A Landon Student Finds His Calling With Electronic Music
Tommy Shull, a former lacrosse player, performs under the name Shoolz
Photo by Heather Fuentes
In his Bethesda bedroom, Tommy Shull was watching a YouTube video in which Don Diablo—a Dutch DJ and one of the 18-year-old’s favorite electronic dance music producers—played music for a crowd of thousands. The lyrics started playing alongside a beat eerily familiar to Tommy: It sounded just like one he made a few months earlier.
“I was like, ‘OK, it’s a remix to a popular song. That doesn’t mean it’s mine,’ ” he recalls. “And then I heard the drop and I’m like, ‘OK, what the heck is going on? He just played my song.’ ” Tommy ran downstairs to tell his parents, who could see their son’s excitement.
The world of electronic music relies on collaboration and borrowing (DJs remix pop songs or play songs of other DJs), but Tommy, a senior at the Landon School, didn’t think he was at that level of recognition.
Tommy grew up around music. His grandmother was a concert pianist, his grandfather a concert violinist, and his father instilled in him a love for the Grateful Dead. Tommy had taken guitar lessons and was interested in rock, but in late middle school an older student who drove him to school introduced him to a new genre. Tommy realized he could make songs—just like the ones he heard on the radio—right on his own computer.
By ninth grade, Tommy started experimenting with music, getting modest numbers of plays on his SoundCloud account. Over the next few years, he went from fiddling around with production software in his spare time to performing under the name Shoolz in regional clubs and at colleges across the country. Last August, he opened at a club in Towson for $500. He made $2,000 in February for playing at a fraternity party at Elon University.
His parents have loaned him thousands of dollars for studio equipment, and he’s saved up through a job waiting tables at Lock 72 Kitchen & Bar in Potomac Village. He’s given up his spot playing attack on Landon’s nationally ranked lacrosse team, but remains connected to the sport he’s played since second grade as a team manager.
After graduation, Tommy plans to attend the Icon Collective Music Production School in Burbank, California, for a year. His dream is to become a world-touring DJ. If that doesn’t work out, he still wants to be involved in music production.
Tommy enjoys seeing the effect his music has on people, through crowds at a show or SoundCloud comments online. Recently, during a friend’s set at The Fillmore in Silver Spring, he played a few songs to swaying throngs of people. He says he wants his music to lift people up and let them lose themselves in the moment. “That’s pretty cool,” he says. “Like, I’m making someone else’s life better right now because of something I made in my bedroom.”