Axel Rohrbach interview


Find Axel @
BOOM library

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do for a living?

My name is Axel Rohrbach, I am the Creative Director of the “Boom Library” and Senior Sound Designer at “Dynamedion”. Coming from a musical family (my grandfather was a professional violinist, my father a pianist who later founded the largest german private music school) I got into contact with music at the age of 3. Moving on this path I finished my Masters degree in Music Technology in the Netherlands and already worked on a bunch of music productions for Universal Music during that time. After my studies I started at Dynamedion, Europe’s largest game audio facility. I mainly did sound design for games, ranging from little independent browser and handheld stuff to AAA titles and trailers. In 2010 I founded a sound effects library called “Boom Library” together with the founders of Dynamedion, Pierre Langer and Tilman Sillescu. Today I mostly spend my time working on new sound effect libraries. In addition I am still doing some TV, movie, trailer and game audio work.

What is your niche or speciality, that makes you stand out from rest of the audio professionals?

We started doing some custom libraries for our own work first until we had the idea to put some useful packages together. What we mainly missed in other libraries were enough similar variations to create similar effects without using the same source recording. Also, we often had the problem that sounds were over-compressed or too processed in general, giving us no or less creative range in the process of designing new sounds. So, one of the main specialities of the Boom Library is the “Construction Kit”, featuring only cleaned and cropped source recordings to give our clients ultimate creative freedom.

Our “Designed” collections, on the other hand, feature fully designed and processed sounds for instant use. We create those using solely the corresponding “Construction Kit” files system. From what we hear from the industry and our clients, our quality is outstanding – which might be a speciality as well. Of course we try to only get top notch material into our libraries, but I guess that is what everyone tries and probably not on me to judge. :D

Concerning the work for hire projects we do for games, movies etc., our speciality is efficiency in time as well as quality, output and budgets. We are extremely flexible because we cover a lot of audio fields with a big team of audio specialists. Our so-called “Open Orchestra Sessions” make it possible to offer composers the chance to have their works orchestrated and recorded with a live orchestra at very low rates , we have an extensive 2000 track license music data base which you have probably heard in movie trailers already, we are able to do all sorts of field recordings etc. This only works because we can put together a team suited to any needs that come up from our clients on the fly.

Can you give us a brief summary of the equipment you use regularly?

I am on a fairly old mac computer with OSX.7.5 (waiting for the finally announced new Mac Pro). I have a 5.1 Genelec speaker setup with a FireFace UCX for monitoring only. Our go-to recording setup is a Sound Devices 744T with Sennheiser MKH 8050 / MKH30 MS or MKH8040 XY microphones. We have a bunch of other recorders and microphones here, but those are more for specific applications. Also, for huge sessions we rent additional equipment.

What are your go-to plug-ins and software? (virtual instruments, audio processing etc.)

I work on three main hosts for different tasks, namely ProTools, Logic Pro and Wavelab. Excel is a key application as well for all kinds of organisational work, which is a lot for big projects or our libraries. I don’t use too many different plug-ins, but a few I always go to are the brainworx series (Digital V2 and XL), a few Waves Plug-Ins (H-Comp, Ren Bass, Air Bass) and the Sonnox Oxford Limiter. Those are more or less in every session I have.

When do you find you are most creative?

Funny enough, I tend to be most creative under time pressure. When I do have time to create new stuff I tend to experiment so much that nothing useful comes out in the end. Being stressed seems to connect some more brain-parts in my head, giving me ideas and creative ways to approach the goals I want to reach.

What is your usual process for creating audio content for games, films etc.?

First of all it is very important for me to understand the mood the media wants to transport to the end-user. I want to give every production we do a custom character or style. Once I have defined that for myself, I start going into details. Depending on the time given or mass of content to create, my first steps are usually to check if any custom recordings have to be done. This might involve some organisation, calls and connections to make so for me it makes the most sense to start with that. Having the recordings or source material I need to create the actual content, I simply open my sequencer, start to create a basic mixer setup I think I will need and start with the most intense scenes or sounds. If these scenes are not the loudest part I try to get the loudest part done right after that, to set a maximum for myself. This helps me create a nice range of dynamic.

Are there any particular secrets to your creativity?

As mentioned above, my personal secret is stress. Another thing is that I write down different approaches which I can recall later for similar sounds and improve or alter those for the new needs. I still start from scratch every time, which is why I really take text-notes, not simply template songs or something like that, to keep the learning-by-doing rolling. I tend to reflect a lot about my own work concerning both creativity and quality, and I try to improve all aspects every morning I am sitting in my studio again.

Do you have any audio creation techniques that resulted in something interesting?

There are many different ways I tend to start from, depending on what I want to create.

A) One way is to through a bunch of suitable sounds in the host, wildly combining them until something cool is coming out. After that I start to do the real work on the details.

B) A second, more common way for my work is to try to use as few sounds as possible. Trying to find or record a sound that already has a lot of stuff I need and from there processing and combining the sound with itself in processed variants.

C) When I have new plug-ins I tend to browse through all the presets first to get an impression what the plug-in is capable of. That has given me a lot of inspiration in the past.

D) Pitching and time stretching files randomly (I use Audiofinder for that because it is so easy to get an impression) often results in something interesting. Especially when it comes to higher pitches or faster playback speeds I am often surprised how good that works.

Any specific “lessons learned” on a project that you could share?

The lesson I learned in the past is that it is always about the output. The idea you have in mind and to create the audio of that idea. To find ways to create exactly what you had in mind, not relying on chance to get results. Improving the skill to create and not to throw dices is extremely difficult but it’s the only way for me to become a better audio guy. That not only improves your quality, but also your creativity and reliability of your work. As discussed in topic 8, it is of course useful to let yourself get inspired by accidents, but that is no skill or progress of work, it’s just experimenting.

Any tips, hints or motivational speeches for the readers?

The sentence “learning by doing” is something really important for me. But that implies that it is necessary to actively learn while doing. Only “doing” doesn’t lead to any improvement, for me it is absolutely relevant to reflect, rework, improve, keep track of what I’m doing, try to understand and memorize. So every day is some kind of school I am going through to keep on getting better and better.

There are a lot of guys saying “If I had the money to buy some really good equipment my results would be better, but without good results I don’t get a job and without a job I am not able to get good equipment”. Of course it’s important to have some equipment, but we’re talking about a basic computer, a host sequencer and a microphone here. Once you have learned how to get the best results out of your particular setup, you can figure out which the most inefficient piece of gear you have is and start upgrading piece by piece – you will learn a lot more than by buying the most expensive gear there is without knowing how to use it. Pieces of equipment are only tools – of course a cordless screwdriver is useful, but you can get the screw into the board with an old school analogue screwdriver as well. So equipment can only be an excuse, not the real problem. The motivational part of this break would be: equipment is not an issue, creativity and skill are. Tons of awesome productions or single sounds have been done with the most basic equipment used right.