Artist spotlight: An interview with Tim Ruff
Ted Danson, Zachary Quinto, Andy Warhol — with so many established graduates from every department, Carnegie Mellon is no stranger to reputable alumni. Odds are that the sophomore from calculus class or that senior from the Activities Fair will go on to do tremendous things after graduation, and with a student body that works so intensely, it’s always encouraging to see the work and effort of our peers pay off.
One young alumnus whose talent and efforts are leading the way to success is 2010 graduate Tim Ruff. Chances are that you have seen this Indiana native around campus, whether he was your Orientation counselor, a brother in your fraternity, or merely a smiling face that helped complete your maintenance request for a lofted bed.
Ruff, a vocal performance major before graduating from the College of Fine Arts last year, has always had a prominent voice around campus. He has performed acoustic shows at Skibo Café, played the Emperor of Japan in the School of Music’s rendition of The Mikado, and made a guest performance at Sigma Phi Epsilon’s Battle of the Bands.
Ruff, who once dreamed of becoming an inventor, has become just that through music. Having picked up guitar in seventh grade, Ruff wrote his first original song during his junior year of high school and since then has grown into a strong singer and songwriter. In an interview with the performer, The Tartan got a peek into the release of his new CD Winter’s Coming, his battle to make it in the professional music world, and how Carnegie Mellon has helped him along the way.
How did you first start writing music?
My first experience writing music was in fourth grade when my music class started playing recorder, and I transcribed a couple songs and melodies from Titanic into recorder and played them for the student body.
You came to Carnegie Mellon to study classical music, but did you always know that you wanted to be a songwriter?
Professionally, no, I did not know that I wanted to be a songwriter. I thought that I enjoyed kind of dabbling in songwriting, but I didn’t actually think I’d make a career out of it.
Do you plan on applying your classical training in any way?
With my classical voice and music training, my musicianship training has taken me leaps and bounds from where I was before attending Carnegie Mellon. The classical technique helps so much with pop singing and any other singing I might want to do.
Do you have any advice for current voice majors about Carnegie Mellon and what to expect when you graduate?
Bust your butt while you’re in school and get as much as you can from the professors and from the facilities that they offer here. After graduation, continue to bust your butt and find your path.
What have you been doing since graduation, and how have things changed?
Right now I’ve been basically getting my music career off the ground; getting a website up; getting more media, photos, videos; writing more music; meeting a lot of the Pittsburgh musicians; and playing the area. What has changed since I left school — no class; my day is completely self-driven. There is nobody who tells me what to do, suggests songs that I should or should not perform. It’s my own life.
You just released your first album. What does it feel like to see your work get finalized?
It feels like a lot of stress has been lifted off of your shoulders to know that you can have something hard and final to show to people. It’s very fulfilling.
What was the process to record like?
First of all, we spent a number of hours in the studio recording for the acoustic EP specifically. I actually spent around three or four hours recording the whole thing, just me and the guitar, and then I worked in the Carnegie Mellon recording suites with [junior electrical and computer engineering major and audio engineering minor] Adam Kriegel to mix and master the music to our liking.
Are you going to use this album to possibly get signed by a record label?
Who knows. I mean, I’m going to be submitting this disc to many people, and I am still debating the idea of getting signed and how much I want to be affiliated with major labels or a label.
Are you intimidated by the business? You obviously knew coming into this major that it would be hard to truly make it; how did you deal with that?
It’s been the same as it has been for maybe the past two or three years. I feel like, yeah, it’s pretty tough to break into the music industry per se, to be successful in a music career — success being making a living off of my music. I know that I work really hard to get things done, and I have good faith in my music.
What is your favorite song off the new album and why?
My favorite song off the album is “Busy Bee,” specifically because I have no idea how I came up with the musical composition of the song, while the lyrical side of the song was very planned out. I had no idea it was going to be such a nice little tune. I don’t usually like to listen to my own music a lot because it’s annoying to hear yourself over and over again after the recording process, but I like listening to that song. I would have to say that the runner-up favorite on the CD would be “Lady,” and this one I can’t explain very much. Overall, I think it’s one of the most solid songs I have.
What do you typically write about in your songs?
If anybody were to listen to my whole music repertoire, they would say that I like to write love songs. Most of my songs are love songs, but I’ve recently branched out a bit to zero in on certain ideas and people in my life.
How do you turn an idea or emotion into a song? What is the creative process?
The creative process for my songs differs with every song. It can start from just a simple melody that I like and fiddle around with, turn some chords over, and lyrics kind of manifest themselves from that. Or it can start from a poem that I write, and then the music just kind of comes out.
How do you feel about performing?
I love to perform; it’s quite natural to me. On stage with a big crowd, it’s terrifying at times. It depends on how big of a crowd we’re talking. Actually, being able to communicate with a larger audience is one of the things that I’ve really been working on over this past summer: not only being able to play for a couple college students, but being able to walk onto a stage at a major venue and being able to play for hundreds of people. At this point, it’s a work in progress to be able to handle that kind of communication, but it’s exciting and enjoyable every time I do it.
What has Carnegie Mellon given you? What are you most thankful for?
Carnegie Mellon has given me a good work ethic, a good perspective on life, and a large amount of professionalism, which I find is very helpful to start your own business.
And what do you want to give back to Carnegie Mellon?
I would like to give back to Carnegie Mellon some innovative ideas on how my story and stories like mine can be perpetuated. I would also like to give back financially, of course, to be in a place where I can do that. I also want to show people that Carnegie Mellon is an incredible school where people truly can do anything they put their mind to.
What’s next for Tim Ruff?
“The next step,” said Ruff, “is to figure out what life is where I want to go with mine.” Tim will be staying in Pittsburgh, a place he calls his launch pad for bigger and better things, from the next six months to a year. “The eventual goal,” said Ruff, “is to be able to make a living off of my music.”
Until then, you can see Ruff at the Tim Ruff: Winter’s Coming Release Party and Show at the Underground at 8 p.m. on Monday, November 22nd. There will be live music, a surprise opening act, and if you haven’t picked up a copy of Ruff’s CD, he will be selling them at the show.