Sunday, December 31, 2000

Assembling the Machine Head Dream Team

I spent nearly two jet set years operating as the Executive Producer and Creative Director of Machine Head, New York – and was charged with leading bicoastal operations for the legendary sound designer, Stephen Dewey.

I spent a week of nearly every month in LA, which I loved, enjoying creative work, tacos, daiquiris and KCRW with both Stephen and Patty Chow, both of whom I really liked. The trips out west also provided me some some surreal professional moments whereby I found myself taking meetings with The Dust Brothers and Anton Fier of The Golden Palominos; or producing the likes of Ralph Schuckett.–who co-produced Sophie B. Hawkins hit ‘Damn I wish I Was Your Lover’ with Rick Chertoff; and David Baerwald, an original member of the Tuesday Night Music Club. But here’s the deal with producing guys like that: They don’t need another expert in their lives; what they require is another expert ear to bounce ideas off of. If there's anything I know, it's how music should work with picture.

Machine Head hired me to extend the west coast presence to New York, but once he did so I wanted to kick down the doors, storm the Big Apple, and show him we could be also be kings.

Back in New York, I assembled a crack team of young composers, each possessing an amazing core competency in a different arena from the others, a formula that lent itself to collaboration; and none of them yet possessed a wide reputation in the industry.

[Initiate 'Mission Impossible' Theme in a new window before proceeding–]

Deniz Hughes
had worked as an arranger for the feature film composer, Elliot Goldenthal. Her own music was playful, passionate and always wonderfully emotive. The first project we worked on together went straight to the Super Bowl and proved to be the highlight of the year.

Michael Sweet, a graduate of Berklee’s film composition department, started his career as an engineer for Jonathan Elias before emerging as the company’s technology guru. He left Elias at roughly the same time I did, in 1996, in order to become a free agent and did business composing music for electronic games as ‘Building Hal’.

Valerie Wilson Morris and Chris Botti recommended Georg Brandl Egloff to me, some years before, when I mentioned that I was looking for a lyricist. I’ve long forgotten what happened to the lyric project, but Georg’s music was super-contagious. Few swing like Egloff: Stick him in a room with a jazz trio and wait for the roof to blow off. I still owe Clinton Recording Studios damages to the ceiling in studio A.

My go-to rock guys were Eric Schermerhorn and Hal Cragin, whom I hired as a team on several spots. Representing two thirds of Iggy Pop’s former rhythm section, there was nothing the three of us couldn’t work out, lugging equipment, tape, guitars and chord charts all over New York and from disparate home grown analog studios in the East Village and Chelsea.

I hired other people along the way, too, for specific projects –notably Shari Feder, who always delivered world class goods, on time, on budget, and her work always sounded ready for broadcast. She came recommended by Mike Davis, who is perhaps most know for playing bone with The Rolling Stones. What I didn’t know at the time was that Mike and Shari are husband and wife. Whatever, the nepotism worked out great, so keep it coming. You got any kids, Mike? Do they play an instrument yet? Cause I got a project that needs a kid…

Rounding out the East Coast contingent was Bill Chesley, an artisan and a meticulous sound designer who was the only one of the bunch who had already carved out a reputation and had a fan base.

We made a big initial impression on several major advertising agencies, and thereafter it seemed like The Gods on Madison Avenue constantly fed us projects. For the first time in my career it seemed like I consistently had my finger exactly placed on the pulse of popular taste.

I usually pitched musical ideas by myself based on an initial review of sketches or storyboards. If I could get our clients invested in an idea, then I knew we’d have an easier time of it, if only because then everyone would be on the same page.

Then, during development I’d work with each individual composer on their presentation –as a record producer works with an artist– until I was no less than greatly enthusiastic about his or her work. Sell it to me and I'll sell it to America. Some clients thought I was being disingenuous when they asked me, which was my favorite demo, and I’d reply that I liked ‘All of them’.

But it was true: I never let myself walk into a meeting without a pocket full of hit tracks. I really believed that if I loved the work I was presenting, all of America would have to love it, too. Fortunately for me, this belief was confirmed by our frequent success.

Yes, I suffered a few miserable failures, too. One client asked for a ‘modern’, ‘edgy’ track making it perfectly clear that the agency would not accept an orchestral score. In my gut I knew the boards demanded a symphonic tonality. Nevertheless I gave him what he thought he wanted. He took the job to another house who of course delivered the orchestral track that I knew we should have given him in the first place. I still beat myself up over that one, but you live and learn: Give them what they want, but also give them what they need, and while you’re at it –and if you have the time– why not have some fun and give them what you want, too.

For a brief while in 1997 though 1998 my hand picked crew shone with the brightest of the bright, and they made me proud to be a member of their team.

It was –I think you can tell– a lot of fun while it lasted.

[Fade Music]

(Hey, was that possibly the first musical cue for a blog?)

Saturday, December 30, 2000

Executive Producer Machine Head/NY 1996-1998

In December of 1996 Stephen Dewey, the acclaimed Los Angeles Sound Designer –whose company Machine Head, had practically defined the standard of sound design– called me up at home at exactly the same time I was trying out a new fangled thing called the Internet.

Stephen started his career as sound engineer and electronic devices guru for The Thompson Twins; went on to be a Product Specialist for the Fairlight Computer Music Instrument company; did a stint at Hans Zimmer’s film scoring company, Media Ventures; and then riding on the recognition earned by producing effects work for Ridley Scott’s film Black Rain, founded Machine Head, naming it after a mechanical guitar part.

Over the years, Dewey’s company and the team at Elias Associates had provided elements for some of the same projects. I had spoken with him several times over the phone –in order to coordinate elements– but I had never met him person. In fact, as the Senior Producer at Elias, I considered him a main competitor. Our team also produced sound design treatments; and Alton Delano –in particular– did such an excellent job of it, that it frustrated me when clients split their projects up between our two shops; but sometimes they did.

I would of course later come to understand exactly how and why Dewey outshone the rest of the Industry. Sound Design wasn’t just an area of expertise. To members of the advertising community, he defined the standard by which all others would be judged.

By Sound Design, I mean both the actual creation and construction of any given sound, and it’s creative application to film and video. Later –after I began working for him– my contribution to the company’s marketing strategy was to convince our clients that what Machine Head produced was less an effects treatment –which any editor with a sample library could provide– and more like an electronic music composition, which indeed was the truth. Many of Stephen’s efforts are comparable to and reminiscent of the groundbreaking work of Pierre Schaeffer, which Schaeffer so famously called ' Musique Concrete'. In the case of Stephen's work, think John Cage with Hollywood attitude.

Now here he was, former competitor and industry legend –not to mention ex-guitar tech for The Thompson Twins– and he was inviting me to come work for him. And oh, by the way, the first project on my To-Do list would be to produce a spot for the upcoming Super Bowl (MCI ‘Kids In Space’:60/:30), which would require me to hop back forth between both coasts between Christmas and the broadcast.

Essentially, my signing bonus was getting to produce a three million dollar video that everybody on the entire planet was going to see, hear, and talk about.

Graciously, I accepted, and then ran out into the New York night to celebrate the beginning of a new sonic adventure.

Friday, December 08, 2000

The 2001 Challenge

At the end of the 2000, I was among several members of the advertising community asked to submit my thoughts regarding what I thought would be the most important issues affecting the Industry in the coming year. Putting on my magical forecasting hat, and from my studio in the heart of Madison Alley (Madison Ave + Silicon V/Alley, i.e. the ad tech community), here's what this interactive music producer thought at the time–

–Terry O'Gara/ August, 2006

The 2001 Challenge
By Terry O'Gara
Published in Shoot Magazine, Dec 8, 2000

This coming year presents new challenges for producers who provide content and services via the Internet and Television. These, depending on your perspective, are either becoming one technology, or parallel technologies working in tandem. New Media will remain "new" for only so long, before becoming standard operating procedure.

Until then, delivery models multiply. Unlike their peers in television, where protocols have remained stable for years, Internet artisans can't bask in their knowledge of current methodologies. Suppliers must keep abreast of every technological advance to maintain an edge in the online marketplace. The more you know, the more you can do--hence the more clients you can accommodate. Saying, 'No, we can't do it,' is valid regarding creative objections. But not being able to produce a project because your eyes glaze over when you learn that the message will be delivered over a mobile phone is business death.

Is it "Sync-to-Broadcast" or Enhanced TV? Does it work in Netscape and Explorer? The makers of these technologies are in competition with each other; that means we folk who create the stuff that gets broadcast have to understand as many of these technologies as possible. If your business hasn't evolved yet, my advice: Jump in. It's changing on a daily basis, anyway. Immerse yourself in the stream; then figure out which way the current flows.

Remember the first time you started using a PC? Cute folders and trash icon aside, you were still befuddled. But you finally got it. Now it's second nature, Well, you're about to experience growing pains again.

Maybe you've spent the last year focused on print, or television, or you were an Internet specialist. Tomorrow your projects will cross all platforms. It'll be your job to understand how things get done and when they go wrong, to understand if it's a creative issue, an integration issue, a technical issue or all of the above. By "your job," I mean, of course, everybody's job.

As a music producer I've been forced to deal with things I never thought I'd have to deal with as a "creative guy." Once, all I needed to know to produce music--beyond a sonic vision--was a broad understanding of the film production process. Skip one beat ahead and we've entered an age where, for instance, if a composer doesn't understand the technical issues regarding the way audio is delivered, then maybe he's in the wrong business. I'm not advocating a complete out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new. The piano, for instance, is a wonderful technology as it is. But there's more to music today than just tickling ivories.

Storytelling remains paramount. But as the definition of "television" is expanding, it follows that the definition of "composer" is also expanding. Artisans in other broadcast industries will have to broaden their general knowledge, as well. Clients are changing, too. They're not hiring talent that can't speak their language--which is increasingly sounding like jargon to those used to standard American English.

Experimentation yields great advances in science and technology. The same is true of art. I believe the challenge ahead is to make the line between technology and art transparent.

Friday, November 24, 2000


Because I'm only too happy to make some attempt at solving all the world's problems, let's start with protecting rock stars–

Eventually the record companies will prevail in their litigation against Napster and it's ilk. But that doesn't mean they will have ultimately resolved the situation in their favor. The record industry has misjudged the issue that the online exchange of music files presents. Underlying the very real notion of copyright infringement is a perception that provokes the public to participate in this illegal distribution.

First and foremost, teen age fans, who are by far the greatest participants in this activity, will never be convinced by a corporate behemoth that he or she doesn't have a right, and indeed obligation, to trade and exchange their favorite music among their peers.

Secondly, among fans (the ire against the rock group Metallica notwithstanding), the general perception is that the record companies are exploiting the artists themselves by trapping them in unfair contractual arrangements. It may only a perception, but it would still be appropriate to call it circumstantial fact. So, it goes to reason that if the very people who distribute the music are taking advantage of the recording artists, and this perceived exploitation appears sanctioned by the government and the trade, then fans logging onto Napster look less like pirates and more like rebels with a cause. People are trading mp3 files because they love the artists. Not because their trying to steal from them. Can the same be said of an industry where nightmarish stories of exploitation surface on a regular basis?

The final point to consider is the price of compact discs. Technological advances generally drive prices down based on newfound conveniences in manufacturing and production. But record companies haveignored this economic fact. Consumers understand that what was already a luxury item in 1979 should now translate into a modestly priced compact disc. Instead prices have escalated towards the dizzying nearly twenty dollars CD's fetch in many retailers today. When the means of distribution are limited this cost can be explained as 'what the market will bear'. But now the consumer has a weapon and it's called the Internet. If the artists were smart, they'd understand this weapon is also theirs to use to their advantage.

The bottom line for record companies? Repair their relationships with the artists, and the public perception of those relationships as well. Next, lower the price of this expensive product. Or alternately, they can continue to chase the technological demons that will never cease to look like a consumer's saving grace.

Sunday, October 01, 2000

HBO ZONE: Creating a Sonic Identity

In 2000, long before the phrase 'Sonic Identity or ‘Sonic Branding’ was on everyone’s lips, Blister Media was commissioned to create a unique sound design treatment for a new HBO television channel, HBO ZONE, which was described to us as 'HBO for a GEN X audience'. Our resulting innovative audio packaging not only garnered us substantial acclaim, but the Television Industry community recognized us by awarding Blister with a Gold Promax statue, an award whose significance seemed all the more surreal since our competitors were some of the networks themselves!

While I had already won a couple of CLIOs, and Michael a mention in the New York Times for his work on games, it was this award that finally made me feel like we had arrived.

Both VIDEOGRAPHY and the online mag,, asked us to describe our process. What follows is one of the subsequent published articles.

–Terry O'Gara/ August, 2006

Creating a Sonic Identity for a Cable Network: HBO ZONE
By Terry O'Gara
First published by, October 1, 2000

Blister was commissioned to create a signature audio identity for the complete inner package introducing HBO viewers to the HBO Zone, an alternative urban movie channel. The package includes opens, closes, transitions, lower-thirds, bumpers, end pages and teases. In the opens, the camera flies through a maze of high-rise buildings to reveal the HBO logo glowing on a rooftop, then drops down below the city streets to a network of tunnels where individuals gain access to the HBO Zone through hand print identification. [Visual treatments were created by New York branch of the design firm, The Attik.] The 'story' behind each interstitial, Intro, Bump, etc. was that the viewer was to experience being transported from HBO to HBO Zone, or from a familiar world to an unfamiliar world.

The Network wanted a sound design treatment that was both emotional and visceral in content, non-musical, more sound design oriented than the typical Network logo. Our process for this project, the assembly of noise into something one might call a composition has it's roots in musique concrete, the process by which ambient sounds are recorded and then manipulated into electronic music pieces. (developed mid twentieth century by Pierre Schaeffer who was in turn influenced by Luigi Russolo's publication 'The Art of Noises'.

Our technique is a natural evolution of the 'art of noises': Our palette of sounds consisted entirely of a variety of noises, ambient sounds, found sounds and the like. And we could have accomplished it with comparable results using 1/4" tape, a reel-to-reel (or several) and a razor blade. But it would have been painstaking to do. So, we did not forgo the convenience of modern technology.

To accomplish our task we first created a palette of sounds from which to create our final electronic music compositions. To do so, we walked the streets of China Town with a Mini Disc Recorder collecting random ambient street sounds. Once we had about an hours worth of material we took it back to Blister and recorded the sounds into Digital Performer. Then we dissected each sound to its constituent parts so that, for instance, a sidewalk store clerk rustling through a barrel of live crabs was edited down to simply a rattle here, a shuffle there, scraping noises and the like. By repeating this process with each set of sounds on from the mini disc, we created a sound palette that sounded not like street ambiance at all, but rather like an endless variety of noise samples, each unique unto itself. Even the wind against the unshielded collar mic proved a useful sound once we sent it through a digital delay plug-in.

We then took the existing HBO fanfare most people associate with the brand and proceeded to 'dirty' it up. To give it a gritty overly compressed sound we recorded the logo from digibeta onto a 3/4" dub, and then again from the 3/4" dub re-recorded it onto a simple audio cassette. Then we sampled it off the audio cassette into the Power Mac G4 where we could use Digital Performer to edit it and add further crackle and pop to it.

Visually, transitions within the interstitial often looked as though they were interrupted by a channel change, or television static, or interference and the like. In today's world of remote controls those changes are often smoothed out by a soft and sometimes inaudible 'click'. So on a short trip to visit my retired parents in Florida I pulled out the old Panasonic black and white TV from my childhood (pre cable, pre remote, pre stereo) and proceeded to record random channel changing of otherwise static UHF channels. The resulting sounds are unarguably hard channel changes, perhaps an almost obsolete sound, certainly clunky, and now seemingly unique, but still immediately recognizable as interrupted transmissions.

We were also fortunate to be the recipients a DAT ostensibly recorded during the Gulf War of a transmission between a fighting crew in a helicopter and their command. It's mostly unintelligible but we garnered sounds from it, including beeps, crackle and feed back. We sampled as much of this as we needed, and again, put it into Digital Performer, and cut it up into components parts.

So, from China Town to the Gulf War and transformed in a digital studio 17 floors above New York City, we had our palette: literally hundreds of sounds which were then assembled via Digital Performer to correspond to, enhance the video, and also to stand alone as being recognizable as HBO Zone logos.

Again, not unlike creating a piece ala musique concrete, we basically created an audio collage out of hundreds of minute sound samples which were dissected and re-assembled using Digital Performer. After the usual presentation and revision process we were 99% done. Once our basic tracks were approved we then further sweetened them with electric guitar. But not with anything melodic. Rather we pulled out an old $35 electric guitar, plugged it in, and destroyed it in the stairwell of our building, running a cable back to the Power Mac G4 to record every step of destruction. The resulting sounds were hardly recognizable as a guitar. Again, splicing those sounds up into their component parts we then processed the lot through a Electrix filter factory to give them an otherworldly feel.

Once the final tracks were approved, we mixed them via the Mackie D8B, and mastered them using a DBX Quantum to make them 'pop' out on broadcast. We delivered the tracks on DAT at 48K.

Making the time and labor intensive project all the more worthwhile, we were honored by the Broadcast Promotions Industry in June 2000 which granted us the Gold Promax award for Original Music/Sound Design for Network packaging.

Wednesday, September 20, 2000

The Golden Age of Online Entertainment Has Just Begun

The Information Age is Over.

And the Golden Age of Online Entertainment has just Begun!
(First Published: Wednesday, September 20, 2000 by clickz)

There are many issues facing media producers who create content for the World Wide Web. These issues affect those of us who enhance the online experience with music, sound design, and audio-specific programming.

Today, ideas demand to be manifest. But tempering the speed of development is the fact that we in audio must wait until our design and programming counterparts implement their contributions before we make ours.

Looming on the horizon is the promise of broadband and convergence. But the horizon is not close enough for those of us who need to make a living today. Especially when traditional forms of production are jeopardized by each technological advance. Digital television recording will wipe out traditional advertising, so they say.

They also say content providers are wary of adding audio because of a perspective that it slows downloads. Where does that leave those of us in the music-production community? Will we be out of our jobs?

If the truth be told, it's a waiting game. Those who can hold their breath longest will survive. And then there will be more work out there than before, and we'll have to learn new techniques and habits again and again before a stable format arrives.

I propose a shift in the way we perceive the online public. We think of them as users, consumers, eyeballs. I say every new person who logs on is less a user and more a member of a growing audience. And audiences demand to be entertained.

Specific to my profession, producing original music and sound design, scoring the web is like scoring a magazine. Audio is a smattering of effects that respond to "clicks." But as the Internet paradigm becomes more like television, audio for the web will become like scoring video or film, albeit a film that one never experiences the same way twice.

It's only a matter of time before television-style web spots replace banner ads as the online ad model. This is good for music and sound houses: A web spot for one product might target a certain demographic - people looking for a car - and the score will be different for subsets. Seniors might hear one track, Boomers another. Gen Xers another still.

How will this get accomplished in a cost-effective manner? Along with a final track, music production houses of the near future will deliver algorithms along with tracks that will convert their original score into another desired style.

And while web spots will be the focus of online advertising, the Internet allows for other formats as well. One growing trend is how content providers are discovering that online games created specific to their sites bring in more eyeballs than, say, simply a banner for a product. The thinking is entertain the audience, and eventually it'll buy something. It already works for television. Game development creates a huge market for designers, programmers, and sound providers.

The same demands for audio on web spots and online games apply to web sites. As broadband opens up and media companies merge with Internet-access companies, Internet users will devolve back into spectators of the unfolding digital pageant.

We are leaving the hunting-and-gathering stage of the Internet. It's no longer about providing dry information but about packaging our brand in a stimulating wrapper to an online spectator. We already pass sites that offer little in their design. Soon sites without sound will seem flat, and even the most utilitarian web destinations will have to consider their entertainment value factor.

Think of the evening news. Theoretically, the news is a simple service: information. But news producers understand that turning service into entertainment and packaging it with exciting graphics and music makes people watch.

Given a choice, audiences don't buy bland. By necessity, audio will play a larger role on the web. But we must move beyond the currently acceptable stock clicks and boinks that continue to be the developer's easiest choice.

Online audio can be very effective. But only if composed with the same care we bring to broadcast. And it must be used judiciously. Use audio to brand your site. Then the eyeballs won't be turning off the sound. Instead, they'll be transfixed. You would be hard put to find an AOL user who isn't delighted to hear "You've Got Mail." A significant portion of AOL's audience lives to hear that announcement. That's branding with audio. And when it works, you're not just a pixel in cyberspace, but a destination site people can't wait to return to.


Terry O'Gara is the Executive Producer of Blister Media, a music and sound design firm in New York City. His background includes studies in classical and electronic music composition, and his travels to South America and the Mideast have influenced his general aesthetic. Blister Media provides original material for interactive media, advertising, and broadcast promotions.

Thursday, August 17, 2000

Composing For the World Wide Web

By Terry O'Gara
First published by Digitrends Daily August 17, 2000

Today, navigating a Web site is like turning pages. When you think of audio on the Web, you think of a site with a smattering of sound effects that respond to a click. A click turns the page and drives the audio, not the other way around.

In the future, audio for the Web will be more like scoring for video or film, as the Internet paradigm becomes more television-like. Web advertising will evolve from banners into a form that approximates television commercials, or 'Web spots'. One exciting prospect for Web audio is that sound will be targeted to the consumer in the same way banner ads are today.

While a Web spot for an automobile might target a certain demographic group, i.e. women, the score accompanying it will be different for sub sets within the overall female demographic. Older women would hear one soundtrack, younger women another, teenagers another still. One spot might have a jazz track, another a classical score, or a rock track, etc.

Musical scores will be specific to demographic groups and to subsets. Don't think this will be uncommon, or that it apply only to text, because there is no such thing as local advertising on the Web.

As can be said of Web spots, so it goes with Web sites. Today content might change depending on who is viewing. In the future, the audio experience will also change. Right now, one is tempted to turn off the audio because it is so often such a banal experience. But as broadband opens up, as media companies merge with Internet access companies, computer users will devolve from being users into spectators of the great unfolding digital pageant. In case you haven't noticed, AOL has taken to using the term 'CHANNELS' to apply to different areas of interest.

True, the Internet will be all things to all people, and will provide an ever-increasing array of services. But I'm talking about that aspect of the Internet that lends itself to entertainment and information gathering. Substantial interactivity may apply to some sites, but the general public will be drawn away from 'destination sites' to Web sites that provide unique, gratifying experience.

We already pass by sites that provide little in the way of design. Before you know it, sites without sound will seem stingy too, if not altogether flat. Audiences don't buy bland, when they have a choice. Think about your own Internet usage. Sites that provide audio cues as you navigate, provide a richer experience than those that don't.

It is only a matter of time before even the most utilitarian destinations on the Web, even B2B sites and search engines, will need to consider entertainment value. Think of CNN, MSNBC, the evening news. Theoretically, the 'News' should survive as a simple information service, but the folks who bring you the news understand that packaging information as entertainment will attract legions who might not otherwise watch.

Branding certainly won't go away as the Internet develops. Just as sound is used to brand in traditional advertising, it will continue to play a role on the Web. One example is AOL's "You've Got Mail" audio cue that has become part of the popular consciousness.

Currently, the Web is a collection of static sites with equally static graphics waiting for you to click on them. That won't continue long. The Web will evolve into a 'moving' experience. Today the Web is like a stack of periodicals. Tomorrow, the Web experience will be like browsing an endless supply of DVDs, as it evolves into a medium where you can watch long-form stories.

I'm not just talking about animated sites, but about interaction, which will become a fluid experience. may still have the capacity to be an online catalog, but it will come to resemble Home Shopping Network or QVC, with a personalized, digitized, interactive sales clerk to help you.

Convergence will demand high-level scoring and sound design. Even content providers who offer text-based information will be forced to the inevitable conclusion that sound and music provide a richer consumer experience. And what about books online? Future online books won't be text downloaded to one's Palm Pilot, but will closely approximate a cinematic experience. As you scroll through the Internet version of a book, a score (not to mention graphics) will accompany it. Instead of just reading that a character is listening to a song on the radio, you'll hear it, too.

Think of the book, "High Fidelity," the story of a man obsessed with music. In the online version, you'll hear the songs the lead character discusses as he mentions them. And then you, the consumer, will click to, or wherever, to buy the music.

Broadband is a means to an end. The audience is driving demand for broadband. When the Internet is delivered through a more sophisticate medium, people will demand a richer experience. It's inevitable that the currently acceptable clicks and boinks won't cut it in a broadband world. And, the opportunities for composers and sound designers will multiply exponentially.

Tuesday, August 15, 2000


August 15, 2000

It's a familiar story. Confined to society's shadows and backed by an army of dark forces, a demented scientist hatches a plot to dominate the world that has shunned and ridiculed him for so long. Such is the case of Dr. Diabolical, the green-faced, pink-eyed anti-hero of Ghoul Skool, the latest web-based cartoon creation of animation house Pop NYC, with music composed and produced by New York's Blister Media, slated for release on Cartoon Network Online in September, 2000.

Promising to spread evil over the world "like lumpy cheese across a rye cracker," Dr. Diabolical is a dastardly, deliriously-funny creation whose malicious ambition is continually frustrated by his general incompetence. Throughout, the misadventures of Dr. Diabolical and his minions are punctuated by a score heavily influenced by classic horror movies. Originally asked by Creative Director Vincent Lacava for something approaching "ambient cave music," Blister co-founder Michael Sweet's soundtrack is an intoxicating homage to the giddy dementia of the gothic genre.

"I'm a big fan of really bad horror movies," says Sweet gleefully. "Being an addict of the genre, Ghoul Skool was tailor made for me. It was tremendous fun to be able to pull from the wide variety of music styles that were employed in those old movies. It's great when your work and hobbies coincide."

Getting together with his co-founder and Blister Executive Producer Terry O'Gara, Sweet determined to fully explore the creative possibilities. That exploration included, among other things, recording while inside a 17-story stairwell to capture a creepy, echoing reverb effect. As it is with all things, however, work did get in the way of all the challenging fun.

"Whenever you're dealing with distribution over the internet you must constantly consider bandwidth issues," says Sweet somewhat ruefully. "Those, in the end, are usually the toughest issues to overcome. You have to get inside the technology and figure out how to extend the capabilities of the project. You have to hit the right balance between quality sound and manageable file sizes. Speed is always going to be a big factor. Luckily, the guys from Pop NYC are into good sound and are willing to commit the bandwidth to our work. It was a good collaboration."

Ghoul Skool is just the latest collaboration between Blister and Pop NYC. The relationship between the companies goes back to their work on MSN Netwits, an early online game show initiated and hosted by Microsoft. 'Netwits' has since become the equivalent of a television classic for the electronic gaming community. The two companies also worked together on three episodes of 'The Marshmallow Money Show,' which can still be seen on These projects are, however, only the most recent installments in a series of recent projects for Blister Media.

"Blister Media has been on fire this year," O'Gara enthuses. "We've won several awards, which is very satisfying. When Michael and I launched Blister in 1998, despite the considerable experience we both had accumulated over the years, it was like we we went back to being interns again. I became the intern, a rep, the receptionist. We really did everything. This year, it seems to have all come together. I finally feel validated. We're on the map."

Friday, August 11, 2000

Convergence And The Composer

Convergence And The Composer
By Terry O'Gara
Originally published in Shoot Magazine, August 11, 2000

Convergence is the buzz word du jour in media circles. But what does convergence mean for those of us who produce music and sound design? What happens when the public is armed with a digital television that allows viewers to delete commercials with a simple command? You could assume many of us are going to be out of our jobs. But the truth is that there will be more work out there than ever before. Just get ready to learn new techniques and habits again and again before a stable format finally arrives.

So, what's it going to be like? Presently, scoring the Web is like scoring a magazine. And the audio is a smattering of effects that respond to a "click." But as the Internet paradigm becomes more like television, audio for the Web will be more like scoring for video or film. It's only a matter of time before television style Web spots replace banner ads as the online advertising model. This is a good thing for music and sound design production houses: A Web spot for one product might target a certain demographic group, say women; the score accompanying the Web spot will be different for subsets within that demographic. Older women might hear one track, younger women might hear another; teenagers will hear still another. From a production perspective, I'm looking at one spot, three finals! And, heads up, by the way! It's already starting!

The same demands for audio will apply to Websites. As broadband opens up, as media companies merge with Internet access companies, computer users will devolve from being "users" back to being spectators of this great, unfolding digital pageant. Users already pass on sites that provide little in the way of design. Before you know it, sites without sound will seem "flat," and even the most utilitarian of destinations on the Web will have to consider the entertainment value they provide. Given a choice, audiences don't buy bland. The information will draw you in, but the experience gets you to return. By necessity, audio will undoubtedly have to play a larger role than it does now.

Today the Web is like a stack of periodicals. Tomorrow it's going to be more like browsing an endless supply of DVDs. Folks like Atom Films are poised for this. may remain essentially an online catalogue, but it will come to resemble Home Shopping Network or QVC, with a personalized, interactive sales clerk to help you. On the audio post side, this will require clever vocal digitization and thus a new stream of income for those who specialize in creative audio services. Does this mean audio engineers will have to add computer programming to their repertoire? You bet! Welcome to convergence: endless creative possibilities for the consumer, and an increasingly demanding skill set for audio professionals.

Even text-based content providers will be forced to the inevitable conclusion that sound and music provide a richer experience to the consumer. Books online will resemble their cinematic model. As you scroll through the Internet version of the book, a score (not to mention graphics) will accompany it. And then you, the consumer, will be able to go to, or wherever, and buy the music that went with the book.

What's driving this? The audience is, of course. So, it's inevitable that the currently acceptable clicks and boinks won't cut it down the road. But it's exciting that the opportunities for composers, sound designers and audio post will multiply exponentially. That's convergence!

Thursday, July 13, 2000

An Internet Audio Tour de Force from Blister Media

Reprint of Press Release (draft vers.) created by and issued in tandem with the launch of the initial phase of the project, regarding Blister Media's role in producing audio for Texaco sponsored Sesame Workshop, 'Passport Kids' Web site. As follows–

July 13, 2000

Kids Create their Own Songs, Jam to Others'
at the New Sesame Workshop 'Passport Kids' Web site


Audio on the Internet is in its infancy. Two year old New York City interactive music house Blister Media has consistently pushed the interactive audio envelope, recognizing that the Web will not reach its full potential until it delivers a rich audio-visual experience.


Sesame Workshop's online service, Passport Kids, lacked a dedicated musical interface. In planning to redesign the site, SW's Robert Michaels asked Blister Media how they might incorporate an interactive educational musical experience. Blister Media presented three concepts; the winning concept allows kids to create a personal song by combining musical elements from around the world (an audio identity that parallels the visual avatar kids create on their personal SW Web page). Other kids can visit the page, listen to the song, and jam along by adding other instruments.


From creating your own song, the project evolved to enable others to interact, play along, and jam, with your song. Blister created five rhythms, offering as much geo/cultural diversity as possible - African, East Indian, pan Asian (Japanese), Latin, and Modern; and offers a choice of 10 melodic instruments: mandolin, acoustic bass, didgeridoo, gamelan, accordion, steel drum, trumpet, zurna, sitar and panpipe.

Blister creative director Michael Sweet composed pieces from which individual songs can be built.


1. Make My Song... create a musical avatar.
2. Jam with my Song... allows another to play along.
3. Global Groove (now open to the public)... allows users to hear instruments
(demo mode).


• Click on the passport icon to go to your page.
• Click on make my tune.
• Roll mouse over instrument icon to play a note.
• Click to play the instrument.
• Double click on the instrument link and a pop-up screen offers more
• Choose a rhythm, drag the instruments, select from four melody blocks.
• Can combine two instruments, plus rhythm.


Sound files are generated on the fly using Beatnik and custom instrument samples collected by Blister Media from around the world. Blister Media wrote code for an engine built upon Beatnik, allowing users to integrate sound files and instrument
into rhythm patterns, a new use of the Beatnik technology. Songs are built around a looping measure of four sections to each rhythm. One composes with 'blocks' of sound, rearranging them as desired to create nearly endless musical possibilities.

Explains Michael Sweet, Creative Director, Blister Media:

"Sesame Workshop is our most ambitious Internet audio project to date and takes the state of interactive online audio into new territory. It comes down to having thought of the idea first. But it's not just about the technology, but what it can do. If you forget about the technology you might end up trying to put your music into a box that it won't fit into. We try to push the limits of the box. Or get into the box and push the walls outward. This is what we've done with Beatnik in building the Sesame Workshop audio site."

Beatnik and Flash
Pentium II or better, Power Mac

Audio and Audio Coding Credits:

Blister Media: Terry O'Gara, executive producer
Michael Sweet, creative director

Site Development:

Modstar, NYC

Launched July 13, 2000 phase one. Full site now open exclusively to Intel users.
Full site opens to public (date TBD).

Monday, May 01, 2000

Branded Mixes

A Brand Mix is a playlist (or a selection of playlists) created by one or more music supervisors or DJ/brand strategists commissioned a corporate patron or advertiser.

For instance: Buy a BMW and download fifty songs that you can listen to later –not just any fifty songs, mind you. I'm suggesting you select material that brings to mind that BMW is indeed The Ultimate Driving Machine.

Now rinse and repeat: Good for every product and service available worldwide.

The music on the playlist can be arrived at by any number of ways: It simply might be comprised of a variety of licensed tracks from several artists; or it might feature the works of one artist –your strategic audio partner, so to speak. Or the music might all be original compositions commissioned expressly for a specific Branded Mix project; or some combination of the above.

Ideally, song selections meet the criteria put forth in formal brand analysis.

In effect, a consumer goods brand provides a soundtrack to their consumer's lives. –Whether consumers listen to the mixes driving or washing laundry, the music serves the purpose of sustaining an 'off line' connection between brand and consumer.

As a consequence, a thriving singles market can be expected to flourish. However, also expect the music industry's primary market to change from primarily being Business-to-Consumer, to Business-to-Business.

In case you're getting the wrong idea, I don’t want to see my favorite artists dressed up like NASCAR drivers. Rather, following a Medici Model I am suggesting implementing a process that resembles the way art collector/marketer Charles Saatchi nurtured the school of Young British Artists (Damien Hirsch, Cornelia Parker, Tracy Emin, Sarah Lucas, Chris Ofili, et al) by seeding interest in each artist with not just funding, but with his very association. It worked the other way around, too. Saatchi's currency as a collector increased by virtue of his association with them.

The Young British Art scene delivered us a wonderful cultural loop whereby the collector could demonstrate good taste through his discoveries; and having been chosen by a person with presumably good taste, the artists could claim a measure of brilliance for themselves –even if the art in question was made with poop or comprised of dead sharks in tanks of formaldehyde. The parallels with much modern pop music are indeed astounding.

Packaging music with a sponsor's products or services can make real sense when both band and brand aspire to appeal to the same or overlapping demographics. Brand Mixes work especially well in environments (hotels, retail, etc) if the success of MUZAK can be any indication. The Muzak company may be synonymous with bland music, but that has changed. In any case, taste is not the issue of this entry, PROCESS is. –And the process I'm describing combines a DJ's ears with a brand audit.

Regardless, one hopes any tie-in might also alert potential fans of any given artist's material (by virtue of its selection into the Mix), like an audio beacon – and not unlike radio, come to think of it.

I’m only being partly facetious when I say that were one to distribute The Cure’s Greatest Hits as a redeemable coupon for downloadable music files with every box of Count Chocula, that cereal would become the first breakfast of choice for Goth fans and gender confused teens worldwide.

For other articles in this series:
ROCK BRANDS: Tomorrow's Rock Star Marketing Partners
Branded Mixes
Medici Model Revisited
Artist X Brand X Not Available @ iTunes
Strategic Audio Partnerships
Diplomatic Corps Rock Fest

Saturday, April 01, 2000

ROCK BRANDS: Tomorrow's Rock Star Marketing Partners

Consider Rock Star Sting’s association with Jaguar:

In March/2000, Jaguar launched a commercial for the new Jaguar S-Type. Sting is not just featured in the spot; he and his manager pitched the very concept of the campaign to the automobile maker.

In an age when MTV doesn't play music videos, and even if it did, doesn’t play Sting’s, and certainly wouldn't play yours, having a sponsor subsidize your video in return for product placement, –AND organize and pay for a huge media buy on top of it– is a bit different than helping sell cars.

For Jaguar, the opportunity to work with Sting yielded a branding opportunity that was not just entertaining, but in fact proves wildly popular. The association with a vehicle like the Jag no doubt worked to Sting's benefit as well. In fact, what possibly made this campaign unique among TV commercials is the fact that neither artist nor his music were featured only as a means to enhance the sales pitch for the automobile. Rather both car and artist/music were partnered in a clever way to sell each other (!).

You or someone else may dislike the pairing, but both the artist's music and the vehicle emerge as simultaneously contemporary and timeless masterpieces.

This is an important point: The Jaguar ads resemble typical advertising only insofar as one can define advertising as anything that gets attention –which they certainly did –exceeding the expectations of both the artist and his corporate underwriter.

Far from being just another endorsement or sponsorship deal, when we look at this campaign it's easy to envision it as presenting us with a new model for an entirely different kind of music-cum-marketing industry. I describe this new kind of partnership between corporate underwriters and their Strategic Audio Partners as ROCK BRANDS.

In this new paradigm, recording artists (in tandem with their management teams) won't so much do business with advertising companies. Instead they'll present a non-public version of themselves to advertisers as marketing consultants, accommodating representation for a select group of brands that both reflects and enhances the lifestyle and core values of the artist or band.

Artists of various kinds and possessing different skill sets in this arena will deliver varying degrees of input and expertise. Some will be completely hands on. Others will staff their branding/marketing concerns with a professional creative staff that operate integrate the artist's message in their mission statement.

Particularly astute artists won't just show up and do a commercial or put in face-time at an event, but will be active participants in the concepting and production of original marketing strategies for their client/patrons.

In addition to a manager, a lawyer, an agent and publicist, an artist's team will now include a uniquely qualified marketing lead (or brand representative). This person will act as both a brand manager for the artist (or may in fact be the manager of the artist), and as a creative strategist for the artist (for marketing partnerships and projects, not the artist's content, of course).

One can also imagine a need for new kind of consultant –if such people do not already exist (and I think they must)– whose sole purpose is helping artists draft corporate mission statements in order to present these boutique entities not to advertisers, but perhaps to investors and other speculative parties.

For other articles in this series:
ROCK BRANDS: Tomorrow's Rock Star Marketing Partners
Branded Mixes
Medici Model Revisited
Artist X Brand X Not Available @ iTunes
Strategic Audio Partnerships
Diplomatic Corps Rock Fest

Thursday, March 30, 2000

Producer's Syllabus Series

What does a commercial music producer do? –you ask. Believe it or not, more than simply choosing guitar/amp configurations. Read all about it via these key articles from the Producer's Syllabus Series*:

Producer's Syllabus

*I'll be updating the entries from time to time, adding links to external sources as I come across them.

Wednesday, March 15, 2000

Cheeky on Demand

If you'll allow me, let me toot my own horn here (pun intended) in order to provide what I think is an important example regarding the producer's role in the recording studio:

I once worked on a symphonic track (MCI "Kids In Space" :30/:60) where a sixty-piece orchestra had finished a session and its members were waiting for authorization to be released from the gig. With the clock fast counting down to the hour, we were conducting repeated playbacks in the control room, making sure we had everything we needed. Finally, with minutes to go before we ran into overtime, the agency's creative director (Mike Lee/MVBS) decided he wanted to add something ‘cheeky’ to the mix. The composer and I looked at each other: It was apparent that neither of us Americans really understood what 'cheeky' meant.

When the composer came up empty handed, it was my turn to have a go at it: I gave the percussionist some verbal direction ("hit this, hit that when I cue you...") Then I turned around and asked Larry Alexander, our engineer, to roll tape while I cued the percussionist exactly where I wanted him to add the new music design elements we had just discussed.

The result?

Cheeky on the spot, as it turns out!

To me, this is the essence of producing –being able to produce fast improvisational solutions on the spot, with tremendous economic and personal consequences hanging over your head if you make the wrong decision, or you go one minute overtime.

Call yourself a producer? Besides a turntable and a record collection, you need to have a million ideas at your disposal to solve any given problem; all of which work within an allotted budget and schedule; and you need to be confident enough to step up and demonstrate or personally execute them as required by the situation, in front of any number of people. Sure, I could have fallen flat on my face in front of half the New York Philharmonic, not to mention Messner Veter Berger McNamee Schmetterer, but fortunately, I didn't.

Thursday, March 09, 2000

Music Producer as a Cool Hunter

The general public doesn’t often realize how much music is created as a reaction to something else.

Record companies will sometimes sign a band –not because they’re ground breaking revolutionary artists– but because they sound like the another ground breaking revolutionary artist on another label's roster; or because they sound like another demonstrably successful band on the label's own roster.

In Hollywood, film composers often receive their assignments in the form of rough edits of footage upon which the director has synched ‘temp’ music. That is, he or she has 'borrowed' existing music from another source, even another movie, and is using that music as both a placeholder and a creative brief to audio artisans who might be commissioned to produce final sound.

In effect, the movie director is asking the composer to use an existing score as the model for his own score. That's why every time you watch a chase scene, you're usually subjected to a version of French Horns over Tribal Timpani drums. Because everyone is essentially being asked to follow the same model.

Commercial ad music is also created in similar fashion, and advertising professionals commonly call temp tracks 'needle drops'.

My old employer, Elias Arts, compiled playlists of potential needle drops to present to clients as possible options to model a bespoke track upon, and called those playlists 'Concept Reels'. 

However, while I appreciated the facility with which a temp track, needle drop or concept could communicate direction, I was never completely comfortable with the implication that professional composers would actually model a so-called original work using an existing work as a framework. As a producer, such temp tracks have many utilitarian uses, but as an artist myself, I still held a rather romantic notion of the independent composer.

The reality was, however, I was never going to stop the film, advertising and media industry from the practice of modeling tracks, one after the other. However, I did subscribe to the belief that I could train my clients to employ temp tracks not as models to A/B final production against, but as a lens for genre. 

As I explained to my partner at Blister Media, an Audio Style Guide was less a model and more a 'creative brief' for composers and sound designers. It was, to be sure, and idea I borrowed from watching my parents and sister, all commercial artists at one time or another, when they worked with swatches and ‘Style Guides’ as a means to establish direction.

By my measure, an audio Style Guide would indicate musical or sonic direction by providing existing musical references for inspiration. But none of the ideas are meant to be used a model, and the less one listens to the Style Guide, the better. Ideally, the client will only here the track prior to production, and thereafter A/B against his or her initial impressions of the track. The reason being is that repeated listens of any track will often create familiarity in a given work's creators, such that they become attached to the track. Therefore: listen, analyze and draw conclusions that lend themselves to proceeding forward with a creative brief. Then put the style guide away.

How did work? It worked great:

Audio Style Guides clarify verbal instruction, provide convention, genre, trend analysis and may act as a tempo map. But they are never meant to represent a blue print for composition or design.

Style Guides might also include non audio sound sources, such as trend analysis and image swatches.

My theory is that –at least with commercial clients– advertisers don’t so much want to plagiarize another piece of music (although they do sometimes), but rather they are commissioning the composition an original work that captures the popular zeitgeist of a current trend, or the hallmarks of a broad genre.

Thus, it is important for commercial music producers to keep abreast of not just music styles, but of all the aspects and manifestations of a trend.

Of course, learn the methods of composition, performance and production by which a style is created. But also explore the reasons –beyond audio cues– as to why fans are attracted to any given artist, work, or genre. That means being a bit of a cultural anthropologist as well as a musician.

Why would a style guide designed to serve as a creative brief for an audio professional include non sonic sources? Certainly a piece of music can indicate direction to a composer, but equally: visual elements can serve to inspire both composer and client, by adding culturally significant anthropological evidence pertaining to a given demographic.

To borrow a phrase, be a cool hunter.

A cool hunter is analytical in the observation of trends/fashions as they sweep through the culture. It takes neutral eyes and ears to accurately identify and analyze any given trend, much less several; and then capably communicate the applicable variables to others assigned the task of creation, so that they might inform their work with the fruits of your research.

No doubt about it, derivative creations are standard operating procedure in the media production process. But better to have a comprehensive understanding of the intended audience, than to simply rely solely on whatever first stimulates one's ears via a ‘temp track’, 'concept' or 'needle drop'.

Wednesday, March 08, 2000

Music Producer as a Brand Strategist

My professional journey began with a songwriting habit, a sound designer’s skill set and a composer's dream. What I didn't realize as a young man was that my employers would identify in me –and further develop– an aptitude for project management and a marketer's instinct. Both of these skills would serve me well when what I thought would be a recording studio career unexpectedly spilled over into advertising and media.

I anticipated a job hanging over an engineer’s shoulder. There was much of that, of course. Although I was indeed held responsible for insuring every project achieved a standard of broadcast ready excellence, my job often came closer to being a brand strategist than an engineer or composer.

Brand Strategy is the conceptual ‘Pre’ in the pre-production process. Here are just a few of the skills required for the Commercial Music Producer who is also acting as a brand strategist: When presented with a project–

–Consider the user base/consumer demographic/audience for which the work is intended
–Consider the context and technology the work will be experienced
–Consider brand, marketing and/or entertainment strategy.
–Conceive, pitch and develop a suitable musical or otherwise sonic creative direction
–Estimate cost, bid job, negotiate budget
–Review applicable legal contracts and make or suggest amendments as necessary

Also, specific to a given project:

–Analyze the platform, experience, script or storyboards
–Participate in story or experience analysis
–For venues, devices, games, kiosks and other electronic media, identify what gestures or actions trigger an audible response, and the nature of that response
–For long format video/film or multi-layer web sites, identify how the sound or score evolves (or not) as user/viewer progresses through time or layers

Of course, not every commercial project requires Brand Strategy skills from the music producer –especially since audio is often developed long after the creative direction has been established. But producers may find themselves act as brand strategists when they participate at the very conception of a campaign, or product launch.

Regardless of when one gets involved, one is certainly expected to be capable of acting as a Brand Manager on behalf of one's clients.

Tuesday, March 07, 2000

Music Producer as Marketing Director

It's surprising to some people, but in fact many professionals with the title 'Executive Producer' may not ever produce in the creative or technical sense of the word. Rather this breed acts as defacto sales representatives for the company they represent. While it may not sound as glamorous as hanging in the studio with the talent, I've found that some of the most successful companies are helmed not by great creative talents, but by great sales people. My own strength is squarely in the management and directing of a creative production, but I'm still required to collaborate with sales teams to win and close jobs.

You simply can’t be in this business and not sell. Utimately, no matter what your position, you're in sales.

Whether you work for yourself, represent a roster of composers; it often falls to the producer’s shoulders to drum up business. Here are a few of the skills you’ll need in that arena:

–Nurture a working knowledge of –and relationships with a– pool of potential clients that includes advertising producers, art directors and copywriters, TV executives, film and video directors, editors, and broadcast designers
–Attend or throw –and network at– industry events/trade shows/parties/conferences
–Participate in the creation of sales campaigns, marketing collateral and in house events in order to attract clients
–Develop presentation skills in self and nurture the same in in-house staff
–Create demo reel, and/or maintain online presentation of work
–If applicable, produce additional branded video promo for reel
–If applicable, supervise the design and packaging of all branded materials for self or company
–Make cold calls as applicable
–Conduct presentations/give speeches/write articles/conduct seminars, as applicable in order to garner client interest

Sound like fun? No, I didn't think so.

Monday, March 06, 2000

Music Producer as a Project Manager

Music Production has its dry side, too. And I don’t mean searching for that elusive hook. I mean scheduling; renting gear; managing the traffic of elements; et al.

In some ways, if you don’t know how to manage your time, it doesn’t matter how great a composer or conceptualist you are, because you won’t be awarded the job.

Don’t worry if you don’t have all the skills at the outset. You probably won't, if you’re arriving from either an academic or creative background. Only experience will help you gain the requisite ability to:

–Establish and control a budget
–Establish and manage a schedule
–Establish and guide a creative direction
–Perform the multi-directional administration of artistic and technical talent for any given project; indeed for multiple projects being developed on overlapping time frames
–Manage traffic of elements (more complex than it sounds on for even a modest project)
–Keep clients informed of progress
–Arrange and conduct a presentations of works in progress at pre-agreed milestones
–Note revisions and clarify client expectations with client and creative team (make sure everyone is on the same page)
–Supervise integration and testing (of non-broadcast projects)
–Insure final delivery meets technical, artistic and contractual specifications and expectations

In-house, you'll need to:

–Maintain a working understanding of music/studio technology and make recommendations and purchases on behalf of studio
–Keep studio running at maximum efficiency and in a state of readiness for client meetings and presentations
–Keep abreast of union regulations and changes: SAG, AFM, and AFTRA
–Prepare and submit appropriate paperwork to applicable guilds and unions
–Follow Up with Client Experience
–Bill & Collect from client
–Pay talent, vendors and manage expenses
–Manage facility operations and staff

Sunday, March 05, 2000

Music Producer as a Talent Scout

As a Music Producer in the commercial arena, you may be in charge of staffing your production facility –without the benefits of a Human Resources department. In my experience, Human Resource professionals are useful staffing administration positions, but in order to fill creative positions, I had to assume the attitude of an A&R exec or talent scout, and go find what I was searching for. More often than not the best hires did not start out as a perfect match for a given position, but developed into a star performer.

You can find the people you need by simply placing ads and sifting through the responses that the ad generates. But I also went to a lot of clubs (someone has to do it); talked to a lot of university teachers; handed my card out to tons of buskers; and generally introduced myself to every musician, engineer and composer I met everywhere I went.

Here are some of the skills you need in order to scout & develop talent:

–First, you need good ears. Is this a lost art or what?
–Charm. Honestly, I don’t have a lot of this, but guess what: music is a people job. Learn to turn it on. How else will you develop and maintain relationships with artist management and talent agencies? Half your job is cultivating relationships with, and understand the individual strengths of a pool of freelance talent that includes musicians, singers, sound designers, engineers, composers, songwriters, DJs, audio producers and software programmers.
–As much as artists don't want to be to be pigeon holed, you'll need to do so to some extent in order to identify those most suited for working on any given project
–You also need to know how to solve human resource problems: You will necessarily be required to audition, hire and fire, –as much as the latter pains you.
–You must also possess a thorough understanding of the process and be a capable artist yourself, because invariably the day will come when you will need to teach someone what to do in order to accomplish an assignment.

Saturday, March 04, 2000

Music Producer as a Creative Collaborator

Collaboration. This is the fun part: Choosing the right composer; creating or suggesting arrangements; directing performances; scaling back the reverb; space flange or death flange? On such decisions are international advertising campaigns launched.

You'll pick up a lot of world class tricks working with dedicated engineers, but you'll develop your own arsenal of 'sonic solutions' working alone, usually in the middle of the night, when recording your own tracks.

In this way you'll pick up first hand knowledge regarding the mysteries of:

–Directing world class performances
–Assigning musical roles or parts to specific performers based on reading a notated score or hearing a synth arrangement
–Composing, arranging, re-arranging, mixing and remixing of tracks
–Performing musical or vocal parts, as applicable
–Designing sound effects; and creating or suggesting the use of specific samples for any given project
–The specific strengths and weaknesses of microphones, amps, drum sets, guitar set ups, and any other gear as applicable
–Choosing your team. Unlike working with a band, commercial music producers often select who is going to perform what on any given track.


Friday, March 03, 2000

Music Producer as a Creative Leader

A Music Producer working at a commercial music house is a conceptual leader who manages the creation of audio projects from conception to creation. Sometimes he or she will share the management of a creative vision with a dedicated ‘Creative Director’. Just as often they will assume the directorial role as well, especially if the music or audio being developed is based on a concept that originates with them.

As with the title ‘Producer’, the title ‘Creative Director’ denotes one in leadership position. Dedicated Creative Directors guide creative teams to meet the creative requirements of a project.

Unless one is trying to convey authority as a sole proprietor of a studio, without a team there’s no point in calling one’s self a Producer or a Creative Director. Think about it: It would appear a little gratuitous if you went to an art gallery and the painter claimed that not only did he or she actually paint every stroke to produce the picture in question, but that they also ‘directed’ painting of those strokes as well.

Some artists –like Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol– who actually do (or did) command teams of other artists to execute their specific vision are exceptions to this rule.

In any case, both the terms 'Producer' and 'Director' imply one who leads a group of people delivering a creative project form conception and development to execution and delivery. Depending on the organization or project, the specific skills and responsibilities of a Producer and a Creative Director may or may not overlap.

Commercial Audio Producers may or may not also have an administrational role within a company. This role might encompass everything from managing the facility to participating in corporate strategy.

Thursday, March 02, 2000

Career Arc of a Commercial Audio Producer

My career began as an aspiring songwriter, composer and sound designer. By the time I was 23, I had not only a classical music training, but I had also mastered the Synclavier Operating System, –the Pro Tools of its day– and I was hoping to leverage this then relatively uncommon skill set into a job as a producer’s creative assistant.

Academic connections pointed me to Jonathan Elias, who was not only fresh off producing a Duran Duran album, but who staffed a music house that created a lot of music for TV and Radio commercials.

I took the first job Elias Arts offered me, which was an unpaid Administration assistant, essentially a gopher/receptionist position. From there I worked my up the ladder. By the time Jonathan left to open up a satellite office in California, I was producing many advertising projects. A year later I was promoted to Senior Producer, whereby I shared management requirements of every project with Alexander Lasarenko, the New York office’s dedicated Creative Director.

After leaving the company, I became an Executive Producer for Machine Head New York, and assumed not only Creative Directorial duties for all projects generated in New York, but also became responsible for leading east coast sales.

In 1998 I co-founded Blister Media, the first dedicated audio facility that provided coding to interactive clients in addition to the usual composition, sound design and supervision projects.

Along the way, I provided music supervision, and produced music, sound design, Foley and sonic branding projects for Television and Radio commercials, film projects, Network and Cable Channel packaging, online ads, interactive websites, electronic games, electronic devices, theme parks, in-store kiosks and other venues.

My duties included conceiving music directions and directing projects to completion; composing arrangements and directing re-mixes; creating sounds and sound design libraries; putting together music libraries for television networks; offering license suggestions and creating sonic branding filters to and for Fortune 500 clients.

In this capacity I contracted and collaborated with band members from hugely popular rock bands, members of the New York Philharmonic; and prominent engineers, conductors, arrangers and talented musicians from all over the world.

One of the great satisfactions of this job is watching talents evolve from unknowns to stars before your very eyes (and ears).

By necessity, I also estimated and negotiated bids and contracts; reviewed story boards, technologies, and venue experiences; produced creative briefs and created audio brand filters; and spent as much time with advertising professionals, brand strategists and negotiating contracts, as I did in the studio sitting at a synthesizer making music.

There’s a lot to learn, and it takes years to do so. The profession has it’s ups and downs, and can generate lean years, but it’s also well worth the journey.

Wednesday, March 01, 2000

What Does a Music Producer do?

I’m going to spend the next few posts writing about the skill set demanded of today’s music producers.

Most people hear the job title 'Music Producer' and think of someone who works for a record label and makes sure bands rock. George Martin, who I think everyone knows as being famous for being the Beatles producer, is the archetypal model of being a music producer. Martin is called ‘the fifth Beatle’. He didn’t write the songs, but a master arranger, he certainly enhanced them.

Martin also represents a classic model of music producer, i.e., one who works with an artist to create not just a good recording, but a complete entertainment experience.

I am a different kind of music producer. Call me a Commercial Music Producer. My job resembles the producer of a film score when I'm working on a TV commercial. But when trying to brand a multinational corporation with sound; produce navigational sounds for games, websites and devices; or package theme park environments with audio; it becomes something else altogether –in fact, many things altogether.

Regardless of whether one produces entertainment or the kinds of audio experiences that I work on, there are many kinds of people –with varying skill sets– that make up this professional community. Audio –like Film– is all encompassing, and while some careers are market by multi-skilled masters, most projects are managed or directed by niche specialists.

People who wear the ‘Producer’ moniker might be producers of the George Martin sort. Or they may be music supervisors, radio programmers, software specialists, artist/DJs, engineers, composers, multi-instrumentalists, sound designers, project managers –or simply, just person who owns the most gear– and more often, the person who controls the finances. Master Producers fulfill several, if not all of these mentioned roles, and then some.

Today’s music professionals may also accumulate an additional interactive skill set, and some advertising savvy; in my own case, less of the former, and much of the latter.

Monday, February 07, 2000

The Modern Soundscape

Consider this hyper infotainment age we live in. It's jam packed with man made sound, and I've actually had hand in creating some of it. Think of every place you hear sound today.

To name but a few:

–TV/Radio and Internet commercials
–Web Sites
–Feature films, television shows and electronic games
–Refrigerators, coffee pots, new fangled fans, air conditioners and anything with a remote control
–ATM machines and other electronic devices that feature touch screens
–Films, TV, Podcasts, Video Blogs and Radio all demand opening fanfares, themes and underscores
–Restaurants, malls and the retail shops within them
–Theme parks the adventure rides within
–Even museums and zoos are often packaged in aural ambience
–Trains, planes and automobiles feature clicks, bonks and alarms and other audible responses to human physical actions
–Even your computer requires a Power On and mouse movement sounds
–Grocery store check out aisles now sport sponsored video screens. Watch for grocery carts with Baby pacifying television sets coming to a Wal-Mart near you.
–Not to mention the ubiquitous cell phone whose worst feature seems to be not the sound of the phone it self, but the person using it.

I know, sometimes I wish I could turn it all off, too. Silence, it seems, is an endangered species.


Sunday, February 06, 2000

Contact: The Character of Sound

As a student of both the violin and viola, I used to slide my bow back and forth, fascinated by the kaleidoscopic tonal changes that occurred by ever so minute changes in technique:

Pull the bow perpendicularly across the strings so that it nearly touches the bridge, and one produces a wispy effect called sul ponticello. Tap the strings with the wooden portion of the bow, and one is playing col legno. Changes in tempo induce no consequential changes in pitch, but when accented by movements in the wrist or elbow, and depending on speed and strength of the accent, these actions can yield limitless variations in character and tone.

Similarly, tilt the bow along its central axis so that one is either pulling the bow towards oneself, or pushing it away, towards the head of the instrument where the pegs or tuning keys are placed, and you will also introduce a multitude of different tonal effects.

Changes of pressure –how heavy or lightly one rests the bow on a string as it is drawn– is yet another away to affect the character of the sound.

Guitarists intuitively understand the angle of the pick can have an equally significant effect on tone. Similarly, the choice between even using a plectrum, or using one’s fingers to pluck the strings will produce profound effects, not just on the strings, but on one’s life, one’s career, and perhaps one’s relationship to God as well. (Because as we all know, the devil loves rock’n’roll.)

Additionally, the method of contact of one’s left hand upon the violin's neck also produces several appreciable variations. And as with the guitar, the same pitch can be sounded from either a low position on a high string, or from a high position on a low string. The result this affords a player is one of subtle tonal difference between two or more otherwise identical pitches.

The application of vibrato –that is moving minutely on and off pitch– far from making the instrument sound out of tune, also creates an infinite variety of sounds framed by suckle sweetness on one end of the sonic spectrum and frantic anxiety on the other. But why would you do this, besides as an emotive effect? Well, as no two players make contact with their instrument in the same way, nor apply exact speeds of vibrato at the same time, nor can be said to be perfectly in tune with one another at any given moment, a rich choral effect is produced (when two or more string players perform as an ensemble). But strip away vibrato, eliminate dynamics, and though you may have cloned one violin into sixty identical units, what is left is not a powerful symphonic ensemble, but the syrupy singularity we often associate elevator music.

This instant access to variation, in real time, across the breadth of any work, by string players, is one reason why novice arrangers using modern electronic technology often fail to produce realistic string parts, even when working with recorded samples of real instruments. For in order to produce a convincing recreation –and it can be done– each facsimile must somehow be made different than its copies, reflecting minute variations in apparent contact between bow, left hand and strings, note to note, and even within notes.

Using samples from several different libraries is a common approach and aids in adding variety, especially if those samples are then further tweaked by the composer, and their expression modified via the application of high and low pass filters. Of course, it’s cheaper to do this than it is to hire a full orchestra, which is why professional composers will sometimes take the time to deal with such minutiae –or have their assistants do so. And if the budget allows, the samples will eventually be eliminated altogether, or 'massaged' into the mix so that they lay just beneath the surface of an actual orchestra.

It works the other way, too. I can think of many live orchestral dates, which I either produced or supervised, where when working with a small ensemble, we filled out the sound with samples in order to produce a grand orchestral effect on the listener. In this manner, an adept composer can capably convince an audience that a synth track with a soloist is a chamber ensemble and that a 16 piece ensemble is a sixty piece symphony.

Saturday, February 05, 2000

From Storyboards to Sound Design

As an young adult, my professional skill set was influenced by several teachers and colleagues: While at NYU, I had a wonderful opportunity to spend a year studying with Sergio Cervetti, a classical composer from Uruguay with deft electronic ability, global and melodic sensibilities; and an open ear to pop culture.

To my mind Sergio represented a model of what I thought a contemporary composer should be –someone who had access to all the inner workings of their soul and who could communicate it in their music. You know, some people spend their entire lives searching for a perfect sound, a funky beat, a cool groove, a hip riff, a nasty lick, a majestic melody, a divine cadence... but what I wanted from music all along was –and is– direct access to my own soul. Not to much to ask, is it?

I also learned a lot from the people I worked with over the years. Alexander Lasarenko filled my ears with Fauré, Mahler and Schubert, and sharpened my ability to transform flat storyboards into musical concepts. Michael Sweet and Chris Fosdick furthered my understanding of recording studio technology. I also worked with rock guitarist Eric Schermerhorn as often as I could, not only because he was the best man for the job, but so that I could watch how prodigious hands crawl around the neck of the guitar up close and personal. Some call it stealing, I call it learning. If there was any guitarist I ever wanted to emulate, it was Eric.

At Machine Head, Stephen Dewey deepened my appreciation for Sound Design. Stephen also gave me the freedom to break the old project management mold and define myself not as someone who carried out ideas, but as someone who conceived them; pitched them and then directed their development. By the time I left Machine Head to start Blister Media, I definitely felt like I could do anything I put my mind to. That's a good gift to give someone. I hope I can pass it along, too, to someone else along the way.

Thursday, February 03, 2000

Ear Training For The Electronic Musician

While a teenager working as an assistant to the choir master and organist at our church, Dr. Kitchen who played a Flentrop, I started programming on a microcomputer instrument that came out of collaboration between the music and mathematics departments at Dartmouth, and was distributed under the commercial brand name Synclavier, and which has since become a legend if also obsolete (although, that may be arguably not the case). With a small degree of understanding of Fourier synthesis, I discovered that the digital instrument could allow me to seemingly re-create any sound or combination of sounds: Inspired by an article I read about eighties electronic diva, Suzanne Ciani, I spent a week analyzing the sound of a soda can being popped open, in order to recreate it on the computer:

First I discovered that there is the sound of one’s fingertips on the top of the can, followed by the tab bending forward and backward; beneath and in between is the snap of the tab, the crack of the seal, followed by the carbonated volume exploding up along a skewed x/y axis, rising from below perceptible hearing range to a fast climax and fade. It moves across a three dimensional aural landscape from below one’s ears, to square with one’s ears, and then above one’s head and out to one’s sides, before finally subsiding to a quiet but audible fizz.

With practice, I became increasingly quite good at this sort of thing, and this was a few years before the common use of samples. In order to accomplish the synthesis of a complex sound, such as a soda can pop, I had to create small component sounds and then patch them together in a sequencer. After some practice I was soon able to recreate any sound I heard relatively quickly, sometimes in minutes. This is what I mean by ‘Aural Intelligence’. A singer with perfect pitch can hear a sound and identify its pitch. My practice was identifying the composite elements of any given sound so that I might reproduce it with whatever electronic tools were available. I often visualized an oscilloscope in my head; as I worked I would compare the waveform of sound I was working with to the waveform depicted on my inner oscilloscope. I don’t know what good this practice would do, when, in retrospect, one could simply record a soda can and be done with it, but regardless, it was incredible ear training of a sort.

Saturday, January 15, 2000

Teachers, Gurus, Guides and Swamis

I had several music teachers I thought very highly of, –though what they thought of me, I will never be sure. Dorothy Kitchen, (Mrs. Kitchen to me), –Director of the Duke Youth String Orchestra– seemed to believe I had talent, though perhaps my commitment to classical training waivered during the time I studied with her. I was also captivated by electronic music –especially Morton Subotnik's Silver Apples On The Moon– and modern dance (not to mention modern dancers). I modeleed myself after Alwin Nikolais. Nikolais was not just a composer but also a choreographer. He had been Bob Moog's first customer and I would go on to study choreography and stage lighting under his direction for seven or eight months in the mid eighties.

Mrs. Kitchen’s husband, Dr. Joseph Kitchen was never a formal teacher of mine, per say. However, for three years I served as his assistant in his role as music director at St. Stephen’s Church in Durham, North Carolina. Turning pages of Bach and Widor –Sunday after Sunday– was an incredible education in sight reading, arranging and –believe it or not– the physics of sound. That Flentrop Pipe Organ was a music student's pedagogical dream.

I was further influenced by Nicholas Kitchen, Dr. and Mrs. Kitchen's son. He was a violin prodigy whose dedication to music greatly inspired me (and somewhat intimidated me, as well). The Kitchen's also had a daughter, Julie, whose subtle idea of humor –and intolerance for imperfect tonality– taught this then wired teenager a bit more about patience than I should have liked at that age.

Stephen Jaffe, a composer in residence at Duke –and a protégé of George Rochberg– was my first formal teacher in composition. Jaffe surely considered me an idiot. I'm pretty famous for thinking sideways. Sometimes it works to my advantage; sometimes I come across like an alien life form.

I spent three months in Vermont studying dual compositional studies. Firstly, I had been drawn up there to study computer music programming with a pioneer in the field, Joel Chadabe, via my readings of MIT's Computer Music Journal. It was Joel who sent me off to work for Jonathan Elias –another previous student of his– with his gracious recommendation.

Secondly, and quite fortuitously, I discovered Free Jazz trumpeter Bill Dixon living up there, and he shared with me his tremendous insight about both harmony and life. He also endowed me with an ethic that while mistakes are absolutely intolerable, not to confuse them with spontaneous bouts of human expression, which often tear out of the soul in what can only be described as a messy experience.

Later in life, after what seemed a lifetime in a recording studio, I abandoned technology for several years in order to reconnect with the simplicity of steel strings, and studied guitar with Richard Lloyd of the legendary band Television. There are teachers and their are wizards. Richard is a wizard. He imparted on me an idea to think less in terms of linear melodic structure, more like a guitarist –fingers and inner ear surfing a three dimensional diagonal navigation across a pitch/emotion axis.

It’s also worth mentioning that at nineteen, while in attendance at the 1984 Synclavier II Summertime Seminar, the legendary jazz pianist Oscar Peterson offered this advice to a young musician, which has stayed with me my whole life. He said, “If you want to be a great musician, read –not music, read books.”

Friday, January 14, 2000

The Silicon Chips

In the ninth grade, in Chapel Hill, circa 1979, during what has been called a Golden Age of Music In North Carolina, I started a band called The Silicon Chips. The Chips were a middle school punk band, whose name was a direct homage to The Boomtown Rats single, 'I Don't Like Mondays'. There were punk rock bands in North Carolina before the Chips, notably The Psuedes (which featured Sara Romweber), The Secret Service, Th' Cigarettes, the X-Teens and the Durham Dots –but the age range for those bands' members were mostly college kids or older, and not many of my peers even knew who they were. In fact, there didn't seem to be any Triangle bands under the age of 18, and certainly none tapped into the emerging new wave.

It was a pre-MTV era, when the three primary flavors of American popular music were Rock, Country and Disco. Everything else was relegated to late night new music transmissions from Chapel Hill's 89.3 FM, WXYC. I no sooner admitted my fascination with David Bowie one day at school than to instantly learn that mere admission to being a fan of any European act, especially a gender bending drag queen, charted me somewhere off-center a graph measuring normalcy. But it was into this venue that the Silicon Chips were born, and to other newly minted Triangle teen agers, we must have seemed downright bent combining rockabilly with European flavored, sexually ambiguous rock'n'roll.

The Silicon Chips were, in fact, an international band.

My songwriting partner and our deft lead guitarist Tony Scott,  was an American, as was our pseudonymous drummer, Zeke, and our pianist, Kevin. But our bassist, Lars Mage, was Danish, and our rhythm guitarist was a German kid named Klauss. I was myself fresh from two years in Mallorca, and a childhood in Puerto Rico before that. Needless to say, being out of the loop, I didn't quite understand yet that American kids didn't generally like The Sex Pistols and Giorgio Moroder, much less both at the same time. So, like refugees in small town, somehow we found each other, and together we formed a rockabilly flavored, Euro tinged, Socially conscious, New York Dolled up Jr. Highschool punk rock band. Not only were we determined to challenge small town American pubescents with our idea of Avante-garde music, but I was absolutely certain we were The Next Big Thing.

To that effort, The Silicon Chips performed our one and only show  at the 1980 Guy B. Phillips talent show, lighting up the beginning of each act with one original song: 'Ann', and 'Radio Men' (Scott/O'Gara).

'Ann' was written about (and for) three different girls actually –all of them named 'Ann'–and none of which I had the courage to speak to, but any one of which I thought would have made the perfect girlfriend. Hello, ladies, available rock star here, for the taking. Only thirteen; get me before the rehab and groupies show up. Didn't happen, though.

She's into being flexible
Keeps her freedom
It's tedious ecstacy
But it feels good

Oooh Ann–

Other performers that evening included two amazing drummers that would both go on to have notable careers: Rob Ladd and Martin Levi. In high school Rob would become a founding member of The Pressure Boys and then after that, go on to  play on Alanis Morissette's international hit album, Jagged Little Pill.  Marvin Levi became drummer for the way-ahead-of-their time band, The Veldt.

Anyway, after that gig, that was it. I would like to say that if you saw the Behind the Music documentary, you would already know by now that between the excesses of hedonism, failed relationships, band tensions, internal litigation and Tony constantly bringing his design school girlfriend to rehearsal, that we finally just decided to split our millions and call it quits. But of course it didn't happen that way.

Tony's parents, who were college professors, simply re-located to where, I never found out. One day he was there, and the next he was gone, like Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix.

Kevin, also, left town, returning to Wisconsin.

Didn't either of their parents understand what they had on their hands? Apparently not.

So, like every legendary band, we lived fast and died young –with out the speed or death part, of course.

For about ten years thereafter, all through the eighties, the Chips recordings increasingly sounded dated to me. But then punk came back repackaged as Seattle Grunge and when it did, it went wildly mainstream. And all of a sudden the Chips, too, sounded positively contemporary. In fact, I pretty much convinced myself that Nirvana stole our thunder.

In my head, I still have conversations that run like this:

"Dude, U2 is cool, but I wish you could have seen the Chips live."
"It's amazing how their music influenced just about everyone. It's like even the name of the band was prescient. Are any of the band members still alive?" 
"Well, just a rumor, but I read in Rolling Stone that O'Gara is living the Irie life in a shack in Jamaica, and Tony Scott writes movie reviews under another name for some Indy press."

Without a band to front, or another collaborator with whom I shared such artistically combustible chemistry, I bought a MiniMoog and began my high school reinvention as a solo electronic music artist. Indeed, when Tony left town forced me to stop thinking myself as only a lyricist and to get my own musical chops in order. While contemporaries like Dexter Romweber appeared as Flat Duo Jets and Michael Rank's ragged-around-the-edges Snatches of Pink came on the scene, I called myself Teri O. and performed with a microcomputer and a Radio Shack TRS-80. I think Teri O. probably sounded a lot like Brian Ferry by way of Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill.

In 1985 I also left Chapel Hill, finally landing in New York City, where I ended up producing music for TV commercials, radio and newly emerging interactive media.

This Silicon Chips had long fizzled but Mommy's little rocker had finally grown up and figured out how to fit into America.