By John Owen
No matter how far you’ve come and how much you’ve learned, a little more knowledge never hurts.
When Jose Luis Revelo moved to the United States from Panama in 2001, he was one of the country's top jingle-writers and ad spot producers. Three years later, he has made a name for himself in Miami and New York, worked on a Grammy-nominated album, and landed national advertising contracts writing spots for clients like McDonald's, Budweiser, MTV, and, most recently, Lincoln Navigator. And now, thanks to his the Master Certificate in Songwriting that he is earning from Berkleemusic, he has taken his career as jingle-writer and producer to a new level, has become an in-demand songwriter, and is fulfilling his lifelong dream of doing film and TV scoring.
Revelo was a player in Panama's music scene practically before he was shaving. The thirteen-year-old Revelo was pursuing a conservatory education in piano by day, and by night, he explains, "I was playing [keyboards] in any band that accepted me." At the age of eight, his parents had bought him his first analog synthesizer, and before long he was collecting them. "You get one, you want to have them all," he says.
His experience with synthesizers and sound creation quickly paid off. "The natural progression of things would be the vocalist in whatever band I was in would walk up to me and say, 'Hey, can you do a demo for me?' So I did demos for everyone around me. And one of my clients and later a very good friend, decided that he wanted to try to start singing on jingles. So he did a round of the jingle scene and landed a couple of gigs. And the last place he visited was the most reputable jingle house in Panama, and they said to him, 'oh yeah, you sing great, but can we meet the guy that did your demo?'"
From there, Revelo's career moved quickly, as he landed numerous regional large accounts and racked up awards. At 23, he opened his own music house, Hitmaker, which quickly became the top studio in Panama. "For a good couple of years," says Revelo, "it was great. But it wasn't perfect. Something about the whole music thing kept nagging at me, and I was looking for a bigger, brighter future. You hit a ceiling, and do only the top 3 or 4 biggest accounts... where do you go from there?"
It was at this point that the call came from Miami. An offer came through a friend to move to Florida to be a producer and engineer for famed Latin composer Omar Alfanno. "I immediately sold everything and within a couple weeks I was in Miami," says Revelo. "It was great. While I was there I did the whole Latin superstars thing, which was pretty awesome for a time. I worked on an album that was nominated for a Grammy, I got invited to all the crazy parties, and it was great.”
“But after two years passed, Miami did not fully satisfy me." Once again, bigger things beckoned. "My career wasn't moving ahead as fast as I wanted," he recalls. "I said, I'll either go back to Panama or move to NY or LA. New York did have one appeal: I have a lot of experience with jingles, and New York is the advertising capital of the US."
So, in 2002, Revelo made the move. "I had a hell of a year knocking on doors, pounding the pavement, delivering dozens of demos that nobody probably paid any attention to. The first year was very difficult." Through a lucky coincidence, he finally ended up working at Hell's Kitchen Music, writing once again for advertisements, and seeking opportunities to produce and write scores.
It was at this point that Berkleemusic began to seem like the essential next step in fulfilling these goals. Revelo applied for and won the 2004 Berkleemusic Alf Clausen Scholarship and began the Master Songwriting Certificate Program. As for why he chose to study songwriting, he explains, "I figured I had a lot of experience in production and I play decent piano, so I thought the best use for the Berklee scholarship I won would be songwriting. Because English is not my first language, I thought the lyrics classes would get me furthest along in improving my English and my songwriting."
The benefits to his career - not to mention his musical ability - have been immediate. "Since starting Berkleemusic, I've been involving myself in a lot of record projects that in the past I would not have been involved in. But now I'm more involved in albums and production, I'm writing songs now and actively looking for a publishing deal, and I'm producing an independent album by an artist here in New York. I took Publishing 101, and now I have my own publishing company. What happens is that sometimes we're not aware of the administrative side of the business, the need to register your songs, and Berkleemusic definitely helped in getting these things straight for me."
"I feel that Berkleemusic's courses help you believe you are capable of doing all this stuff. The knowledge is so hands on! You're not filled with some vague theory of music; you are actually dissecting hits from the history of music in class after class. You start listening differently after all these classes, and hearing more things in the music. It's been a very challenging job due to the sheer volume of work. I have composed over 130 pieces over the last couple of months alone. It has definitely been a stretch of my abilities."
When asked what he values most about his Berkleemusic experience, he replied, "I would say the most valuable part is the ability to pick your teachers' brains. These are people who are working in the industry, and to be able to pick their brains is great. The answers they give are sometimes startling. The [online] chats that are scheduled every week with them are the best things for me."
As for what his plans for the future, Revelo says he is moving forward on two fronts. "Apart from the latest commercials that I've done music for, which include the score for a Pepsi commercial and music for TJMaxx, Bud Light and Domino's, in the near future I expect to produce a couple of records that I'm writing for right now. I hope to turn these projects into a writing or production deal." But Revelo's crowning achievement so far has been the project he is currently involved in. "There's a music house in Miami that gives me a ton of work called Personal Music, and it was through them that I got called to score a whole telenovela (Spanish soap opera). It's called 'La Viuda de Blanco,' and it's currently playing on Telemundo (owned by NBC). I remember I wrote on my scholarship application two years ago that one of my goals was to get into scoring so, at least that has worked out."