It was only about $100, but Casey Edwards was thrilled just the same.
It was payment for a short film Edwards produced for students at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee, called Night Shift. Edwards, who graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in music theory and composition, was thrilled with the money. “I did the project for less than $100, super-cheap, but I was just starting out and I was just happy to be getting paid at all. It was a great learning experience and starting point.”
The small payment was the start of a career that has taken Edwards to Los Angeles and immersed him in the world of music for feature films, TV and video games. In the past few months, his work has been nominated for two industry awards. His original song “Devil Trigger,” used in the video game Devil May Cry 5, earned a nod from Music In Media for Original Song. He also was nominated for the Best Score/Music in the Video Game Awards for the same game.
They were the first (and second) nominations for him and, while he didn’t win either, just being nominated was high and humbling praise from his colleagues and peers, he says.
Since moving to LA with his wife, Ali, five and a half years ago, Edwards has composed music used in everything from video games to commercials for McDonald’s and the WWE to a trailer for the movie San Andreas. And that’s an extremely short list. “I actually have no idea how much I’ve written at this point,” he says with a touch of Gee-I-never-really-thought-about-it in his voice. “It’s sort of just one thing comes in and you move on to the next one, a constant on-and-off kind of thing.”
His wife also is in the business, a professional vocalist/singer and songwriter whose work so far has revolved around work in film, TV and games.
Edwards’ time as a UTC student gave him skills that helped secure work and keep it coming once he arrived on the west coast, he says. Along with teaching hard skills about composing music, programming electronic instruments and being able to read and write music, he also learned life lessons at the University. “Simple things like being able to deliver a lesson on time,” he explains. “I had composition and piano lessons every week, and I had to come prepared. The feeling that you get if you were less prepared, it didn’t feel great. You show up unprepared like that to a professional setting, you’re probably either going to get fired or never hired again to do the next thing. First impressions mean everything.”
“Casey Edwards stands out as one of the most industrious, dedicated and visionary students I have worked with in my 20 years at UTC,” says Jonathan McNair, coordinator of music theory and composition in the UTC Department of Music. In his fierce desire to learn, McNair says Edwards would bring movie soundtracks “to ask how the composer achieved a particular sound or sonic texture. He also would frequently bring in music he had written himself for an imagined scene from an imagined movie, using whatever software he had available to him at the time.
“In fact, listening to one of his imagined film scenes was the first clue I had to know that Casey definitely had creative musical gifts, and that he was willing to do the work to realize his creative vision,” says McNair.
Edwards’ work in the world of media actually began while he was a student at UTC when he was asked to write music for some locally made short films. Soon after graduating, through contacts made in Chattanooga, he hooked up with RocketJump and Corridor Digital, international companies making YouTube campaign ads for such game-producing companies as Electronic Arts and Ubisoft, both in the Top 10 list of video-game makers in the world.
The big break, he says, was working on promotional materials for the Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag game. “They needed some cool content from us. Luckily they budgeted for music, and we worked on several projects for several different games. It was a really, really great way to start cutting my teeth and learning how to deal with deadlines, budgets and working with directors and producers,” he says.
While doing good work obviously is one of the keys to succeeding in the media-production world, he also has learned that three other traits are critical: delivering the work on time and on budget and not being rude. “Being easy to work with, that’s going to keep getting you work,” he says.
McNair describes Edwards as “a truly wonderful person.”
“Given that we spent at least an hour a week one-on-one, I observed Casey dealing with a number of life situations, and I can tell you without hesitation that he is a sincere, truthful, generous person who harbors no ill will toward anyone, and who has been willing to go to considerable lengths to do what he felt was the right thing.
Edwards says a career in anything but what he’s doing now “was never an option.”
“I just always set out with the goal ‘this is what I want to do,’ very well knowing that I could fail but never planning to fail, if that makes sense,” he says. “I never really had a strong Plan B. I just knew that, if I put everything I had into it, that maybe something would work out. There’s some luck involved, but definitely you make your own luck.