Sounds Easy is excited to announce the introduction of our new "Meet The Producer" Blog. We ask some of our customers 10 key questions about their studio and workflow. We kick off our very first article with acclaimed film and TV composer Amy Bastow. In an industry that is full of high quality composers and producers, Amy pops her head above the crowd and has worked with none other than James Cameron, co-composing the score to his feature documentary "Deep Sea Challenge". Amy offers some intriguing insights into an industry that many people find hard to pierce. I'm sure you'll pick up a few tips.
Before I was born, my grandmother had bought an old piano for something ridiculously cheap, like 40 pounds. From the moment I could climb onto the stool, I was bashing away at it, and making up my own sounds. I remember writing my own little piece and submitting it for the school talent contest when I was 5. I was heartbroken when I only got 2nd place! I started formal piano lessons when I was 8, and throughout my school years, continued doing all the grades right up to AmusA level. Although I loved performing, it was composing that really interested me, and I started writing more of my own piano pieces, and entered them into local Eisteddfods each year. After I completed school, I was accepted into the Composition Degree on a scholarship at The Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and immersed myself in classical composition for 4 years. On graduating with a First Class Honours Degree, I applied for every composition opportunity possible. I participated in many national composition programs, writing music for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the Australian String Quartet, the Australian Youth Orchestra, the Song Company and many more. I wrote for any opportunity I could! However, this whole time, I had never really written music using technology. It was either by hand, or with a very early version of Sibelius. I took some music technology classes at the Conservatorium, but never really implemented technology into my composing. I started getting asked to write music for friends’ short films, so I bought Logic Pro and started dabbling with MIDI and Virtual Instruments. 7 years later, I’m a full time Film and TV Composer and Producer, who’s life and work revolves around music technology, MIDI, Virtual Instruments, Production and Mixing!
I write music for Film and Television projects – feature films, television series etc. Currently, I’m the composer for Channel 7’s award-winning long-running drama series, “Winners and Losers”. I have also recently composed and produced the music for ABC’s “8MMM Aboriginal Radio”, James Cameron’s 3D Documentary “Deepsea Challenge”, and feature films “The Heckler”, “Crime & Punishment” and “Early Winter”. As a Film and TV Composer, part of the job is to be able to write in MANY different styles. That’s what I love about it so much. “Winners and Losers” for example, has a really modern, contemporary flavor, with guitars, keys, drums, ukelele’s, that type of thing. For “8MMM”, I was asked to write in so many different styles, including a piece for bagpipes, a rap song, folk music, a rock track and a ceremonial brass fanfare. For James Cameron’s “Deepsea Challenge” Doco, it was all orchestral, which we recorded with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. So, being a Film and TV Composer requires you to know a lot about all kinds of genres, which suits my eclectic music tastes well. I certainly never get bored, and like the challenge of delving into different musical styles for each project.
I have never owned a commercial run music/production studio as such, so this is a tricky question for me to answer. I have a home production studio, but it is mostly just me. I work solo most of the time, and only bring in others when I need them, depending on the project budget and requirements. I think commercial studios will become smaller over time, not necessarily because budgets become smaller (although that is a factor), but because technology becomes smaller. Home studios are affordable, easy to set up, can produce great quality music and are paving the way for a whole new era of “bedroom producers”. There are always positives and negatives to any industry change, but in order to survive, we have to adapt and find new and interesting ways to create and distribute music. It will be interesting to see how the traditional studio set-up will change over the next 10 years.
Room acoustics are big on my list…to a point. I have invested some time into researching my control/mix room and have invested in some acoustic treatment. But, you also have to remember, everything we have in our studio is a tool that we can use to make our music better. We have metering tools to get a better idea of our mixes; we have multiple monitors and headphones to listen back on, we have sound proofing options and acoustic treatment. I have all of these things in my studio, and I do use them every day…but one thing we often forget to use, is the thing that comes free…our ears! Coming from a classical music background, my ears are everything. It can be hard to trust them after a long day in the studio, so the tools we do have are a great resource. But, you also have to be able to look past the technology and really use your ears to listen for the music…the emotion…the feel. If it’s lacking the emotion, no amount of acoustic room treatment is going to make up for that. Ideally, you have all of it - the emotion, the feel, and a great mix that you trust is going to translate.
That is a hard one! I think it changes every day. I like to pick one thing to focus on for a while, then pick something else, then something else, and so on. For example, I recently purchased two UAD-2 Thunderbolt Satellite’s and bought ALL the UAD software plugins. I spent a while trying out all the new plugins and focused on just the compressors for a week, then the EQ’s the next week etc. It really helped clean up my mixes and gave them a more professional sound. Then I bought the Slate Raven MTi, so my attention shifted to that for a while. I recently bought some Grover Notting CR-2 reference monitors, so have been experimenting with checking my mixes on those. I love all of my gear. I only ever buy a piece of gear that I feel connected to (whether it be how it looks, how it sounds or how it makes me feel), so every time I step into my studio, I couldn’t think of a better place to be. Sometimes I just like to sit back and look at it all - I love it all!
If I have to mix a project myself, it all gets done ‘in the box’. I’m not a trained audio engineer, and sometimes on a project, I get to work with an engineer who might have some fantastic analogue gear – but it just depends on the project budget and time restraints. For a film or TV project that I mix ‘in-the-box’, I will send my mixed stems to the engineer working on the project, and they will then often mix on an analogue board. So I guess the answer is, we get to do both. It’s a modern world and I’m the first to admit that I’m from the digital generation, so I like being able to use the Raven MTi for example, to mix on, as it’s so integrated to use alongside a DAW, and it all just synchs up and works and makes sense. However, I also do like old skool things, and where possible, I like a vintage feel. Using the UAD plugins for example, is a good compromise on digital/analogue. You have to find what works for you, what you like the sound of, and what your clients like the sound of. It does sometimes simply come down to project budget and time.
Hmmm….they give you more control and offer you more fine-tuning mix choices. It allows you to mute/solo different parts of your mix, which helps you make further mix decisions. It sometimes helps when I go to stem out a project. Do they make a difference to the quality?...it probably depends on how you use them. Technology is amazing, but it often comes down to the driver. The greatest technology, with no smarts, is a recipe for a dull mix, no matter how many summing mixers you use.
To be honest, I rarely record vocals. Being a Film and TV composer, I mainly write and produce instrumental music. I’ll leave a vocal-recording expert to answer this one.
Bad! You can’t stream a burger, or an expensive holiday, or a new car – you have to actually pay money if you want to experience these things….so why can we stream and consume music so easily. It lessens it’s value, which in turn, lessens the value of the industry, and the industry’s artists.
10. Finally if you were to give us a description of what your studio offers what would that be?
My studio is purpose-built and set up just the way I like it, from the colour scheme, to all the hardware and software, and even the rug on the floor. I like my studio to feel inspiring and creative. I’m in it for 15 hours a day, so I have to love everything about it. It has a view of Melbourne City, overlooks a garden, has a white leather couch, red leather chairs, and a custom built desk with hydraulics and movable monitor arms (if Melbourne people are keen, visit http://www.consoleconcepts.com.au/products_prestigeseries.html.
My studio is about more than the technology though. It’s about ideas and creativity. As a Film and TV Composer, my studio offers custom composed music for a variety of screen projects – mostly feature films and television projects. What the technology does allow, is for me not only to sit down at the piano and compose for a film or a TV series, it allows me to orchestrate it, record it, produce it, mix it, stem it and deliver it to the sound engineer working on the project. I can do all of that myself, in my Melbourne studio, for a project that is filmed on the other side of the world. What’s also cool, is working with all this technology producing what we call ‘mockups’ in the film music world (MIDI recordings), only to export it all out, turn it into sheet music and re-record it with a real orchestra! – getting out of the computer and back to something more organic is also very exciting. What I love doing in my studio most though, is chatting over a coffee with a Director about the vision they have for their film, then once they leave, getting to play with all my toys and bringing the emotion of their film to life. I have the best job in the world!
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