Catfish’s Boyle marks 20 years in commercial music

Catfish founder/composer Jeff Boyle

Jeff Boyle of Catfish Music in River North remembers Chicago’s thriving commercial scoring business when he started out 20 years ago as a composer and how he has been part of the change. 

“I landed in the eye of the storm at Com/track, which was scoring a lot of McDonalds and beers and airlines and the best thing was working at Chicago Recording and seeing the musicians and singers coming in and out the door,” Boyle says. 

“It was fantastic and the camaraderie among them was terrific,” Now no one knows there is a music scene anymore.”

Still, Catfish is going strong in an era “where the competition is the world,” he says, with upcoming spots for Chili’s, Toyota, AARP, Rent-a-Center and DePaul University – and his appearance in late August at Clark Street Bridge, his ongoing collaboration with Draftfcb EVP John Claxton.

“Over the years, Catfish has developed into a really positive, productive, multi-composer music house,” Boyle says. “I have gathered together 14 unique composers; some veterans I’ve known for years and some newcomers as well. 

“The process has become a lot more fun. These days, I write my best couple of ideas and don’t worry about being all things to all people.” 

Jeff Boyle at Com/Track in 1996Joining Com/Track in 1992 was “an amazing opportunity”

Boyle grew up in Joliet, where he cofounded the high school rock band The Yanks that toured the Midwest on a renovated school bus.  He spent six years playing drums with the club band, The All Night News Boys.

He interned at Paragon Studios under recording engineer George Warner, who introduced him to composer Sandy Torano.  With Torano, Boyle wrote songs for R&B artists Constina and Kiara as well as writing and recording their own material.

Then in August, 1992, Boyle joined Com/Track, one of the top music houses in the country, where its composers helped write advertising history with signature music for famous brands, such as the iconic “Rhapsody in Blue” track for United airlines.  (Comma is Com/Track’s successor company.)

At Com/Track, Boyle was Torano’s programmer, which he calls “an amazing opportunity… I was mentored by world-class composers such as Gary Fry, Dick Reynolds, Manny Mendelson, Marv Jonesi and Joel Raney.  He wrote tracks for Six Flags and Sprite, for Coors’ “Tap the Rockies” campaign and McDonalds’ “We Love to See You Smile.”

Being there also gave him the tools to record his first Jeff Boyle Band album, “Something to Believe In.” The band opened for Survivor and the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

Jeff Boyle performs with Jim Peterik at Peterik’s annual World Stage concert.Boyle and Raney started Catfish in 1998

Boyle launched Catfish with Raney in 1998, naming the company after a daily special at the then Gypsy restaurant across the street from Chicago Recording.  As they added composers and engineers and Raney increasingly migrated to orchestral work, Boyle took over the company.

Catfish is a 3,200 sq. ft. facility at 320 W. Ohio Street with two studios, two Pro Tools suites, “and plenty of vintage mics, pre-amps and instruments,” Boyle says.

The company’s roster of regular freelance composers includes Raney, Ralph Deal in Philadelphia, Aaron Paul Low and Jim Morgan in New York, and Sean Smith in Nashville. Clients include McDonalds, Disney, Boeing, Coors Light, Bud Light, Kraft, Toyota and Dow.

“I normally present a dozen custom, original demos per job,” Boyle notes. “It really is a powerful way to work.”

Catfish continues to keep pace with the changing music business as it begins its third decade of business. “I am constantly adding new, unique composers and singers and players,” Boyle says.

“I am especially keeping an eye out for female composers and hip hop producers.  We are also constantly building our available tracks library and I am chipping away at my sixth album.”