Marlon Espino, an electrical engineering-turned-music major, has spent the years since his graduation making original music for TV shows and films.
Creating music for film and TV wasn't what Marlon Espino had in mind when he began his education in 2001 at Texas Tech University. After all, he was an electrical engineering major. But four years later, he graduated with a music degree.
In the 10 years since he graduated, he's used the skills he fine-tuned at Texas Tech to bring his music to the masses. Several of the pieces he has written, engineered and produced have been featured as original scores for episodes of the television series "Criminal Minds."
"It's a pretty tight schedule with the television stuff," he said. "It's a good 40 minutes of music that needs to be written in a week."
Other compositions have been featured on the big screen, in films like Disney's "Planes" and "Planes: Fire & Rescue," and the Mark Wahlberg film, "Shooter."
While the switch from engineering to music has paid off, going from a math-heavy major to one in the arts was a big change for Espino. But he said faculty members at Texas Tech helped make the shift enjoyable.
"I met professors in the music department who changed my life and encouraged me to pursue music," Espino said. "They made it so comfortable that it became a pretty seamless transition."
One of those professors was Thomas Hughes, now associate professor of music, organ and music technology. It was shortly after meeting Hughes that Espino decided to change his major.
"Marlon enrolled to work on a new degree program in music technology that we were hoping to offer," Hughes said. "He was very inquisitive and a fast learner."
Espino said while he grew up in a musical family and had played guitar, most of what he knew was based on playing by ear. Theory and reading music were foreign to him.
"I had no idea what that entailed," he said. "It was great, because of the skills that I use now, as far as orchestration and composition. As a songwriter, the typical musician, you just don't learn that kind of thing."
Espino said these skills are not just some he's come to depend on day-to-day as a composer and music producer. They're also ones he's built upon as he works on new compositions.
"To be able to work on these projects with people I admire and to learn from the industry's best has been beyond any dream I could have imagined," Espino said. "I not only gained invaluable experience, but most importantly mentors who have helped shape my life and future. For this I am very grateful."
Hughes, one of Espino's first music mentors during his time at Texas Tech, said he's kept in touch with Espino through email and on Facebook and has followed his growth in the studio through the years.
"I am delighted that he put his skills to work in the recording industry, and now as a recording artist," Hughes said. "He always had a very clear idea of what he wanted to do with his talent, and I'm glad we were able to help him achieve his goals."
Support like Hughes' was one of the reasons Espino said he chose to attend Texas Tech. Hughes and James Bogle, professor of guitar, never hesitated to go the extra mile when it came to Espino and other students.
"I felt like I was part of a family and I could talk to them and get advice," Espino said.
His instructors weren't the only family he gained while at Texas Tech. In 2003, after he had switched to music, a friend introduced him to Kristen Truby, a student who had just enrolled as an art major.
"I was staying in Wall/Gates and he had actually stayed there a few years before," Kristen said. "We had the same room number, which was kind of funny."
The two hit it off and began hanging out on a regular basis. They'd walk around campus, grab a bite in the Student Union Building and work out together in the Rec Center. After he graduated in 2005, they moved to California and were married the next year.
"One of his instructors, the late Dr. Bogle, he actually came to our wedding, he actually got to know my grandpa," Kristen said. "They were really involved and I know they were role models for Marlon."
In the art department, Kristen said she had a similar experience with faculty members like art instructor Shannon Canning. She said the guidance from the faculty continues to make an impact on their lives.
"I know Marlon always remembers their conversations and I think it kind of affected his approach of just maturing and becoming an adult and just being more responsible," Kristen said. "I feel that gave him the confidence to go after and be ambitious about bigger projects."
Kristen, who went on to graduate from San Jose State University and has done post-bachelor work at the University of California, Los Angeles, said Texas Tech set the standard not just for faculty, but also for how a university campus can be. She said even now, living in another part of the country, it's apparent others feel the same.
"Marlon still has his Texas Tech stuff on his vehicle," Kristen said. "We'll be at a stoplight or stop sign and people will be walking on the crosswalk or driving by us on the highway and will give us the 'guns up,' which is hilarious, because we're sometimes in the craziest places. To have someone in the same spot who knows about Texas Tech and the culture is really fun."
Espino said for now, he hopes to continue putting all he learned at Texas Tech to use in the film industry.
"I enjoy making records and songwriting," he said. "I would like to touch and inspire people with my music."
While being able to make a living in the arts and doing something he loves every day is rewarding, Espino said it can also be tough. Finding ways to be valuable and stand out is crucial for success.
"Everyone can play, everyone can write," Espino said. "You have to be able to offer other things, whether it's technical or editorial to make yourself valuable, to give yourself those opportunities later on."
Being prepared when those breaks come along also is important, he said.
"Everyone is going to get an opportunity," Espino said. "Those who are ready when you get that opportunity are typically the ones who take that and turn it into something. Be ready."
Those opportunities continue to pour in for Espino. One of the first films he worked on, the musical drama "August Rush," has become a part of one of his current projects in New York. He's working to turn it into a musical and hopes to see it on Broadway. He also is working on a feature animation film that should be released near the end of 2017.
He said no matter what he's working on, he always remembers his time at Texas Tech and the faculty who helped shape his future.
"I think it's rare to have a teacher or professor who makes a significant impact on your life, and I was lucky enough to have multiple professors do that," Espino said. "I like to say that Texas Tech's pretty special in that regard."