Local Music Producers Look to Set the ‘Gold’ Standard

WEIRTON – The Ohio Valley has a long, storied history when it comes to music, from Wheeling’s Capitol Theatre and the Jamboree USA to any of the countless musicians who got their start playing at any number of venues across the region.

Even with that strong history, the recent work of two Ohio Valley natives has the potential to be historic in an entirely different way.

By Monday morning, Weirton producer-musician Rick Witkowski will know whether his work for the independent film “Inocente” is Oscar-worthy, as the film is nominated for “Best Documentary Short Subject Category.” Witkowski composed all of the music for the film, which has made the festival circuit rounds and was also shown on MTV this past fall.

Just down the road in Wheeling, producer-musician Jamie Peck in October was awarded an Emmy for his composition and score work on the first part of WQED’s “Pittsburgh From The Air” series. The two friends, who frequently perform and work together on various projects, could set the gold standard for music and production in the Ohio Valley.

Peck, a professor of music technology at West Liberty University, has been performing and composing for the majority of his life. On the production side, he has helped a number of local residents put their songs on record, while also working on his own projects.

He was approached to create the music for the first “Pittsburgh From the Air” special, which documents the greater Pittsburgh area from a birds-eye view. Peck was challenged to create 54 minutes worth of original music in less than one month’s time.

“There was a drop dead time frame once I received the picture lock, or finished visual product,” he said. “I had 28 days to conceive and compose the music, which was very bizarre for a project like this.”

The long nights and balancing his other commitments paid off, as Peck won the Musical Composition, Production and Arrangement Mid-Atlantic Regional Emmy in September.

The news came just after Peck had completed the score for “Pittsburgh From the Air 2,” which has been airing ever since.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be in that conversation,” he said. “The nomination itself is huge in that it could open doors for commercial work that before I wouldn’t even be given the time of day for.”

Peck, who said he was too nervous to look or listen as the winner was announced in Philadelphia last fall, could provide tips and guidance for Witkowski, who will be watching todayWitkowski Hopes to Join Peck at Awards ‘s Oscar Awards at his Weirton home. After years of playing in successful bands, including Crack the Sky and the B.E. Taylor Group, Witkowski opened Studio L more than 25 years ago.

Over the course of his career as a producer, he has created songs and jingles most everyone would recognize, especially the under-30 age group, as he composed music for Nickelodeon, MTV and Spike TV over the past several years. Through his connections with representatives from those networks, Witkowski was offered the chance to write music for “Inocente,” which documents the life of a 15-year-old homeless girl who aspires to be an artist.

Witkowski was picked to create the vocal music used in the film and to write songs that would portray the emotion and inner-thoughts of Inocente. He enlisted the vocals of Pittsburgh-based singer/songwriter Vannessa Campagna, and the two began the process of creating the music.

However, much like Peck, Witkowski’s other commitments and a short time frame made the job a challenge.

“I got contacted at the beginning of December 2011, but they kind of wanted to have it all wrapped up and done by the end of the year,” he said.

Finding time between other pursuits, Witkowski created and submitted his work for the film, which premiered in New York City and was screened at numerous film festivals. He had the chance to meet Inocente at the premiere for the film, which he believes has a real shot at bringing home an Oscar.

“It’s a very good movie,” he said. “I feel very blessed to have been a part of it,” Witkowski said. “They were happy with the work, and now the work is elevated, good enough that it was nominated for an Academy Award, and it could possibly win and that in itself, just to achieve that, that’s kind of good.”

Both Peck and Witkowski said persistence has been the key to being successful, both as performing musicians and producers.

“You’ll find a way if it’s really in your heart, whatever it is that you’re doing,” Witkowski said.