Mark Smythe interview

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

I’m a New Zealand-born, Australian-trained composer currently based in LA. I score films and write classical music, most notably choral works but more recently a harp commission. My first screen job was actually as an actor on Xena: Warrior Princess – I played a Centaur.

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

I’m not good at big-noting myself, so I’ll quote Jeff Beal here: “I think you have something very unique in your choral writing, and that could help set yourself apart from the PACK of others trying to scratch their way into work in town.”

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

Mac Pro, iPad, Focusrite Saffire Pro interface, M-Audio BX-5 monitors, Sennheiser HD380 phones, sE2200a II condenser mic, Casio CDP-120 controller (very basic but GREAT action; better than many fancier controllers); my beautiful blood-red hollow body electric – Yamaha SA503 TVL.

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

Nothing overly flash…Logic Pro, East West QLSO Gold, Finale, random music mag free sample loops…that’s it! Probably should get more libraries but waiting until I’m more settled in LA.

When do you find you are most creative?

Afternoons or very late at night. I don’t think I’ll ever be an early starter. Mornings I’m absolutely useless until I’ve had a strong coffee.

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

Varies depending on the job. If I can read a script and have the time luxury of writing preliminary sketches I’ll do that – worked well for last year’s Australian feature (Daddy’s Little Girl); one piano idea ended up in the front of the trailer and was a recurring theme throughout the film. BUT that was an ideal scenario; most often I score to lock off picture after spotting/brief – piano sketches first then flesh them out with orchestrations. If there’s a temp cue in any of the scenes I’ll note tempo and tone, then mute the bastard.

Are there any particular secrets to your creativity?

Not sure if this is a ‘secret’, but my best ideas seem to come out of nowhere…and I fear this ‘nowhere’ place may abandon me one day, at the worst possible moment. Apart from that, I try to stay true to my own ‘voice’.

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

Using my choral recordings! Mixed parts of my Umbra Animae over some choppy strings in the aforementioned film trailer (see below).

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

Don’t expect a first time director to necessarily know what a guide track means. I once sent a mockup for approval that was orchestra + soprano; the latter being a piano guide track so I wouldn’t waste time on multi soprano recordings. Director’s reply: “I can’t hear the singing”.

Any tips, hints or motivational speeches for the readers?

Patience, persistence and positivity (the last one can be hard if you’re not applying the first two).