Tell us a little about yourself and what you do for a living?
I’m an American recording artist and film/TV/video game composer. I just spent two years writing, recording and producing a full-length album project called EASTERN CHRONICLE where I traveled through East Asia recording and playing with a lot of different world musicians.
In addition to my music career, I’m also an international speaker and founder of SCOREcast. I’ve played drums since I was five years old and keep busy with studio and live work in and around Los Angeles, New York and Nashville.
What is your niche or speciality, that makes you stand out from rest of the audio professionals?
I think my percussion background gives me a real edge. I’m also a real serious student of all music. I’m not conservatory trained or anything like that like, but more the type of guy who was “raised on radio” and developed and refined my craft playing in all kinds of different live situations and learning to write on the road.
I also think I’m different in that I’m a fairly developed businessman. I know that sounds like a strange answer, but I believe they call it the “music business” for a reason — it’s a business first. I’m confident in my abilities to see new opportunities for my work in odd places and in corners where I think most musicians either don’t really pay attention or just come late to the party. Because of that, I’ve been able to be relatively picky about what I work on which gives me a terrific amount of freedom to just do what I “want to”, not what I “have to”.
Can you give us a brief summary of the equipment you use regularly?
Sure! I’m an Apple guy, always have been. Started on them and will probably die on them unless they die on me first! I like the synergy that Apple hardware and Apple software provide me, so I use a mobile rig that I built to do EASTERN CHRONICLE which utilises a highly customised Mac Mini with an onboard SSD drive and a handful of SSD-housed Thunderbolt enclosures. I use Logic from back to front. When I write film scores I tend to sketch everything out in Sibelius and then take it to Logic to produce and mix the prerecords.
What are your go-to plug-ins and software? (virtual instruments, audio processing etc.)
For EASTERN CHRONICLE I shunned a lot of the normal options in favor of many vintage synths like a Linn LM-1, an Oberheim and a Mini Moog, but I also broke out Omnisphere many times and also used a little bit of u-he’s Zebra synth on a couple tracks. Omnisphere is really amazing because you can easily get under the hood and tweak to your heart’s delight. I also have many friends who are sound designers and know synthesis much more intuitively than I do — people like Matt Bowdler and John Lehmkuhl — so I rely on them for their programming prowess quite a bit, too. You can get all their stuff online and it’s all quite lovely and powerful.
When do you find you are most creative?
I like to work a normal day. Up at dawn and writing by six or so I can be done by three or 4pm and home eating dinner and hanging out with my family. I’m not the night owl I was when I was in my early twenties and playing in bands. That wears thin pretty fast as you get more efficient and more adept in this business. You get smarter so you learn to work smarter, too.
One thing I’ve learned over the years of working is that my environment is a conduit to a perfect creative ecology so I have different places that meet different creative needs. I was in Asia for 18 months working on EASTERN CHRONICLE and it wouldn’t have worked any other way. Northeast Asia and the South Pacific Islands were the catalyst to that music getting written. But my next project is going to happen on a different latitude and longitude with a completely different vibe and I’m super excited to it going. If I’m writing a film score I’m almost always in Los Angeles because that’s where my director or producer teams are. If I’m working on a record as a drummer I’m in New York, LA or Nashville, which all have their own distinct vibe and creative environment. If I’m working on another Deane Ogden project, I’m usually in Bali, Kyoto, Buenos Aires or someplace with even more sunlight than those! It’s always changing. I just like to work on cool stuff, so I’ll pretty much just go wherever it leads.
What is your usual process for creating audio content for games, films etc.?
That changes too. Technically, I seldom use templates unless I’m writing a ton of stuff in the same vein or if I’m scoring a film where the music is all wrapped up in leitmotifs or recurring thematic material. Logistically, it’s really dependent on who you are working with and how they like to work. On film projects, most directors I’ve worked with have left me to do my thing and then check in as the schedule gets tighter and things are wrapping up. I think I’ve been lucky that way. I’ve only had one director who was a raging micro-manager. And even then, you have to adapt to their workflow because you are part of a team. It’s a service job. So I’m writing, writing, writing until they call and want to hear something or until I call and tell them I need them to hear something. We work back and forth like that until we finally reach simpatico approval and then I can tighten everything up and put the finishing flourish on the parts before we record the musicians. If I’m working on a personal project, then it’s all up to me. I can line things out the way I want to and nothing is pushing me or rushing me except for my own internal deadline. Those are the best of times because I can really do my work best creative work without the imposed limitations of outside forces. I did EASTERN CHRONICLE that way and it’s really the best of all worlds.
Are there any particular secrets to your creativity?
I guess one would be to not over-clock myself. I used to be the guy who said, “You have to go go go go until it’s done.” “Burn the midnight oil, man!!” That type of thing. I don’t work that way anymore. Composers love to say that stuff because we think it makes us look and sound impressive, but I don’t have anything to prove to anybody so I really don’t give a shit. It’s not a race. I pace myself, but I plan to pace myself. Even when I’m on a film deadline and they are dictating the schedule, I still find a way to pace it so that I’m not rushed and I’m never freaking out. I’m not a high-stress person and I can take on a lot without breaking anyway, but even more so because I plan my days out and I’m as organised as I think a person can be and still maintain a sharp creative edge. If I start to lose my grip, then I know I’m out of my planning regimen and I need to regroup and retool for the next leg of the project or I’m going to slip. In film and TV schedules, there is no room for slipping, so that simply cannot happen. I have to stay on top with a solid plan. A full six to seven hours of sleep each night. A certain number of minutes of music per day. A certain milestone achievement by a certain time on a game project or whatever. In records and my own personal projects, that schedule is there too, but it’s mostly internal rather than external like on film or TV projects.
Do you have any audio creation techniques that resulted in something interesting?
Sure, I have my little secrets. Mostly for recording percussion and drums. I’ve been doing that all my life so I’ve made just about every mistake possible. I mentioned before about synths, and I love working with them. I think synths are some of the greatest instruments to create for because there are virtually no limits to what you can do with most of them. I try to use everything like it is a physical instrument that knows no bounds. That includes humans. Players. As much as synths help us pull of cool musical acrobatics, human beings with wire and horsehair and steel and wood at their fingertips are still the best resource a composer can get his or her hands on. Players… People… Are extremely underrated in today’s musical climate. If you let people do what they’ve worked all their lives to do and then you concentrate on what you’ve worked all your life to do, you will be blown away by the results. You don’t have to write every little thing out and delineate every little part as something you had to write yourself. Let your players run with their own ideas. Take in their suggestions. Listen when they speak. Hear them out. If they have an idea, explore it for a minute rather than just dismissing it because you weren’t the one who came up with it. Chances are their ideas about how their instruments work are far better than whatever your idea was and it will only serve to make your music sound better. That’s what we are all there for — to make the music sound the best it possibly can.
Any specific “lessons learned” on a project that you could share?
Oh, man. I guess the biggest lesson is something I learned recently while recording EASTERN CHRONICLE and that is that not everything has to be 100% perfect. You know, with samples being close to perfect now and plugins being so meticulously scripted and recording software being so technologically advanced, it’s very easy for things to start sounding sterile and contrived and even fake. It sounds so perfect that it sounds fake. Have you ever looked at a photograph that someone took… Maybe of a beautiful landscape or something. A big oceanic scene or a photo of Mt. Fuji or something and you looked at it and thought, “Damn, that doesn’t even look real!” It’s like it’s so amazingly perfect that it looks fake. Well, that’s how a lot of music sounds to me these days. Completely produced in a laboratory. Zero flaws. And I’ve learned that the very best stuff out there doesn’t have that perfect “sheen” to it. I was recording a group of little girls in Sri Lanka for EASTERN CHRONICLE on a tune called “The Monsoon Song” and they kept goofing around and being little girls and dropping candy and laughing and teasing each other and laughing some more and I was getting mad and frustrated… And then I just thought, “You know what? THIS IS WHAT I WANT!!” I wanted that sincerity in their performance. I wanted them to have fun because I wanted that vibe to come across in the music. So I just kept it all in there and you can hear it clearly in the track. They are singing, but they are just so full of joy about it. Some of them aren’t even signing the right words, but it doesn’t matter because their smiles are louder than their voices, and that’s what makes it great.
Any tips, hints or motivational speeches for the readers?
Never ever lose sight of why you became a musician first. Work in this business for any length of time and you’ll start to forget the reason for getting into it to begin with. That’s suicide, as far as I’m concerned. The minute you start making decisions based on anything but the pure joy of being a Creative Artist — money, prestige, connections, etc. — you might as well go dig ditches for a living because it’s no longer about “The Reason”. I call it “The Reason” because it’s really that important. If it’s not about “The Reason” then it’s about something else and anything else but “The Reason” and you probably would have not made the same decision way back when. You wouldn’t choose to do this simply to “exist”. To just maintain a career. To just hang in there to hang in there. None of those things are life-giving. The only thing that will fuel you over the long haul is that original reason why you fell in love with music. “The Reason” for the decision to turn pro and not do something easier or more socially redeemable. If you never forget “The Reason” then you’ll never lose your way. I’m convinced of that. They can throw anything at you but you’ll always be anchored by “The Reason”. They can tell you anything. You’re no good. You’re not pretty. You’re not marketable. You’re not right for the project. You’re not good in a room. Whatever, a million things. But none of that stuff matters because you know that you know that you know “The Reason”. It’s everything.