The Echo Department
The Echo Department is a full-scale audio production house specialising in composition, recording, production, sound design, mixing, and mastering, with a focus on the film and advertising industries. Run by a lifelong musician, multi-instrumentalist, and sound engineer, the Cape Town-based studio caters to international and local clients.
Original Music Composition
Carefully crafted music for films, games, advertising, and everything in-between. A diverse collection of over thirty acoustic and electronic instruments, as well as an extensive library of computer-based tools, allows for the essence of any creative project to be captured in sound. Classical and contemporary training contribute to a musical product of the finest quality.
Recording & Production
A hand-built, acoustically treated project studio equipped with a range of both modern and vintage recording gear, instruments, amplifiers, and accessories, engineered by experienced musicians. Record, mix, and master your music in a comfortable, personal space, and participate fully in every stage of the creative process.
Sound Design & Post-Production
A dynamic variety of audio possibilities, including sound design, foley artistry, voiceover production, location recording, audio cleanup, online audio content, and much more. Use versatile and creative auditory elements to take your project to a higher sensory level, and engage more deeply with your audience through the psychology of sound.
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Interview with The Echo Department
Q: Tell us about a project you worked on you are especially proud of and why. What was your role?
A: One of my latest pieces of work was an all-inclusive job (composition, sound design, ADR, final mix and master) on a very short timeframe and low budget. A four-minute promo consisting of only four lines of dialogue, the focus was very much on the music and sound design to carry the emotion of the piece, which was very important for its subject matter (reflecting on the problems in the world we live in and a brighter vision for the future). It was a difficult project to nail down and I ended up recomposing the entire piece several times and working for three days straight to finish it on time. The best part of this experience was the relationship I established with the director, who sat in on many sessions as we worked together to craft the piece. It was an effort of collaboration and perfectionism that resulted in one of my favourite pieces of music that I've produced.
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
A: At the moment I'm working on several corporate features as well as some more creative promos for an international NGO. I also have some film scores coming up in the not-too-distant future. In my off hours, I'm working on an album with my band, Mind Pool.
Q: Is there anyone on SoundBetter you know and would recommend to your clients?
A: I'm new here, but I hope to be able to give a proper answer to this question soon!
Q: Analog or digital and why?
A: This is a pointless battle that no one is ever going to win, and there's a good reason for that - they're both on the same side. I run a hybrid studio with both analog and digital gear. I love the organic warmth and tactile response of the analog stuff as much as the versatility and ease of use of the digital. It's how they can be made to work together that makes the difference.
Q: What's your 'promise' to your clients?
A: Regardless of the budget, the timeframe, or any other factor, I won't call a project finished until both parties are totally happy with it. If this means I have to work through the night just to fix a problem that only I have with a piece, so be it. Holding myself to the creative standards of both parties is a promise I make to myself as much as to my clients.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: I've always wanted to spend my time making music, but it was a while before I realised that I could actually make a living off my passion. Now it's what I spend most of my time doing! I love the fact that I get paid to exercise my creativity on a daily basis.
Q: What questions do customers most commonly ask you? What's your answer?
A: I'm often asked about whether it's possible to make a piece sound more like a reference the client has in mind. The answer is both yes and no - while references are important, it's equally important to avoid sticking too closely to them, especially as doing so can take you very close to copyright infringement in most cases. Getting too attached to a reference means that you'll always be wanting to hear that piece instead of the one that's being produced. Rather work with me to guide the original piece in such a way that it evokes the same emotions without being a carbon copy of the reference.
Q: What's the biggest misconception about what you do?
A: A major misconception is that the work I do needs to be localised. In the digital age this is not so - I've done jobs for clients as far away as Nigeria, Egypt, and the UK. It's important to establish a good back-and-forth regardless of how far away the client may be, and I do this by making sure I send updates and get feedback regularly and at crucial points of the production process.
Q: What questions do you ask prospective clients?
A: I generally start by asking about similar kinds of productions they have done or seen in the past, and how they might see these influencing the current project. A few questions about the emotions and messages they want the music to convey are also in order, and help to establish a level of communication in the all-too-abstract language of creativity. I also make sure to get a definite timeline for the production process, as well as finding out about any other people who are going to be involved on the audio side of things.
Q: What advice do you have for a customer looking to hire a provider like you?
A: The best thing a client can do for me and for themselves is to have a clear vision of what they want out of the music and/or sound design before coming to me. Write it down. Gather references and inspirations. Figure out how you would best explain what you want to a person you've never met. This saves a lot of time and potential miscommunication, and results in a product that's as close as possible to what you hear in your head. Many people underestimate just how big a factor this communication is in getting the job done.
Q: If you were on a desert island and could take just 5 pieces of gear, what would they be?
A: My sitar, mandolin, violin, guitar, and harmonica. Pity about there being no electricity, or that list would probably be quite different!
Q: What was your career path? How long have you been doing this?
A: I've been a musician since I could walk, having first picked up the violin. I was very musically active during my schooling career, where I received my classical training as well as a lot of experience playing different types of music and on different instruments (ranging from classical orchestral through to full jazz band and even marimba band). I made the conscious choice to study psychology at university instead of music, mainly to avoid turning my passion into something too much like work, but spent most of my time studying music in my own naturalistic way - by teaching myself to play many more instruments, playing and writing in various groups, and developing my production skills. During this time (from around six years ago) I also began to do freelance composition, production, and sound design. In early 2015, I began to focus on this kind of work full-time, starting my own company and expanding my client base with considerable success.
Q: How would you describe your style?
A: My style varies a lot depending on the genre I'm working on, but at the center of it all there is a leaning towards emotive chord progressions, intricate rhythms, layered textures, and an overall soundscape that is accessible yet subtly complex. I'm a big fan of hiding sounds in places they're least expected, and using subtle touches to suggest feelings and evoke themes. In short, I try to be unconventional wherever possible - but without freaking people out too much!
Q: Which artist would you like to work with and why?
A: I'd love to work with an artist like Sufjan Stevens - someone who's comfortable with many different instruments and compositional styles and is always reinventing the way he makes music. That lack of fear and drive to experiment and push boundaries is something I really admire.
Q: Can you share one music production tip?
A: Be vigilant in looking out for the point at which you go too deep into a piece of music, particularly during the production process. If you find yourself working on the same sound or section for too long, it's time to give your brain and your ears a break, or risk making changes that may sound good at the time, but will sound terrible the next day!
Q: What type of music do you usually work on?
A: As a fan and player of many different types of music, there's no easy answer to this question. As a composer, I range all the way from classical minimalism to upbeat EDM, and as a player I have experience in diverse genres such as psychedelic rock, acoustic folk, Eastern and Western classical music, and some jazz fusion styles.
Q: What's your strongest skill?
A: I get bored easily, so I love to experiment. It's the reason I have picked up so many different instruments and explored so many different methods of production. This sense of experimentation has stood me in good stead in my musical career, and shows in my professional work in the interesting and original sounds I'm capable of producing. I'm very seldom satisfied with anything if I think I've heard it somewhere before.
Q: What do you bring to a song?
A: I was a musician for my own sake long before I started to make music for money, and I believe that I have kept my creative integrity intact as a result. I'm a perfectionist by nature and am never satisfied with my work until it meets my own creative standards as well as those of my clients. A main reason for this is that I find it necessary to attach myself to a piece of music (even one that is not my own) in order to work on it, and I think this level of immersion shows in the final product. I believe that's what makes the difference between being a musician versus being a technician.
Q: What's your typical work process?
A: Depending on the job at hand, I first take my time to familiarise myself with the context of the project and ask questions about the client's vision for it. It's vital to establish level of communication in this way from the very start - in fact this can make or break the entire relationship and the outcome of the job itself. In starting the composition, sound design, or mixing process I like to move organically, working my way up from basic elements and allowing different aspects of the sound to develop together in such a way that one can influence the other in real time. I find that avoiding too many hard and fast rules and instead using my ears and intuition to produce a piece of music results in one that is more authentic. It's a process similar to sculpture, in which I aim to release the already existing form of the piece from its raw state through a natural creative process.
Q: Tell us about your studio setup.
A: I work out of a project studio that I built with my own hands. It's a small but very versatile space in a basement in the heart of Cape Town, and is set up and acoustically treated for everything from full band rehearsals and recording to delicate mixing and mastering. I also have an extensive instrument collection near at hand which I incorporate into all my work in as many ways as possible.
Q: What other musicians or music production professionals inspire you?
A: The kind of musicians and producers I admire most are those who are self-made and self-taught. These are the ones who I feel have the most original styles of composition, playing, and production by virtue of the fact that no one has told them how to do things - they've figured out their own unique methods and skills. It's an approach I strive to emulate in my own naturalistic way of working with sound.
Q: Describe the most common type of work you do for your clients.
A: I specialise in a diverse range of services, from composition and production in a number of different genres to audio post-production, including location recording, audio cleanup, foley artistry, sound design, and voiceover production. Often I bundle some or all of these services together in a holistic audio package for individual productions.