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P PR RE ES SE EN NT TE ED DB BY Y: : The TheMusic MusicProduction Production&&Contemporary ContemporaryWriting WritingDivision Division ——M M c Nc A I TIHT HC OC LOLLELGE EG EO FO FM M U SUISCI C N LALLYL YS M SM

FALL FALL/ /SPRING SPRING 2012 2012/ /2013 2013

Welcome to the inaugural issue of Crosstalk. As I write this, the Fall semester has just started and we’re facing the promise of a new year. As for me, I have a routine for the first day of class: I ask my students to share what it is they hope to do when they graduate. For many

A DIALOG ON: college / career / industry

the path isn’t clear, and for others it’s absolute (at least until next semester…). I tell them that


whether you have a plan or not, it’s okay. Part of the experience at McNally Smith is being exposed to new ideas, opportunities and career avenues that you’re not aware of or maybe thought were even impossible. This is certainly the case with the two alumni profiles in this issue. Dan Comerchero (pg. 25) graduated from the Music Production program, but initially came to McNally Smith with definite plans of becoming a professional drummer. Through a combination of discovering Logic Pro recording software and his experiences in the

classroom, he went on to develop his own music software with a Minneapolis tech firm. Similarly, Veronica Rodriguez (pg. 20) thought she was destined to spend her career in control rooms recording bands. She never thought she’d land in radio — and that it would be completely fulfilling.

ED ITO R IAL John Krogh Editor-in-Chief Chair, Music Production and Contemporary Writing Division Christopher Blood Contributing Editor Department Head, Music Production Sean McMahon Contributing Editor Department Head, Composition and Songwriting Toki Wright Contributing Editor Department Head, Hip-Hop Studies David Lewis Contributor Career Services Dan Daley Guest Contributor Sound On Sound magazine

I know with my own career I never would have predicted I would be where I am, and it’s through reflecting back on the twists and turns my own path has taken that I’m able to help mentor these young creative professionals who are often eager and very anxious to know what their lives might look like after graduation. Mentorship is a big piece to


the McNally Smith experience, and I’m honored to be part of such a diverse group of

Matt Lunneborg Creative Director

talented educators and professionals who guide, encourage and inspire students to succeed. We teachers know the challenges of working in the entertainment industry, and I’ve personally seen how sharing our seasoned perspective can renew a student’s

Brian Burton Designer and Photographer

confidence and commitment. In the spirit of celebrating student and faculty success, and in recognition that college is just one step on the path toward making a life in music, it is our hope that

Crosstalk will be part of the ongoing dialog among the community of music makers from McNally Smith.




ISSUE 1 VOL. 1 PG. 04

PG. 08

”Every young creative professional needs a portfolio that showcases depth and variety – this is a chance for students to strengthen their demo reels.”

The ‘studio magic’ that Thompson adds is critical to getting songs placed with established artists.

fall / spring 2012 / 2013





News, events and industry trends.


Life on both sides of the glass.

12 PG. 12



PG. 20

career advice.




Finding success over the airwaves. ”If you’re a young composer or filmmaker you need to show what you’re capable of as a musician, meaning that you need...”

”Don’t come into production thinking you can just make beats and sell them and that it’s going to be your living. It could happen, but you don’t know.”




Blazing trails in music technology.




Statistics about the music industry rarely give you the whole picture, but they can tell you a lot if you know where to look... PG. 30

PG. 25

”I thought drumming was what I was going to do, but, it led to so many other things, and if I had never started with doing something that I was passionate about, I wouldn’t have ended up here.”




”Looking for scarcity might be a rewarding employment strategy: An audio professional working in Richmond, VA earns about the same annually as one in the LA area — both pull in over...”



Students from MSCM’s Sound Design for Post Production class [REC 249] put the finishing touches on the final audio mix for a digital animation.

The session will include an ”audio in media” workshop featuring

Mixing Audio, Music and Media with MCAD Beginning in the Fall McNally Smith College of Music is partnering with Minneapolis College of Art and Design to present audio+music+media (AM2) — a creative collaboration that gives

Tom Lindquist, one of the Twin Cities top audio post mixers and sound designers.

WHAT: AM2 — audio+music+media collaboration between MCAD and MSCM

students from both institutions professional networking and portfo-


lio development opportunities through a series of events hosted at

To build student portfolios with real work and network with other creative pros

both campuses. For MSCM students AM2 is a chance to build a compelling body of audio-for-media work by providing field recording, post-production, and original music composition services to MCAD film and animation students. ”It’s a great opportunity for students to work together in the way producers, directors, composers and audio professionals do in the entertainment industry at large. It’s a model of the bigger ecosystem we all work in,” says John Krogh, Chair of MSCM’s Music Production and Contemporary Writing Division. ”Every young creative professional needs a portfolio that showcases depth and variety,” he adds, ”so this is a chance for our students to strengthen their demo reels while they’re still in school.”

WHEN & WHERE: SESSION 1 September 22, 2:00 – 3:30pm @ McNally Smith campus  ESSION 2 October 27, 2:00 – 3:30pm S @ MCAD campus

WHO: Co-hosted with MCAD; all McNally Smith students welcome

The first session will be held at McNally Smith on Saturday, September 22nd from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m. and is open to all MSCM students.




Students practice their live performance skills during an Open Mic events presented by the Hip-Hop Studies department and student organization H20.

For more information about H20 and the Open Mics events contact

Open Mic Returns for Another Year In October 2011 the hip-hop student group H20 and the Hip-Hop Studies program partnered to throw McNally Smith’s first-ever Open Mic event. Co-hosted by acclaimed poet Mooks and rising hip-hop star Mike Dreams, the show was a great success with over 25 acts and 90 attendees. The event was lead by Percussion and Hip-Hop Studies faculty member Kevin Washington, who has been the co-host and musical director of the Poet’s Groove, an ongoing open mic event that has been running at the Blue Nile in Minneapolis for over 10 years. The event proved to be a meaningful and valuable live performance opportunity for all involved, which led to an ongoing series of open mic sessions headed up by H20. Building on the success from the 2011/12 year, H20 is again planning a series of open mic events to be held every third Wednesday of each month starting in September 2012. ”The open mic sessions are a great place for students and faculty to do what they do best, and absorb the energy we are all trying to create in one room,” says

Sean McPherson at or join H20’s Facebook group at

WHAT: Open Mic featuring hip-hop student group H20

WHY: Sharpen live performance skills and get helpful feedback from peers and community

WHEN: Third Wednesday of every month from 6:30 – 9:00pm, starting September 2012 September 19, October 17, November 14, December 12

WHERE: Soundbyte café on campus at McNally Smith

WHO: Co-hosted with MCAD; all McNally Smith students welcome

Hip-Hop diploma student Matt Jarvi, frequent participant and occasional host of last year’s sessions.







BY THE NUMBERS Popular audio/music sharing site SoundCloud was started by Eric Wahlforss (left) and Alex Ljung (right) who met at college in the U.K. SoundCloud has become the Flickr-equivalent for musicians and audio creators around the world.

$67,600,000,000 Worldwide music industry total revenue for 2011 67.6 BILLION

$360,000,000 Estimated royalties streaming service Spotify expects to pay musicians in 2012 3 6 0 M I L L I O N

10,000,000 Number of registered users of audio/music sharing site SoundCloud 1 0 M I L L I O N





”The most important thing I learned from my internship is that who you are as a person affects your success more than your knowledge


of engineering,” says Brandon. ”This is an extremely competitive

Brandon Buttner

industry and there are a ton of great, young engineers out there looking for their shot. The way you stand out is by being respectful,

Internships are a critical component to preparing students for

being punctual, having drive, and wanting more than everyone else.

success in the industry, and often it’s not learning new skills or

”I also didn’t realize how fast paced real sessions are, how many

techniques that students find most valuable, but the insights they gain from working shoulder to shoulder with more experienced engineers, producers and composers. This past Spring/Summer over 40 students participated in internship programs, including Brandon Buttner (B.S. Music Production) who was placed with Dark Horse Recording Studios, a Nashville hotspot that has been host to artists such as The Fray, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill and Taylor Swift.

people are actually involved in the process when you get into the real world, just how many people are trying to make it in this industry right now,” he adds, ”and how business-minded you really have to be.” To learn more about internship opportunities visit Career Services or email

L E T U S K NOW ! Attention faculty, students and alumni! Have a cool gig or project that you’re proud of? Let us know. If you or someone you know from our McNally Smith community would like to be profiled in Crosstalk, please send a note to








omposition and Songwriting faculty member Andy Thompson has carved a unique role for himself in the industry as an in-demand ”demo doctor,” a job that combines equal parts studio

musician, technician and tastemaker. Working with established songwriter and former Semisonic frontman Dan Wilson, Thompson takes basic vocal-plus-accompaniment song sketches provided by Wilson and turns them into fully produced mixes, often recording, programming and mixing everything himself. These showcase-ready recordings are then shopped to major-label artists for future album projects. To date, Thompson has helped develop demos for a number of Wilson’s co-writers, including Rachael Yamagata, Gabe Dixon, Natalie Imbruglia and David Cook. Recently this has led to instrumental session work on forthcoming album tracks for two current Wilson collaborators, Pink and Taylor Swift. Thompson’s work with Wilson is indicative of the current industry realities: Decision makers in the music business expect to hear highly polished and produced demos. Gone are the days of songs being pitched as bare-bones recordings consisting of little more than a vocal with accompaniment. In fact, these days it’s increasingly difficult to distinguish between the quality of the songwriting and a song’s production quality, which is why the ”studio magic” that Thompson adds is critical to getting songs placed with established artists. We sat down with Thompson to discuss his active career and get the inside story on his life on both sides of the glass.















INTERVIEW Sean McMahon How long have you been working with Dan Wilson and what’s all involved? Andy Thompson Dan’s trajectory as a songwriter really started to take off in the last seven or eight years, which is when I started working with him. Even back then the stuff he was writing needed demos to give to the various managers and reps for different artists. Dan didn’t have the time to be producing all these demos, which increasingly needed to sound professionally recorded and produced, as opposed to just a simple demo. It started with him sending me guitar and vocal or piano and vocal tracks, and he just said, ”Make it sound like a song. Listen to these other artists for an idea of what we’re going for.” He’d give me specific style and artistic direction, and

SELF-PRODUCED Thompson frequently plays many of the instruments on his demo productions as well as functioning as the recording and mix engineer.

my job was to flesh out the sketch with an arrangement and turn that into something that sounded like a ”real record.” It’s exciting work because you have to work very fast. I usually only have a day or two to turn these around, and there’s a lot of variety with the styles. He works with a lot of different artists so I’m able to put on different hats, musically speaking, and play this or that part to make it sound current and authentic to whatever style he’s going for. Working on the demos has also been really good training for writing music for advertising, which I do a fair amount of. Ad music usually has compressed timelines as well. It’s all about being able to work quickly.






FAVORITES Here’s a screenshot from one of Thompson’s demo sessions. Note the use of Guitar Rig, a go-to tone cabinet that Thompson turns to when working under tight deadlines. Also in view is XLN Audio’s Addictive Drums, a software drum module that features heavily in his writing.


SM You’re a multi-instrumentalist, an expe-

muscles, but a lot of the composing I do is

you’re turning around demos very quickly it’s

rienced engineer and a classically trained

more composing for clients, whether it’s TV

not practical and doesn’t make sense to mic

composer. It sounds like the studio work

commercials or documentary films. I do that

up a bunch of amps, so I use Guitar Rig for

you do really requires a broad and diverse

under the name ”Scribble Sound.”

many of my guitar tones. [ Fig. A ]

SM What is your studio set up like — is it

SM What other projects are you working on

more of a writing room or for tracking

beyond producing demos?

skillset. Did you start on the music side or engineering side? AT I’ve always seen myself as a jack-of-alltrades. I grew up playing a lot of different instruments and got interested in songwriting and composition pretty early, so I started in music, definitely. These days I do a lot of record production, not only the more conceptual production, but a lot of the technical aspects, too. I end up doing a lot of engineering and mixing as well, and I find mixing to be a really good outlet for my musical background, whether it’s arranging or orchestration. And through the projects I produce I end up doing a fair amount of co-writing with other artists that I’m working with, whether its coming up with brand new songs or just helping them take their songs to the next level. As far as composing, I don’t put that many notes on paper anymore, although I did just do a choral commission. Every once in a while I do have a chance to flex those




bands or what?

Musically, my time is split between studio

AT It’s more of a writing room, but I can do

work and playing live. I sometimes play

overdubs at my place, and I go to other

drums with Dan for his shows. We’ve played

studios for larger recording projects. I some-

South by Southwest and the Sundance

times use the studios at McNally Smith,

Film Festival. I’ve also been working with

and I’ll get students to help me engineer. It

[acclaimed singer-songwriter and fellow

depends on what the project needs. It’s rare

MSCM faculty member] Jeremy Messersmith

that I would set up my drum kit and mic it at

on a new record right now and we’ve been in

my place. That can end up taking the better

the studio. I’m working with a couple other

part of a day, so I use a fair amount of MIDI

artists, too, and those projects should come

for a lot of what I do demo-wise. For drum

out sometime this next year. I also started a

programming I use Addictive Drums [by

blog — — where I write

XLM Audio], which has some really usable

about audio and music production. It’s a very

sampled acoustic kits. As a drummer I’m

recent development, but there have already

pretty comfortable sitting at a MIDI keyboard

been some insightful discussions and I’ve

and recording drum parts as if I were

gotten a lot of positive feedback.

sitting at a kit.

When Thompson isn’t in the studio or on stage, you

I also use [Native Instruments] Guitar Rig

can find him teaching MUS381 Songwriting III and

a lot. Again, speed is important for the kind

REC150 Sound Capture and Production at McNally

of writing and production work I do. When

Smith. To learn more about Thompson’s songwriting and production work visit













ccomplished composer, programmer/sound designer and music producer Jeff Rona has enjoyed a career in music that started over 20 years ago when he began making his way up the ranks as

an in-demand programmer and session player. Today Rona composes and produces music for film, television, video games and other media formats from his studio in Santa Monica, CA. He’s also a noted author and speaker on the subject of scoring music for media. Always one to ride the bleeding edge of technology, Rona has played a hand in shaping the tools and technologies that modern musicians rely on today to create and produce music. Among the many highlights of his career, he has composed music for Black Hawk Down, Mission Impossible 2, Gladiator and Traffic, to name just a few of the feature films he’s worked on. We interviewed Rona shortly after he had just finished the score to Phantom, a thriller about a Russian submarine written and directed by Todd Robinson and starring Ed Harris, David Duchovny and William Fichtner. In our conversation Rona provided an in-depth account of the approach he used to create the score for Phantom and shared with us his expert advice on building and sustaining a career as a composer of music for media.








material back to my studio and started cleaning, editing and processing the recordings in [BIAS] Peak and using some of the Redmatica sample editing tools [both since

discontinued, Ed.]. We time-corrected my performances in Ableton Live, sliced them in ReCycle to create Rex files, and then imported them into Spectrasonics Stylus RMX. Other kits went into Native Instruments Kontakt. With everything cleaned up, I went into Logic to begin building a template of my sounds track by track. As I went further I found I could turn some of the percussion instruments from the submarine into pads and melodic instruments by using granular delays and different radical reverbs. I ended up with kits, loops and some pad/harmonic material. I went on to organize a number of newly created synth sounds, percussion and some sampled strings to be replaced by live players later. This all became the groundwork for the more serious passes of sketches. That was at the end of January [2012]. Then in March they started sending over scenes from the movie for me to start scoron board a Russian submarine anchored in

Scoring Phantom

San Diego, CA. I was invited down to record

John Krogh Tell us how you approached

hour over a lunch break. We went into this

composing the music for Phantom.

amazing old submarine filled with metal

Jeff Rona As with most projects, I wanted to have a unique sound palette that included custom samples, so after I met with the director and we discussed the nature of the film and the role music would play, I decided to write some sketches purely based on our conversations. Initially I didn’t have picture to write to. Once they started shooting I expressed an interest in creating a palette of sounds made from the submarine that they used for shooting. They were filming


some samples and I was given about an

knobs, valves, tubes and hydraulics with several drum sticks and other percussion mallets, including a big rubber hammer.

ing. I took some of my sketches and tried applying them to specific scenes, starting with one sketch that I thought could work well as a main title. As it went on, I started to fill in what themes would work for certain situations. For example, certain ideas went with certain characters and there were reoccurring ideas in the movie, so I created sonic

I spent about 40 minutes tapping and bang-

and melodic motifs based on this.

ing on everything in there with the different

Since this was a fairly low-budget film,

mallets, going from soft to loud so I could make velocity-switched kits. With some of the bigger, more resonant pieces of metal I would do some rhythmic performances and loops of four to eight bars. All of this was recorded onto a Zoom portable field recorder. We took all of this raw audio

I didn’t have the budget for a full orchestra but I had enough for a string quartet, so I ended up using the Calder Quartet, a fantastic ensemble out of Los Angeles. In addition to the live strings I bought an antique instrument called a Marxophone, which resembles an autoharp but it has these





weighted strings and you sort of play it like

JR For a score with a fair amount of pro-

it better, I use the Channel Strip preset

a keyboard. Even though it’s an American

gramming and sound design, yes, although

function in Logic to save variations on

instrument I thought it had an interesting

the sound design continues to evolve

particular sounds that I can then import

sound quality that sounded vaguely Rus-

throughout the whole process of scoring.

into other cues.

sian or Eastern European. It’s a little like a

However, I do change my focus at some

hammered dulcimer or balalaika. I ended up

point early on. I like to feel that I am, to

writing a motif with that instrument.

some degree, finished with the sound design

I also did some sound design in [Spectrasonics] Omnisphere and [Native Instruments]

phase, so I can set my brain completely to focusing on the actual writing of music.

But I do sometimes use busses for generic reverbs and delays and possibly distortion effects. That works really well for me. I’m able to move from cue to cue pretty quickly, and everything that was in other cues is

Absynth. Other acoustic instruments

JK That raises the question of how you

there in my new session, either because I

included flute, which I played, and I added

maintain consistency from one cue or

saved a session using Save As or because I

a trumpet player. This all became the sonic

session to the next. I tend to mix through

use the channel strip presets and I’m able to

palette for the score. JK It sounds like your compositional process was influenced considerably by sound design. JR It’s important to remember that in contemporary scoring you can’t think of sounds in a generic way. Very often when I create a unique or evocative sound, that sound is only evocative if it’s played in a very specific way, just like with acoustic instruments. You can’t write the same thing for a string section

Composers are hired for a multiplicity of reasons, musical abilities being only one of them, but far from being all of it.

as you’d write for a trombone section, for example. Every sound you create electronically will ”ask” you to compose certain kinds of ideas for it. In the case of Phantom, and many projects I’ve done before, sound design doesn’t take the place of composition, but it

one or two plug-ins inserted on my sub-

bring in a particular sound just as it was in

needs to come before the composing pro-

groups for strings, percussion and other

another cue. Also, if there’s a cue that’s go-

cess. After pulling together sounds that I feel

instrument families, and this can make it

ing to be a variation of another cue I’ll start

belong in the film, I’ll improvise extensively

tricky to keep sounds consistent if I have

with that piece, save it as another session

to get to know them and what they offer

slightly different subgroup settings for each

and from there I change the key or tempo or

musically. By approaching writing this way,

cue. Do you use any processing on your

some other musical elements.

the sounds I create or choose become an

subgroups, and how do you maintain a con-

organic aspect of writing because they’re

sistent sound from session to session?

being treated as their own instruments in the same way I might write for more conventional acoustic instruments.

JR Good question. After I’ve finished programming a broad range of sounds I build a master sequencer template in which I have

JK Is that typical of your compositional

every sound I might ever use in any cue, and

process, where you’ll work to create a set of

then I stick to that template for every cue of

unique sounds and then apply more con-

the film, even if I only use a small handful of

ventional compositional concepts to these

sounds for a particular piece. If I find myself

electronic instruments or textures?

modifying a sound along the way and I like




JK So you just hold yourself to that template without changing EQ and other effects? JR Oh, no. Sound design is an integral part of contemporary composition, and that’s also true for mixing. The balance between background and foreground, rhythm and ambience, chords and melodies — these are all sensitive and critical issues. Even if I do things electronically that will be replaced by





a live player or orchestra, I’m always work-

instrument. When I sit down to write, I’ve

the highest quality possible within the

ing on the mix. First of all, I need to get the

learned my studio well enough that I’m not

given budget and time constraints.

music approved by the producers and direc-

thinking about it. I’m not thinking, ”What’s

tor, and they need to hear it exactly the way

the keyboard short cut for quantizing eighth

I hear it. So I absolutely use very meticulous

notes or how do I layer and combine these

mixing as part of the composing process.

two parts, or whatever.” It’s all under

You can’t have one without the other.

my fingers. You hear some musicians talk about how they no longer think when they play, they’ve already mastered their instru-

Composing for Media: Career Realities

ments to a level that they don’t have to

JK What role does technology and one’s

and do at the same time. It’s the same with

fluency with it play in the life of a modern

the studio technology. If you are confused or

composer for media?

unsure of the technology, then you’re not in

JR That’s such a great question. If you’ve ever heard a bad violin player, you realize that somebody who doesn’t have technical

think — they’re able to just play and express themselves. It’s nearly impossible to think

the creative place inside of you where music comes from, which can be a very quiet place — you’re going to miss it.

capacity can’t express themselves musically

JK You’ve worked in episodic TV, feature film

very well. There are exceptions. You could

and more recently video games. What chal-

say there are famous rock musicians who

lenges do you constantly face?

only know three chords and never took a lesson. But that’s a different thing than composing scores for media. Anybody who is able to express themselves successfully in music has some form of technical ability and know how.

We may have to know what the best reverb is for a piano sample or the best way to integrate a tool such as Ableton Live into an action scene or how to get a particular drum sound to be aggressive or mysterious. We’re called on to know who the interesting musicians are to collaborate with and the best ways to do that where I can maintain a great deal of control over the final product, especially if things have to change after the recording session with the players. Am I using Melodyne or Autotune? Am I going to bring in an engineer before the final mix? Like every other working composer, I have to be conscientious about the quality of the music creatively, conceptually, emotionally and technically. JK You used the term ”final product.” The awareness that you are creating a product

JR Composers are constantly challenged

is often foreign to young composers who

with very strict schedules and budgets.

are not used to looking at their musical

And yet my goal as an artist is to never lose

compositions as products that go through

touch with what’s important, which is writ-

tremendous scrutiny by producers, directors

ing and producing good music regardless

and creatives. Do you find yourself emotion-

of limits. The challenge of having to make

ally divorcing yourself from a piece of music

In composing music for film or TV or any

compromises with time and budget always

when it comes time to present it to a client?

medium, if you’re not good with the technol-

keeps me on my toes. So working with

ogy at hand you’ll be just like somebody

live players, working with an orchestrator,

who’s been handed a violin but doesn’t

working with an engineer, how we pass files

know how to play, and asked to make an

around, how we record orchestras in other

audience cry. Well, they might cry, but for

countries, making sure that the final product

the wrong reasons (laughs)! First of all,

sounds every bit as good as everY other film

you can’t push yourself as far as you want

score ever made or better — these are the

creatively as a composer if you don’t know

challenges. As our tools improve — better

your tools, and secondly it’s going to slow

plug-ins and systems for working with

you down immensely. With that in mind,

audio — I have to think about the final

I think of my studio as a whole — my

result all the time. It’s important to remem-

sequencer, every plug-in I use, every type

ber that it’s a multi-stage process. My role

of software I use, my interfaces, keyboard

is a ”hyphenate.” Every composer’s role is

controller — as the instrument I play. Just

kind of a multitasking hyphenate.

like a violin virtuoso studies, practices and

We are music producers. And what is the

learns their instrument, my studio is my

role of every music producer? To maintain


JR The number one thing to remember is that film composers are storytellers and collaborators, and as such our musical visions have to take a back seat to the project and to what is trying to be achieved emotionally as a whole. To that end, when I write something, I’m fully present and committed to what I’m trying to do emotionally. I go in thinking I know what the director intended and what I think the director feels would be able to express that intent musically. In a good situation I’ll get that right more than I get it wrong. But invariably something will come up or a director will say, ”That’s not what I had in mind,” or ”The





the director and different for the producer. You have to be willing to let go of your own musical preconcep-tions in order to fulfill the vision of the final product. JK There’s always some degree of translation between what the client is asking for and what that means musically. JR Absolutely. And you should never feel that you are a lesser artist for not getting everything right the first time. JK Describe the competitive nature of composing music for film or TV. JR It’s not only a very, very competitive field, it’s also always changing. What filmmakers are looking for musically changes. It’s important to stay relevant, which is not always easy. Composers are hired for a multiplicity of reasons, musical abilities being only one of them, but far from being all of it. The one thing a composer offers a filmmaker, which is perhaps more important than anything, is trustworthiness. A film may cost millions of dollars and take years to get off the ground. So the filmmak-


ers have to feel completely confident that

Rona employs a host of hardware and software to compose music for film and media. One of his cues can be seen in Sibelius notation software (background, onscreen).

music is getting

matters is that my director eventually says,

they’ve chosen well and that their composer

too busy too

”Okay, you got me and you understand the

will deliver music that enhances the film, is

fast,” or ”That

story.” That’s my goal.

technically excellent, is delivered on time and

doesn’t sustain the energy long enough,” or ”The music needs to stay low-key until a later scene and then let loose.”

In those situations my first musical instinct needs to be discarded and I must do something different. That’s the nature of this work. I have the option of tossing out what I did and starting over or I could substantially alter a piece of music to more closely fit what the director wants. In the end, all that




Nobody makes a movie all by themselves, it’s a collaborative art form. What we as composers do is one piece of a shared vision. You can’t take criticism or notes on the music personally. For example, if a director says something like, ”This doesn’t feel scary enough,” you just have to say to yourself, ”Okay, it scared the shit out of me, but the director’s not scared, so how do we do that?” It’s sometimes a matter of semantics. I have to figure out what ”scary” is to him. We can use words like sad, joyful, frightening or dramatic. But what those words mean to me might be different for

on budget, and that the process of getting to the end — the give and take — is one that they will enjoy. There is a deep sense of intimacy in this relationship. Confidence in a composer is critically important. And one of the first things that will give filmmakers confidence in their choice of composer is an interesting resumé. If they see a composer has worked on other successful projects, they not only think, ”Oh, I liked that type of music or that was a good movie,” but they also think, ”Here’s a composer who finished that score on time and on budget.” It’s a very basic thing. Look, do you want to be a





TIME & TEMPO Here’s the Arrange page for one of Phantom’s cues – note how Rona adjusts the time signatures and tempi throughout to hit the onscreen action.

work better in film and TV. When you listen

surgeon’s very first operation? Probably not. It’s the same thing with choosing a film composer. But there’s also usually a desire to have the next cool thing. So filmmakers go back and forth between wanting to take a chance on

Advice for Young Composers JK What do young composers need to have in order to get scoring opportunities?

somebody who was maybe successful as

JR As I mentioned earlier, a composer

a rock musician or electronic musician. For

needs to know how to instill confidence

example, Justin Timberlake is about to do

in a filmmaker, and just about the only

a film score. Trent Reznor [NIN frontman]

way to do that is with a resumé. If you’re a

became a sought after film composer, along

young composer or filmmaker who doesn’t

with Atticus Ross. The rock world is often

have much of a resumé, then you need to

tapped for film music.

show what you’re capable of as a musician,

But yes, it’s an intensely competitive profession. The good thing is that there are more films, TV shows and web series being made now than ever before, so the demand for people to write and produce music for media continues to grow.

meaning that you need to have finished demo tracks that sound like contemporary film music. Often there are young composers who may have demos that may be well written and well produced, but don’t reflect the kind of aesthetic and appeal that filmmakers are typically looking for. Film music is not a genre, but there are certain elements that make certain kinds of music


to the vast majority of film music you tend to hear a simplicity and an emotional directness that you don’t necessarily hear in other forms of music. You don’t hear a lot of complex chamber music in the mainstream of film scores, and there’s a reason for that. So composers need to show what they’re capable of, which means showing a range of musical styles, showing a good attitude about music, showing that they understand what makes music work emotionally in a film, and that they know how to be good producers. It obviously helps if you’ve put out albums and have had experience in some other area of the music industry. But at the end of the day, you need to prove that you can be trusted with a multi-million dollar project or a project of ten thousand dollars, whatever it is. You need to show that the risk of hiring you as a composer is incredibly low. And of course, you get better





with each project. You’re always learning and

JK What advice can you give young compos-

able to make good music sound good. As a

hopefully, if you’re a good artist, you’re trying

ers as they’re coming up and trying to build

film composer you’re both a composer and

to grow.

a career?

producer. Until you’ve built some experience

JK How important is it to find mentors for

Even though I love composing, I was very

young composers who are just starting

lucky I had a marketable skill before having

their careers?

the opportunity to compose for film and

JR I think it’s extremely important. I know very few composers who didn’t get their start by working with another composer, or at the very least being exposed to other composers and gaining knowledge from more experienced composers. Even when Trent Reznor started doing films he approached more established composers and asked for help and advice. Nobody should be expected to be able to do it without any mentorship. Even if you study formally and you’re coming out of an academic environment like your program, it’s such a huge help to gain some intermediary experience. I’ll use the surgery metaphor again. Before a surgeon gets to do a liver transplant, they assist a more experienced

TV. I could design sounds and program synthesizers in ways that were interesting and appealing to working, successful film

There are more films, TV shows and web series being made now than ever before, so the demand for people to write and produce music for media continues to grow.

don’t go out into the world thinking you’re ready. Find opportunities to connect with more experienced composers, musicians, orchestrators, and engineers. Another possible way to go about it is to be successful in some other area of music. If you have a successful pop or rock career you have a chance to get into scoring for picture, like Trent Reznor, Daft Punk, M83, Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, Cliff Martinez, Badly Drawn Boy, Stewart Copeland, Trevor Rabin, Karen O, Skrillex, and many others. JK Any parting thoughts for our McNally Smith composition students? JR Getting to write music that other people listen to is a privilege. Working with other talented people is a privilege. Never taking anything

surgeon hundreds of times, each time tak-

for granted has been a key to a

ing a more active role as they learn. That’s

happier and more enlightened life

how everybody I know got their start is by

for me. I think it’s also important

working with another more experienced

composers. So I was a programmer for a few

composer to learn the ropes. There’s a lot of

years. My name got passed around. That

logistics to get down, and the politics alone

was ”phase one” of my film music education.

are unexpected and can be make or brake.

In the process I got to watch a lot of films

How one talks to a director or producer, how

being scored, and that led to opportunities to

one deals with unreasonable demands or

ghost write. But I had something to trade, I

For me, the greatest thrill I get from my work

expectations or setbacks.

had something I could give a composer.

is knowing that what I do allows people to

The way to learn is to watch someone else

I think it’s beneficial for anyone who wants

go through it with you at their elbow. To be

to be a composer in film or TV to find an

able to write a piece of music to picture and

internship or some kind of relationship with

then have a peer listen to it before the direc-

a working, successful composer. If I were to

tor and tell you what you got right and what

break it down, it would be: Step one — get

you got wrong is invaluable. Most every

your shit together musically and personally.

A-list composer today had somebody show

Be a good composer, have something to say

them what to do. Look, John Williams was

as a musician. Then develop the technical

Bernard Hermann’s piano player.

production chops needed to realize your musical ideas in audio. You need to be

to never assume you are ever a fully realized artist. You should always continue to challenge yourself and grow as an artist and as a human being.

feel something... it elicits emotion. Whether it’s moments of fear, joy or a sense of romance. As human beings we’re emotion junkies, we want to feel emotions. And that’s why we gravitate to music and film. We’re after an experience. So for me to be a part of work that gives people emotional experiences is never less than incredibly satisfying as a fellow human and an artist. For more about Jeff Rona’s career and filmscores visit











fter graduating in 2010 with no less than four degrees from McNally Smith College of Music,

From Club Gigs to Radio Stations

the last place Veronica Rodriguez expected to land

Just after college Veronica was making her way up the ranks of

was in the fast-paced, high-tech world of radio broad-

live sound around the Twin Cities when a broadcast engineer

cast. ”Radio wasn’t what I pictured for myself when I left college,

job listing caught her eye. She sent her resumé, received a call

but I love it — I’m glad I ended up here,” she admits. Veronica ini-

back, and after several rounds of interviews, she was offered a

tially enrolled in the Associate Applied Science Production degree

job with Clear Channel Radio, one of the nation’s largest broad-

program in 2006, but thanks to her strong determination —

cast media and advertising vendors, which reaches 237 million

and a healthy number of general education transfer credits,

listeners monthly. Now working as an assistant engineer, she’s

which she earned at another institution — she was able to

part of a 5-person team that serves all the technical broad-

complete the A.A.S. Production, A.A.S. Recording, Live Sound

casting needs for eight radio stations owned by Clear Channel.

Diploma and the Bachelors of Science in Music Production

”I don’t work for just one particular station, like KDWB [pop]

degrees… all within four years.

or Cities 97 [adult contemporary],” she explains. ”I work for the


VIKINGS TRAINING CAMP Rodriguez is responsible for engineering remote broadcasts that take her to many different locations, such as the Vikings training camp shown here.

CITIES 97: OAKE ON THE WATER Here Rodriguez engineers atop lake Waconia during a Cities 97 Oake on the Water session (Summer 2012).




Vikings on-air announcer Paul Allen chats with Rodriguez en route to a KFAN broadcast.

Setting up for Oake on the Water.

parent company that owns many of the local

Besides engineering for special events,

stations, including KFAN [sports], KOOL 108

Veronica also plays a critical role in KFAN’s

[classic hits], and K102 [country], so there’s a

Minnesota Vikings NFL radio coverage. The

lot of variety with what I do.”

station is contracted to broadcast all of the

Of the many hats Veronica wears, one of her primary responsibilities is to engineer live remote broadcasts. ”If you hear on the radio that someone is broadcasting from a special location, a bar or a park for example, I’m going to be there. I set up all of the broadcast equipment and I get the talent on the air,” she says. It’s a job that combines conventional audio engineering with information technology (IT), involving either wireless point-to-point transmitters or some form of hard-wired ethernet connection. ”If we can’t get an ISDN line for multi-channel audio, we have to use whatever internet connection happens to be at the location,” she says. ”More recently we started using ‘mi-fi’ portable internet connections that link our remote location back to the Clear Channel

team’s games, both home and away, which means Veronica is frequently flying around the country to stadiums she’s never been to before, making sure each broadcast goes smoothly without any technical glitches. It’s a demanding gig that she enjoys. ”I have to be prepared for everything, and I don’t know what the stadium might or might not have when I arrive, so I end up taking a lot of equipment. [ Fig. A ] We travel with the team, and we usually get there the day before to set up and line check,” she explains. ”The next day we do pre-game coverage and then the game. As soon as it’s over, we tear down and we’re gone. There’s no waiting around — many times the TSA comes to the stadium to screen us and they get us on a bus that takes us right to our plane.”

already made a big impression with her co-workers. ”We were at an away game in Green Bay, and I remember looking to the right and left, seeing all the press boxes, and all I saw were men,” she recalls. ”I wasn’t surprised, because there aren’t many women in audio. But being an engi-

facilities, so I’m able to connect wirelessly,

Her current work with the Vikings is espe-

neer for Clear Channel and working in sports

which has been great.”

cially gratifying, and though she’s been with

on top of it, where there aren’t many women

Clear Channel for only a brief while, she’s

either, I felt really proud of what I’ve been






What I learned in the Live Sound program has been helpful…soldering and especially trouble-shooting skills — the ability to trouble-shoot is key in this kind of work.

able to do. On our last game of the season,”

the broadcast more exciting, and the an-

We get all kinds of artists coming through.

she continues, ”Vikings radio announcer Paul

nouncers have to be able to hear each other

For instance, I recently mixed The Wanted,

Allen was thanking everyone over the air,

and they have to be able to hear our person

Hot Chelle Rae and Carly Rae Jepsen. When

and he thanked me personally, saying that

on the field who isn’t broadcast over the

an artist comes into the studio, I’m basically

he was very proud that our broadcast team

air, but they help tell our announcer what’s

mixing a live show for the studio audience,

had the only lady and the youngest engineer

going on. So it’s setting up different mixes

but I do it from a control room off to the side

in the entire league.”

for people and for the broadcast. It’s actually

of the stage. I mix what the audience hears

very similar to mixing bands live in a club

and also what goes out on the air, plus I

setting, and I think that’s why I caught on

multitrack record everything into Pro Tools,

so quickly here. You know, if you walk into

just in case one of the performances gets

a typical bar gig you’re going to have to mix

selected to be on some sort of compilation.”

Radio-Ready Sound When mixing the NFL games, Veronica works to achieve a certain sound that’s tai-

front-of-house and the stage monitors, too.”

lored for each announcer. ”There’s a typical

Though Veronica spends much of her time

sound that I’m used to hearing,” she says.

engineering for non-musical events, she still

”I’m familiar with our broadcasters’ voices,

has plenty of opportunities to mix and record

and what people are used to hearing on the

bands, albeit without all the late nights.

When asked what she learned at McNally

radio, so when it comes to picking my

”Clear Channel has what we call ‘Studio

Smith that has been the most helpful in her

microphones, compression and EQ, I try to

C’ or ‘The Sky Room.’ Each station calls it

current work, Veronica is quick to respond.

dial in the sound that people expect and

something different,” she says, ”but it’s all

”What I learned from Peter Greenlund in the

what I know sounds good. But I’m not just

the same — an on-air performance area

Live Sound program has been very helpful.

mixing the announcers and getting a good

with a stage and PA. It’s meant for more

What he taught us was very practical — it

sound for them. I take a small-format analog

intimate-feeling performances. Each station

may have been from a live sound perspec-

mixer with me to all the games because I

invites listeners to come to the studio and

tive, but it applies generally to audio, not

have to be able to mix in the sound of the

they’ll have bands play an acoustic set when

specifically to live sound. For example, being

crowd in the background in order to make

they’re coming through the area on tour.

able to make different types of cables, using




 oldering S and Socializing







Rodriguez’s remote broadcast equipment rack was recently rebuilt with the help of students in the Live Sound program.


a universal resistor color-coding scheme,

but you don’t know. And don’t limit yourself

all of that I use. Also, a lot of what Tom

to thinking you’ll only ever work with a

Day taught me, like soldering skills and

certain type of musician or only a certain

especially trouble-shooting skills. The ability

style of music. I can understand why some

to trouble-shoot is key in this kind of work,”

people would have that attitude, but if I had

she says. ”When you go into an unfamiliar

thought that way and if I didn’t have an

space and something isn’t working and you

open mind, I never would have applied for

have two hours until the broadcast hap-

this job and I wouldn’t be doing what I’m

pens, you don’t have a choice — you have to

doing today.

figure it out. If you walk up to something to plug into and it doesn’t fit, you have to build an adapter. Without the knowledge and skills they taught me, I would’ve curled up on the floor crying in some of the situations I’ve been in. But because I learned all of that, it’s given me confidence in my ability to

students Veronica offers some advice. ”It’s important to keep an open mind,” she says. ”Don’t come into production thinking you can just make beats and sell them and that it’s going to be your living. It could happen,



MIKING Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier talks ball from a remote broadcast during training camp.

”I also think it’s important to make friends and keep in touch with them after you graduate,” she adds. ”The bonds you make with your peers while you’re in school can help bring you more opportunities after you graduate.”

great studios, thinking all I wanted to do was work in a recording studio, and now I’m 1,000% fulfilled with what I’m doing in radio — that’s been the biggest surprise. I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing or

make it happen in any circumstance.” For current and prospective Production


a group of people I’d rather be working with Reflecting back on her college years and

than the people I work with now.”

her current career in radio broadcasting, Veronica has no regrets. ”I have the best of both worlds here. I still get to work with bands and I still get to record. But having spent all those years in school and in those






ecent McNally Smith grad Dan Comerchero

professionally,” he recalls. But after seeing a fellow

( 201 2) is well on his way in the music industry,

classmate working in Logic Pro recording software,

though his current path could hardly have

Comerchero began creating and producing music of his

been predicted when he first arrived at the

own on his laptop. From that point forward his deter-

College in 2006 to study drums. Initially enrolled in the

mination and fascination with music and technology

A.A.S. in Performance degree program, Comerchero

have led him to successes he couldn’t have imagined,

had plans of becoming a professional drummer. ”I had

due in large part to his time at McNally Smith and his

to play music, it was going to be what I was all about

transfer into the B.S. Music Producer degree program.










industry-insider interviews written by a team of expert contributors. We sat down with Comerchero to talk career development, college highlights, and why he hates being called an ”entrepreneur.” INTERVIEW John Krogh What is Quiztones and where did the idea came from? Dan Comerchero Quiztones is a frequency ear training app for Mac iOS [and Android], that helps you learn to identify frequencies. The app boosts or cuts a specific frequency

Comerchero’s frequency training program Quiztones is available for Mac OS X, iOS, and Android.

Today, 24-year-old Comerchero is deeply

of an audio loop, and you guess the altered

involved in the development of his Mac and

frequency. You get four answer choices and

iOS app, Quiztones, now at version 1.1 and

you can load your own reference tracks or

1.7 respectively, and is working on a new

use the built-in audio loops and test tones.

printable staff paper app, Staffnotes, in

The idea came to me when I was in one of

partnership with Minneapolis-based

my Mix Lab classes with [McNally Smith

software engineering firm, Audiofile Engi-

Faculty member] Joe Mabbott. He turned

neering, where Comerchero interned while

the computer screen around and began

still in college.

quizzing us by boosting certain frequencies

Comerchero also provides freelance marketing services to Audiofile Engineering in addition to running his own blog, The Pro MORE ONLINE Go to

crosstalk to watch Dan walk us through his Quiztone app.


Audio Files (, which publishes tips, techniques and

with an EQ in Pro Tools. At the time I was working on a printable staff paper web-app called Staffnotes using Adobe Flash. I was working with a cheap overseas developer, and I thought it wouldn’t be too complicated to create an automated quiz app that





you could use to train yourself at home. I spec’d the cost with the

Sarah put me in touch with Matthew Foust, co-founder of Audiofile.

developer and it was reasonable. I originally wanted to release it as

We set up an interview, and during the interview I showed him the

an iPhone app, but I was working at Apple at the time and they don’t

Quiztones app I was working on. Within a few minutes, he suggested

allow employees to release their own iPhone apps. So rather than

we partner on it and have Audiofile develop and distribute it. When

wait until I could release it for iPhone, I decided to make it an

we first started working on it together, they took a look at the code

online tool first.

and realized that much of it would likely need to be reworked. I was

I built the original online version of Quiztones about two years ago. Six months later I was taking a marketing class at McNally, and we had to get into groups and choose some sort of project to work on together. Most students’ projects were hypothetical products or bands, but one of my classmates suggested that we market

previously working with that overseas developer and with what I could afford, the code that was being developed wasn’t very solid. So the guys at Audiofile took it, cleaned it up, and that became our version 1.0. Since then, Quiztones has undergone major revisions to become a far better app than I ever could’ve built on my own, with opportunities to take it in directions I never thought possible, such as quizzes for compres-

If I could go back and give myself any advice, it would be to not be so worried about knowing exactly what you’re going to do in the future, and just allow yourself to get swept up in what you feel most passionate about at the time.

sion, reverb, and delay. JK What’s it like working at Audiofile? DC I feel really grateful to be in a passionate start-up environment with really creative people. I love coming to work here and be around other creative people. I’ll come down here just to work on anything, just being in the same space with these other creative people is inspiring. And when I leave work I’m really happy. I’ve never felt a sense of fulfillment like that. I was always drawn toward entrepreneurship, even when I was a young kid. In middle school

Quiztones. I had left Apple a few months earlier and I was already

I used to sell things on eBay for fun. I didn’t make much money, but

getting the itch to release Quiztones for iPhone, so we asked our

it wasn’t about that. When I was thirteen, I would trade Apple stock

teacher, Charles Gehr, if we could use Quiztones for our project and

with my dad. I’ve always known that I’d either work for myself or be

he was totally cool with it. We developed a complete marketing plan

involved in a smaller organization where everything you do can really

and I started searching for an iOS developer.

impact the future.

JK How did you connect with Audiofile Engineering to develop and

JK What are some of the most meaningful experiences you

distribute Quiztones?

had at McNally Smith?

DC I originally started in the A.A.S. Percussion Performance program,

DC A large part of the experience was simply the people I met and

which is two years, and when I came to McNally all I wanted to

the overall creative environment. I think networking is a big part of

do was play and teach drums professionally. I loved being in the

making the most of a music school like McNally. All of the friends,

percussion program, but I eventually started getting more into music

teachers, and mentors I met influenced me in different ways. I also

production and technology, so I switched to an A.A.S. in Music Pro-

think there’s something to be said about the academic approach to

duction. I eventually transferred to the B.S. Music Producer degree,

learning music recording and production. Just breaking everything

which has a required internship, and when it came time for me to

down and filling in the technical gaps. Everybody comes into a music

find one, I was able to connect with Audiofile by working with Sarah

school with a certain amount of knowledge gaps, and the structure

Williamson in Career Services. I remember thinking, this could be

and way everything was taught gave me a solid foundation, whether

great — I’m building an iPhone app, they make audio apps, they’re all

it was in my percussion A.A.S. or in music production.

musicians, this is a perfect fit.








JK Can you give me any examples of how you’ve been able to apply what you learned at McNally Smith to the work you’re doing now? DC A lot of the foundational skills from my production classes, signal flow especially, have been very helpful for mixing and recording other artists, or even just producing my own beats. Just having a solid understanding of the basic technical foundations of the recording process has been crucial, and also helped me in developing Quiztones. JK You started as a performance student in percussion. How did you get into music production and music technology? DC I was playing drums and I saw a friend using Logic, and it reminded me of when I used to mess around with an 8-track when I was a kid. I thought Logic was awesome, so I finally got a Mac and a copy of the software. The first thing I did was program some drums. Because I was already a drummer, I remember thinking, ”Oh, I know what to do to make this feel right, I know how to approach this groove.” I discovered how my musical training instantly transferred to the role of producing music. It all

DEVELOPER Comerchero works with Minneapolis-based Audiofile Engineering to develop software for musicians and audio engineers. Visit www. audiofile-engineering. com to learn more.

ties together, like knowing what the best sound is, when you’ve captured a good take, editing a performance and knowing how to comp the best take rhythmically and musically. JK Do you see yourself as a musician, engineer, entrepreneur? How do you describe yourself? DC I’ve always had an issue describing myself and writing bios because I feel like the word ”entrepreneur” is tossed around very loosely these days. I see these people on Facebook with job titles like ”CEO of Me,” but I always wonder what they’re actually doing. For me, it’s not a title, it’s more about






what you actually produce and execute on.

had never started with doing something

That’s what matters to me. I don’t care so

that I was passionate about, I wouldn’t have

much about how I describe myself. I care

ended up here. You never know what is

more about what I put out into the world

going to lead to what or where.

and the quality of what I produce. I hope that it speaks for itself. I also kind of gave up on writing bios because it’s constantly changing. It bothers me when I see bios where people list 20 different titles like ”CEO, manager, inspirer, recording engineer, producer, multi-instrumentalist,” just listing

JK That’s an interesting point, especially considering everything you’re now involved with. Do you have any regret that you’re not a professional drummer and that your path is taking a different direction than you thought it would?

everything on and on. I whittled my Twitter

DC No, not at all, but I used to struggle with

bio down to Music, Web Sites and Apps.

it. When I was trying to convince my parents

That encompasses what I’m into right now.

to be on board with the idea of me going to

I’m more interested in having people know

music school, they made suggestions like,

what I’ve built, and I hope that the passion

”What if music was just a hobby and you

and time that I’ve put into what I’ve done

went to business school? You could still do

will speak for itself.

music.” But I was so adamant that I had to

JK Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, what advice would you give someone just entering McNally Smith?

There are so many ways to be in the music industry beyond what you might think you’ll do when you first start college. And that goes back to what you call yourself. Are you a musician? An engineer? There are so many other angles.

DC Make as many connections as possible. I’ve always been bad as an in-person networker, which is kind of funny because I do freelance social media marketing for Audiofile and other companies (laughs). I’m good at the online social interaction, but I’ve never been a really social person, I’m a classic introvert. So, push yourself to meet as many people as possible, even if you feel uncomfortable about it.

do music 100%. Now looking back, I’m okay with the direction I’ve taken and the fact that performance isn’t all I’m about. I haven’t left music. I’m making apps that are for musicians. I have a blog that’s for audio engineers. Everything I’m doing is still tied into music, and I feel like there are so many ways to be in the music industry beyond what you might think you’ll do when you first start college. And that goes back to what you call yourself. Are you a musician? An engineer? There are so many other angles, and they all benefit one another. Are you into the audio/visual side? I was exposed to a lot at McNally. Like when I took a class with Dr. J. Anthony Allen, he’s big into mixed media, combining music and video, and I thought it was incredible. You

If I could go back and give

really can’t put yourself in a box, there are

myself any advice, it would

many paths you can take.

be to not be so worried about knowing exactly what you’re going to do in the future, and just go with what you feel strongly and passionately about. In my case, I was so into drumming and I thought that’s what I was going to do, but it led to so many other things, and if I











t’s not easy putting together a

and school buildings,” in environments

statistical profile of people who

that include recording studios — typically

spend most of their time in

dry bureaucratese, but close enough. As of

soundproof windowless cham-

2010, people working in that category were

bers, but the Federal Department

earning a reported average of $38,970 per

of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics has

year, which works out to $19.17 per hour.

done a pretty decent job of it under the

That increased in 2011 to $26.98 per hour

circumstances. They have released some in-

and $56,110 annually.

teresting data recently that provides us with

State of Affairs There is a geographical breakdown and there were no surprises there, with California and New York the top two states by far for audio professionals of all types, with Florida, Illinois and Texas rounding out the top five. No surprise either is the income

The 2011 report breaks it down more spe-

disparity between them, with Californian

cifically. Of all the categories, those working

and New York audio workers faring far

in the motion-picture business seem to fare

better than their peers in other states.

The survey understandably doesn’t have

the best, earning over $35 per hour and over

California residents pull in over $74,000 and

the kind of nuance we’d like. The broad

$74,000 per year. ‘Sound recording’ came in

New Yorkers earn just under $66,000 a year,

category is ‘Broadcast and sound-engi-

second, at $26.76 an hour and over $55,000

while an engineer in number-three-ranked

neering technicians,’ whose functions the

per year. Broadcast audio engineers pull

Illinois gets $43,120. By the time you get to

Bureau describes as to “set up, operate,

in $51,550. The category titled ‘Performing

Texas you’re at $36,510. The discrepancies

and maintain the electrical equipment for

arts companies’ presumably includes those

are not surprising — California has several

radio and television broadcasts, concerts,

working on live sound, who earn just under

media hot-spots, most notably Hollywood,

sound recordings and movies, and in office

$44,000 a year.

an economic snapshot, stilted as it may be, of the typical audio engineering worker.






and New York is the center for much of

In fact, looking for scarcity might be a

the world of audio professionals we can

broadcasting, as well as arguably still being

rewarding employment strategy: An audio

hope for.

the country’s indie music capital.

professional working in Richmond, Virginia earns about the same annually as one in the LA area — both pull in over $82,000 a

City Link

year. The data indicates that there are 0.59

When the data becomes more granular, other locations appear. In the list of metropolitan areas with the highest employment levels in the category, after New York (hourly wage $31.91) and Los Angeles ($39.85), San Francisco appears, at $29.66 per hour, higher than Chicago’s ($20.90) and possibly attributable to a Silicon Valley effect. Nashville finally arrives, though at a measly $16.32 an hour — lower than Boston, Miami

audio engineers for every thousand workers in LA, while that number drops to 0.09 in Richmond, which is perhaps better known as the capital of the Confederacy than for the regional commercial spots that get done there. Dave Matthews and the still somewhat thriving hip-hop scene in nearby Virginia Beach, however, where the Neptunes and a few colleagues have recording studios, likely help boost the numbers.

or even Seattle. On the other hand, the cost of living in Nashville is far less than in any of those other cities, though any boost that gives the numbers is tempered by the fact that there is so much competition for audio jobs there. One location stands out for the

Now that we have this snapshot, what are the takeaways? For starters, there are a lot of people making solid, middle-class salaries in this business, and that’s important: the middle class of anything — a country, a city or an industry — is what creates stability. The health of music production as a career choice isn’t determined by the relative few who hit the equivalent of a lottery jackpot, but by those who manage to pay the rent, put food on the table, pay their kids’ tuition and get to work on time every day. Secondly, in an era of shaky finance in general, the idea that professional audio can offer a steady paycheck could be

Analyze This

a pragmatic if unsexy selling point. Finally, this data gives us the very human pleasure

You have to do some educated parsing of

of anonymously seeing how we stack up to

the Federal data, simply because Bureau of

our peers. And who doesn’t like comparing

Labour surveys were designed to reflect a

themselves to the next guy?

much broader and more diverse workplace. What audio profession-

Looking for scarcity might be a rewarding employment strategy: An audio professional working in Richmond, VA earns about the same annually as one in the LA area — both pull in over $82,000 a year.

als actually do is itself

This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue of Sound On Sound magazine and is reprinted with permission. Dan Daley is an experienced

increasingly difficult to

journalist and author who has been covering the

pin down as specifi-

business and technology of the entertainment

cally as the job of, say, a

industry for over 17 years. You can

bank examiner or florist. Does a programmer who

Dan’s Off the Record columns at

sync’s backing tracks for a live show qualify for inclusion? Finally, the surveys provide a huge caveat: “Estimates do not include self-employed workers.” It’s reasonable to postulate that at least

fact that its hourly wage is lowest of those

half this industry is self-employed. But con-

reported in this section. Orlando, home to

sidering that getting them (and I consider

massive Disney and Universal theme parks

myself one of that cohort) to fill out a survey

(which use tons of audio), offers audio pros

is like trying to herd cats, these government

an average hourly wage of just $15.44.

statistics are the best economic picture of





TH E M I S S I O N McNally Smith College of Music prepares students for a fulfilling future in music by providing a culture of learning that inspires intellectual, creative, and personal development and that enriches our world through their artistry.

CONTACT: For information about the degree programs offered within the Music Production and Contemporary Writing Division contact:

Kathy Hawks Admissions Director 651. 361. 3450

ISSUE 1 VOL. 1 fa l l / s p r i n g 2012 / 2013



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