Tim Jones, Prefaders, Multipressors and Greg Smith

So as the title suggests, I once again have quite a bit to talk about. Last week I had my first interview with Tim Jones, who was one of the composers who responded to my emails about needing an assistant. I took a drive out to Pasadena to meet Tim at his studio. He greeted me at the door and right away I was comfortable. Tim is such a genuinely nice and good-hearted person. I met his assistants and it was easy to see that they all had a great working relationship. Tim had described to me on the phone that his scoring rig was wildly complicated, but to be honest, I was not entirely prepared for what I was about to see. Tim has something like 8 to 10 Mac Pros networked together, plus a couple PCs and a storage array wired over two rooms, upstairs and downstairs. Upstairs, Tim’s workstation consists of gear both old and new, including a synth rack, real instruments, a mixing board, an old tape machine for making his mixes sound real, among many other things. Tim described it as he’s never satisfied with his rig so he’s adding to it faster than he can organize, but without a doubt, Tim’s music is fantastic, and the quality of his sound is spectacular. I spent most of the afternoon there and we talked music and gear and just had a good conversation.

In the end it became clear that Tim was looking more for a computer technician rather than a musician. He was so polite in telling me and was perfectly honest that he could tell I wouldn’t be happy in the position. When I thought about it, he was right. He could tell I wanted to write music, and that’s just not what he needed then. But he asked if I had any music for him to listen to, so we went up again to his station and he listened to my music. He listened and wanted to know the timeline of my work and said he could hear me improving from piece to piece which was good to hear. He asked if I would mind some creative criticism, which course I wanted. People always seem afraid to give tips on how to make your art better that I never get any help from people in his position. I was so grateful to get some from him. And it was like he was in my head. He said first I needed to work on ‘instrument placement’. What he means is that even in stereo, you can have control not just over whether an instrument sounds like it’s coming from the right or left, but how far forward or back it is ‘on stage’ in your mix. You do this with a reverb channel and prefaders.

Things are about to get technical so feel free so skip over this.

I’m used to putting reverb on each one of my instruments individually, but Tim tells me that makes for an uneven sound. To combat this, you add a reverb channel to your mixing strip, and you use the Sends on your mixer to route to that reverb channel. You then send each instrument track to that one channel. This way is sounds like all the instruments are in the same room. That’s only half the battle. Then what you do is send that signal using a Prefader. Normally the fader on your mixer controls the volume of that track. Setting it to a Prefader allows you to route that volume out through the Send BEFORE it gets to the normal outputs. In this case, I’m sending it out through my reverb track. Now that fader essentially lets me place that sound forward or back by sending more or less volume to the reverb. It sounds complicated, and I’ll be honest that I don’t completely understand it all myself yet, but it works and it sounds amazing. The difference is night and day. I’m using Space Designer from Apple for my reverb impulses and they have some great effects in there.

Space designer gives you great control over what the space sounds like that you’re putting your instruments in.

Then Tim asked me if I’ve ever wanted to get more punch out of my sound and if things seem to just sound flat? I’m still a novice at mixing and mastering (the process of making the music sound good on all speakers) and is something I’ve struggled with for a long time and no one could really help me with, so I was so excited for him to help me with this. Normally all I ever do to my music is compress it. Music (especially orchestral music) has loud parts and quiet parts. Imagine looking at a mountain range over the horizon.

The loud parts are the peaks and the quiet parts are the valleys. Well you can only raise the volume to a certain point before your speakers start to crackle because they can’t go any louder. It’s called clipping. When you increase the volume, it raises everything, including the parts that are already loud. When you compress something, you are essentially lowering the loud stuff, and raising the quiet stuff, making more of a plateau.

The problem with this is you can lose a lot of what makes music great. The swells from quiet to loud aren’t as pronounced and everything just feels…well, flat. I never knew how to fix this. Tim told me the trick was to use a multipressor.

 

A multipressor is a compressor, but for individual parts of your song. If you want to make the bass more punchy, you can target only low frequencies, or only mids or highs. After my meeting I went home and tried these things out and I couldn’t believe the difference in how my music sounded. In one afternoon my sound had made a quantum leap. I immediately starting writing a new song to test out these new tricks. It’s a work in progress and stops suddenly in the middle as I’m still writing, but I want to show you the difference. First will be the song with reverb, prefaders and multipressing. Then will be the song with those changes not included so you can hear the difference. Take a listen!

Now if you listen to the version without all the effects added, you will here how flat and digital it all sounds. It’s amazing what these three simple tricks can do to a mix.

So even though I did not get this job with Tim, there was definitely a reason for my meeting him. It may in fact be because of him that I do get my next job.

 

The rest of that week was very quiet but last monday I was able to get my talk with Greg Smith, who does extensive work for Disney. What I thought was going to be a very short conversation due to his schedule ended up being close to two hours, and could be one of the most important phone calls I’ve ever had.

 

Greg and I were supposed to talk a couple week ago but he was so busy he had to reschedule. I was expecting him to only have a few minutes to talk but that was not the case. First he wanted to hear my story, so I told him about the limited music opportunities in CT and the fellowship, and then the choice to move here and what I’ve been doing. He was very impressed with what I’ve gotten done and said that I’m doing so much, especially for my age. He gave me advice on business and marketing myself, and explained to me how far attitude can take you, and he said I didn’t have to worry about it. He told me that sometimes when people call him, he get’s off the phone and says to himself that they won’t get far, mostly because of their attitude. He said that he remembered that when he had to reschedule with me two weeks ago I responded by saying that I didn’t want to inconvenience him so whenever was a good time for him. he said that meant a lot to him and that’s what people look for.

 

Greg had much the same story as me. He grew up in a small town in Ohio where there was little music to do. He moved to New York to start doing commercials and wasn’t entirely happy with it, so he came to CA and got his start so he could relate to my story. He thinks I’m making the right choices right now and just need to be persistent and patient. He started asking me about my skills and if I can orchestrate, or write songs, or if I had dealt with live players before. He said that it seems I have a lot more experience than most people in my position because of the Fellowship and the projects I’ve taken on. He wanted me to send him some of my music to listen to and see how he can help after listening to it. I told him I would. Then he told me something that he didn’t have to and I’m wondering why he did. He told me not to feel like he was hanging a carrot over my head, but that he’s getting to the age where he can’t pull all-nighters anymore, and he may in the near future be looking for someone to help him out. Needless to say that got me very excited. So we ended it there and he said he wanted to talk again after he got my music. That night I sent it his way so we’ll see what comes of that.

I emailed Adam Berry this week like he asked. I haven’t heard back yet, so I’m going to give it a week and email him again. He is my last lead, so I may have to look for a job in the meantime until I have another one. That’s fine with me as it was always a possibility. But maybe this is the way it’s supposed to happen. Maybe I’m supposed to not find anything at the moment because the thing I’m meant to find isn’t ready yet. So now it’s back to waiting for a little while, but I’m okay with that. I know that when something comes up, I’ll be ready and waiting to jump on it right away.

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