“It’s a break from all the noise in my life”: Rory Marlin cultivates a passion for music production

By Samie Travis

This story was published in print during the 2020-21 school year.

It’s midnight. Freshman Rory Marlin’s computer lies open on her desk, displaying the bright waves and colorful currents of Logic Pro, the music editing software she uses. She picks up the keyboard that lays next to her bed and starts experimenting with some basic chords, intuitively forming lyrics and melodies. Marlin presses the record button on her computer and plays a fresh keyboard  melody — the first step in what will eventually become a full song. Throughout the night, Marlin layers instruments, pitches and vocals until her final product takes shape.

Music has had a constant presence in Marlin’s life from a young age. Whether she was listening to pop hits in the car, watching live performances on TV or finding underground artists online, Marlin always had a love for a good tune, she said.

“I would pick up a toy guitar or toy piano when I was little, and it felt like I could be in music if I wanted to,” Marlin said. “When I decided I wanted to learn how to play the instruments, it was really cool to see all these people that I looked up to and be able to do the same thing that they were doing.”

Although Marlin’s deep passion for music dates back to her early childhood, she has only recently ventured into a new area of artistry: producing.

“I watched Pitch Perfect when I was 10, and the whole music producing thing that the main character Beca did was really cool to me,” Marlin said. “Once I started getting into the building side of music and realized it could be a career, I knew I wanted to do it for the rest of my life.”

Marlin learned how to play the piano at age seven and taught herself how to play the drums, guitar and bass in middle school. After many enthusiastic pushes from her music teacher — Whitman alum Sinta Spector (‘97) — Marlin decided to take her musical talents to the next level: songwriting. Once Marlin started writing her own music, her dad encouraged her to learn the process of manufacturing songs from a computer. In December, Marlin invested in the music-creation software Logic Pro, and with help from her music teacher, learned the process of forming songs from scratch.

“Rory was interested in songwriting and producing from day one. In order to manufacture songs, you need to understand the process of composition — so that’s where we started,” Spector said.

For each song Marlin produces, she initially brainstorms musical concepts and then chooses a basic instrument to fit her ideas. She plays it from her MIDI — a keyboard-like gadget that can imitate the sound of a variety of musical instruments — plugged into the music software on her computer. Next, she records the melody, chords and other layers of effects that form the base of the song.

“I usually start with creating what I like to call a skeleton, where I have chords and the melody playing for two minutes long,” Marlin said. “From there, I usually add in lyrics for the chorus because I like to start from the middle and then work outwards. Overall, I start with an idea, create the initial concept and then add depth by including more instruments and sounds.”

While singing is a hobby of Marlin’s, she doesn’t intend on pursuing it past the walls of her bedroom.

“I’m very self conscious about my voice and it makes me more comfortable when someone else is singing,” Marlin said. “People are judgmental and I enjoy the music part much more, so taking out the singing element is just better for me.”

Marlin is currently in the process of producing an EP, which she aims to release on Spotify and Apple Music by the end of the year.

In addition to her solo work, Marlin often composes songs for other students. In the beginning of April, she produced two songs: one called “Split,” for sophomores Ellie Morrison and Norah Rothman’s band Purely Sage, and another called “Monster Inside,” for freshman Josey Long, this year’s Whitman Idol champion.

In January, Marlin reached out to Long — one of her friends — about co-writing a song that Marlin would produce. Marlin knew Long enjoyed writing songs, and Marlin was eager to use her skills in music construction.

Marlin and Long first developed the message they wanted the song to convey and then wrote down lyrical ideas separately before sharing them with each other. Long devised the remainder of the lyrics while Marlin used her composition skills to add more musical depth to Long’s guitar. After recording all parts of the song, the two sent audio clips back and forth over text until they were content with the final product.

“I loved how collaborative the process was,” Long said. “I feel like we used each other’s ideas a lot, which made it really enjoyable.”

On their song, “Monster Inside,” Marlin used subdued instrumentals to compliment themes of suffering and isolation in Long’s lyrics.

“The soft pop rhythm was just what worked,” Marlin said. “The chords that I picked weren’t your general bouncy chords; it matched the tone of the song.”

For Marlin, one enjoyable component of producing is the sense of achievement her end products provide. Although composing is a tedious process, her passion for music keeps her coming back.

“I don’t need motivation to do it — it’s relaxing,” Marlin said. “Once it’s all finished I feel really accomplished and happy that I have this finished product that I made.”

Currently, Marlin is attempting to get the necessary licensing to upload the songs she’s created onto Spotify, which would be a big step in her recording career since the platform is so popular, Marlin said.

Marlin is also working to overcome the systemic challenges women face in the male-dominated music industry. A March 2020 study conducted by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Institute found that across 900 top songs in the last nine years — 2012 to 2020 — women made up only 2.6% of all the song’s producers. Since February, Marlin has been part of a small business called Nomadixx Music Production, founded by Spector. The business aims to support women working in all sections of the music industry, with a focus on supporting victims of sexual assault.

“I wanted to start Nomadixx because there is a lot of sexual harassment in the music industry for women specifically,” Spector said. “I’m looking to create a place where people feel comfortable and confident, and where they don’t have to deal with those situations.”

Spector has offered Marlin positions in both music production and as one of the signed artists.

“She’s been working on this for years — I’m just here for support and whatever I can help with,” Marlin said. “She bounces ideas off of me and sends me things to get my feedback.”

Looking to the future, Marlin hopes to pursue music production as a full time career. She’s always appreciative of the rewards that creating music provides, she said.

“Music has always come naturally to me — it’s such a positive thing for me because it’s something that I like to spend my time doing and it’s a break from all the noise in my life,” Marlin said. “It’s really therapeutic for me to take all of my energy, good and bad, and put it into something that I love.”