But I also do sound design, and study orchestration and keyboards – you have to be versatile. I love composing string music as much as anything else.
What are some important things to take into consideration when producing music for TV, as opposed to other media? How does your experience mixing for surround 5.1 affect your engineering?
You have to be careful with the bottom – as some of it won’t get through on a show. Mixing for records and mixing for TV are two different but related things. For example, I’ll make kicks “tickier” on TV tracks. I’ll make the top of the drums a bit brighter than a record too.
Funny thing is, many people actually hear TV better than they hear records now! Like many people, I have good stereo speakers on my big screen TV, or I listen through the 5.1 system – which sounds great. Whereas most people now listen to music on iBuds smaller than my fingernails – which is sad but true. But hey, I’m happy, they get to hear the room sounds on the drums and guitars!
As for my 5.1 experiences, I’m lucky enough to still mix 5.1 projects – but as far as applying it to TV, I simply think of the depth in my stereo mixes as having rear speakers. I do look forward to the day where I can deliver my tracks in 5.1, since so many shows are in surround. But also, many of them just up mix from stereo to 5.1 with a plug in that “auto-creates” a surround mix, which is sad. I want to deliver the tracks in full surround.
What is the creation process like for you in your studio? What are the pieces of software/hardware equipment that you find particularly inspiring when recording?
The creation process just happens – luckily. I can simply put my mind to a track and make it happen. Sometimes, I will stick to one style for a few days and spit out as much as I can. For example, I’ll study some country guitar and then output a bunch of tracks that fit certain shows that use that sound. Then I’ll switch to metal and head in that direction for a time – with my old Kramer. Fox NFL and “American Guns” uses a lot of my heavy tracks with good old Floyd-Rose Tremolo dive bombs. It’s fun to watch football on Sunday and hear that guitar. I still get a kick out of it.
But I also use Pro Tools as an instrument – mangling and manipulating tracks with a wide variety of plugins. I often turn to Reason as well, using the Combinator to create lush sonic beds or crazy synths. I’ve lately been using some outboard hardware synths too, such as the Novation MiniNova. Or I’ll have guys like New York-based Bruce MacPherson play on my tracks. He’s an amazing keyboardist with an immense synth collection. There’s nothing like twisting a real Filter knob! Again, it’s great to get other people’s take on tracks – as it makes for a more collaborative effort.
Aside of the instruments and amps, I truly am inspired by a great variety of plugins. I can use an EP -34 Echo, Echoboy or a 201 Space Echo on guitars, Distressors and old 1176’s on drums, and things like the SSL 4K compressor, Massive Passive and Oxford Inflator on the master bus to pump the tracks up like a record.
Pro Tools really is an instrument on its own – it’s invaluable to me for scoring to picture, mixing, and recording at a good pace.
So what’s next — do you have any special projects on your plate right now?
Well, I just finished co-writing an upcoming ESPN 1-hour documentary show with Scott E. Moore, another live scientific score for TED talk, and am now doing tracks for a wide variety of shows on the Weather Channel, A&E, Nat Geo and Fox. This week I’ve been in piano/synth mode scoring some crime dramas. But tomorrow, it’s back to the vintage amps. Its all fun, and I get to play with all my toys every day.
Sounds like fun to us! And it also seems like you get a lot of creative inspiration from your surroundings.
I do draw creativity from living in the “country” with a lot of natural sunlight in my room and the ability to go for walks along the Hudson River by Piermont and Nyack.
But I live just outside of New York City and I love the energy buzz I get when working in town. There’s no place else like it in the world – literally.
— Jacqueline Smiley