that we played and toured with, we probably wrote less than 75 songs. We’ve probably doubled that in the last two years alone.
QS: We’re still learning a lot, but I did buy a book called All You Need To Know About The Music Business and it’s actually pretty informative. Honestly, the industry is a little mysterious to me and I’m grateful Justin is the one that answers emails. I’m much better off just keeping my head down and working. I did buy that book though.
MR: What’s it been like working on Hot Topics With Vera Drew? How’d you get connected with Vera?
JK: Not only is Vera just a truly wonderful person, but also just the exact type of writer and producer that you want to work with. She’s extremely articulate, super funny, and always very kind. I really believe that most of the ideas that she comes up with could only get executed well—or executed at all—by her. And no matter what those ideas are, we miraculously always pull it off due to her guidance. Already a fan of the Tim & Eric universe, I started noticing her name pop up more for shows like I Love David and Our Bodies, and more recently Beef House. Initially, we reached out to her manager through one of the agents that we work with, but ultimately sped things up by saying hi on Instagram. Within a day, we were writing the Hot Topics theme. We just signed up to work on her first feature-length film, which will hopefully begin production early this summer.
MR: How does it feel to have Tim Heidecker sing over music you guys made? The same question goes for David Liebe Hart.
JK: Super surreal. Getting Tim’s vocal track in our inbox was definitely a thrilling moment. Mixing the vocal track with our music was very challenging because we were laughing so hard at how absurdly hilarious it was. And as an early fan of Awesome Show, it was pretty insane and also very heartwarming to hear David’s vocal track over the arrangement that Quinn and I put together of “Blue Velvet.” Super weird!
QS: I’m hoping it all comes full circle with our “Gary Unlimited” project getting off the ground somehow.
MR: What are some types of projects you’d like to work on as the business grows? Commercials? More feature films? Anything else?
JK: We’re working on commercials almost daily and we’re really happy with the material that we’re writing for that. We’re always pitching for episodic shows and independent short features, but I think we’re ready to take on the stress and workload of a feature-length film this year. And we’re still pumping out as many library albums as time allows.
QS: I’m loving every aspect of the projects we’ve worked on so far, but scoring to picture more would be a great way to keep things challenging and to keep growing.
MR: Anything else you’d like to say?
JK: We worked on a short feature about Brandon Breaux—the visual artist most commonly known for Chance The Rapper album covers—in the winter of 2019, and that should be coming out sometime this spring. I’m super excited for that one to see the light of day finally. We were also anticipating some cool live scoring events this fall, but with COVID, we’re not sure what can and will happen. It might have to wait another year, but stay tuned.