Days before Christmas, Wendell Hanes was juggling a slew of projects — putting the finishing touches on the theme music for ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” composing the music for promotional spots for the relaunch of “Roseanne,” and working on the score for a James Cameron-backed documentary.
“I have to always be thinking ahead,” the Glenelg resident says. “It’s like the McDonald’s jingle slogan: ‘I’m loving it.’ ”
He also happened to be working on a commercial for the fast food giant.
Hanes, a 46-year-old married father of two, is the owner and lead composer of Volition Sound Branding, working with the likes of Sony, Spike Lee, Nicki Minaj, Future, Nas and Rihanna. His work can be heard in the NBA Finals opening music and in NFL coverage. And he oversees most of his empire from his home studio in Glenelg.
Hanes’ trajectory started after a serious car accident at the end of his sophomore year at his Brown University in 1991.Hanes was riding in the passenger seat of a former basketball teammate’s car when it crashed into a tree.
"My face hit the windshield," says the Oakland Mills High School alumnus. "A big portion of my lip was cut out. My eyelid had a hole in it. It had to be sewn back together. I had all types of back and knee issues."
The injuries from the accident dashed Hanes' hopes of becoming a broadcast journalist. As he recuperated at home that summer, a gift from his parents changed his career goals.
"They sparked me into getting into music inadvertently," he says. "They got me a keyboard. I couldn't play the trumpet anymore. I stayed in the house the entire summer and worked on the keyboard.
Hanes quickly learned the nuts and bolts of the industry while working as an apprentice editor at Spike Lee's production company, 40 Acres and a Mule, in New York City.
"I made $50 a week plus [subway] tokens," he says. "And I had to get everybody lunch, too."
Hanes was also responsible for delivering all the daily footage shot directly to Lee.
"It was all in my hands what he was watching that day," he says, adding that he worked on the films “Clockers” and “Girl 6.”
He worked for various agencies before creating Volition in 2000.
Since then, he's worked on more than 5,000 projects — from scoring movies to creating jingles for commercials and national advertising campaigns. And he's done it mostly from the comfort of a 700-square-foot studio he carved out of his basement "man cave."
“The internet has opened up communication throughout the world,” he says, adding that he travels to New York City every two weeks for stints that last a day to a week. “I like working with great composers throughout the world."
With a cadre of composers built over two decades, Hanes is essentially able to work 24 hours a day with co-workers in London, Sweden, Barcelona and throughout the United States.
“By the time I wake up, they’ve already finished the project," he explained.
New technology has also created lofty expectations that Hanes is more than ready to tackle.
“Everything is instant now. You can send it and they will have it in 10 seconds,” he says. “That is a new challenge — making sure that you can deliver what they want when they want it.”
Hanes doesn’t appear to struggle with pleasing his clients.
“He’s my first call when I need music or composition of any sort,” said Kamp Kennedy, creative director at Kampfire, a New York City-based company that produces national commercials and films . He has worked on hundreds of projects — for clients such as Maybelline, Levi's and the NHL — with Hanes since the two met in 1995.“What’s amazing about Wendell is he’s a music producer and artist. He’s the whole package. You really need that these days.”
Gloria Lewis, executive producer at Cornerstone Pictures, said she won’t work with any composer but Hanes.
“I won’t do it without him,” she said, adding that the two have worked on more than 25 projects together in the past eight years. “He is the most extraordinary person. He’s so talented and collaborative.”
Lewis, who is based just outside Philadelphia, was initially impressed with Lewis because of his willingness to go the extra mile — often giving her about 10 versions of a song in which to pick.
“He’s bursting with talent. You could put him anywhere and he could rise to the occasion,” Lewis said. “He’s just able to tell the story. He nails it every single time.”
Recently, Hanes has been putting the finishing touches on the score for “The Game Changers,” a documentary about veganism, by Oscar Award-winning director Louis Psihoyos and executive-produced by Oscar winner James Cameron. That movie is expected to come out this year.
At the time, he was working on at least a dozen projects, but the workload didn’t bother him.
“I’m used to it,” he says. “It’s what I do.”