What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment, I'm working on two musicals for the Serial Killers series. Serial Killers is awesome; it's like American Idol, but for musicals. Every week you have to come in with new dialog and new songs.
Analog or digital and why?
Digital. Analog has its charm – no doubt about that. I'm glad I started out during the days of analog, because even though my studio is all-digital, I'm able to come at it from an analog perspective. That said, there's no denying digital opens up a lot of possibilities for folks who can't afford the time and expense of analog recording, and at the end of the day, it's not about the gear – it's about the person at the controls.
What questions do customers most commonly ask you? What's your answer?
Well, they always want to know how much it will cost, and how long it will take – sometimes, these can be difficult questions to answer. For instance, a house painter can definitively say, “I can paint your living room in two hours and it will cost X dollars,” but it's a bit more difficult to predict how much time it'll take to compose and/or produce a piece of music. That said, I've got a pretty good idea of how long it might take me to complete a project in various types of situations (for instance, a soundalike takes less time than an original composition, a 4- or 5-instrument arrangement takes less time than a full orchestra, and scoring to picture takes twice as long as anything that doesn't require syncing to video). With this in mind, I can offer an accurate all-in price, as well as a timetable for delivery.
What's the biggest misconception about what you do?
I've found that the biggest misconception about music production is "it should be really cheap, because after all – anyone with a laptop and a bit of talent can do it, right?" It's true that, thanks to advances in technology, high-quality recordings can now be made for far less money than was possible only a few years ago. However, the gear is only part of the equation – skill and experience are far more important that the equipment.
What questions do you ask prospective clients?
First, I spend some time finding out what they want to do, and what their expectations are regarding how to accomplish their goal. Then I'll ask about the budget, and offer solutions based on how much the client is comfortable with spending.
What was your career path? How long have you been doing this?
I started out playing in a pop/rock cover band throughout most of the 1980s. That band spent a fair amount of time recording in an all-analog studio; that's where I got my first taste of how music is produced. From there, I did a short stint playing cocktail music in a piano bar. Then I sort of fell into the opportunity to play with the Something Dada improv group in Cleveland. It started out as a lark, but I was amazed when I realized how many new doors began opening up for me, in terms of creativity and musicianship. I worked with that improv group for 6 years, followed by a couple years at Second City's Cleveland franchise, and then I moved to Amsterdam and spent 12 years as Musical Director for Boom Chicago. That gig required a lot of high-end music production, and as a matter of convenience, I started putting together a home studio. Eventually, I realized that the music production part of the job was most enjoyable for me, so I came back to the US, expanded my studio and now it's my full-time job.
Tell us about a project you worked on you are especially proud of and why. What was your role?
I did a lot of work with the head writer at Fox Animation Domination Hi Def. Our first collaboration was a parody of the old Spiderman TV series theme, called Scientifically Accurate Spiderman. That video went viral; it has more than 7 million hits on YouTube. Based on that success, more songs were commissioned, and that allowed me launch Schmoll Music Production as a full-time business. Lately, I've also been producing some music for Late Night with Seth Meyers; I'm quite proud of that, too!
What's your 'promise' to your clients?
My promise to my clients is that their project is the most important thing I'm doing today.
What do you like most about your job?
What I love most about my work is that there's always something new to learn. Every time I start work on a project, I know there's a good chance for another “a-ha!” moment, where a new door opens up in mind.
What advice do you have for a customer looking to hire a provider like you?
Be open to all possibilities; there are many different ways to achieve any goal.
If you were on a desert island and could take just 5 pieces of gear, what would they be?
MacBook Pro, iRig keys controller, Line 6 Variax, Sony MDR 7506, Apogee iMic.
How would you describe your style?
Musically, my style changes from project to project, depending on what I'm working on, and who I'm working with. What remains most consistent about my overall style is that I prefer a relaxed, laid-back environment. Music is (or supposed to be) fun – that's why we say “I play music” instead of “I work music.”
Which artist would you like to work with and why?
David Gilmour, because he taught me that the spaces in-between the notes are just as important as the notes themselves. Alf Clausen, because he's a comedic genius. Mark Ronson, because I love literally everything I've ever heard him do. George Clinton, because, I mean... come on, he's George Clinton!
Can you share one music production tip?
There aren't many problems that can't be solved by the creative use of EQ and/or compression.
What type of music do you usually work on?
I'm a bit of a chameleon. I work with a lot of video directors and comedy writers, so I'm comfortable working in a wide variety of genres and styles. However, I must confess I particularly enjoy anything that requires me to compose or produce an epic rock and roll arena anthem or a sensitive ballad.
What's your strongest skill?
Listening. If you listen hard enough, the music will always tell you what to do.
What do you bring to a song?
I bring my ability to listen to an idea, and hear a finished master.
What's your typical work process?
My process depends on what type of project I'm working on. For a song, I'll start with a tempo/timing reference, then add two guide tracks – a piano track to establish chord changes and structure, and a scratch vocal, so the melody will always be part of the decision-making process going forward. From there, I'll record drums and bass. After that, I'll start building up the arrangement with some combination of guitars, synths, strings, horns, etc. Once the arrangement is fleshed out, I'll replace the piano and vocal scratch tracks with the real deal, and start fine-tuning the arrangement. Guitar/keyboard solos are the last thing I record before the mixdown.
Tell us about your studio setup.
I work on an iMac running Logic Pro X, including a lot of plugins by Waves, IK Multimedia, and Izotope. My main controller is a Roland A-800; depending on the situation, I might also use a Casio digital piano as my controller. For monitoring, I use KRK, Alesis, and Avatone speakers. My main microphone is a Neumann U-87; I also have mics by Rode, Blue, and Shure, as well as a nifty little mobile mic by Apogee that I use with my iPad if I need to work on location. I have four guitars (3 electric, one acoustic) plus an electric bass and a ukulele.
What other musicians or music production professionals inspire you?
David Gilmour, Mark Ronson, Alf Clausen, George Clinton, Oscar Peterson, Keith Emerson.
Describe the most common type of work you do for your clients.
It varies. Sometimes, I'm a song producer. Other times, I do scoring to picture. I also do audio cleanup and mixdown for video, and occasionally I do voiceover work.