Tim Jones interview

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Tell us a little about yourself and what you do for a living?
My name is Tim Jones. I’m a composer for film and television and a songwriter. I scored five seasons of the TV series, ‘Chuck’ on NBC. I’ve also been fortunate enough to be asked to write scores for films requiring a full orchestra. For Sony Screen Gems Pictures, I traveled to Prague to conduct and record my score with an 85 piece orchestra, 30 voice choir. I also wrote for an ensemble of 8 unique chamber soloists including: viola de gamba, harpsichord, recorder, boy soprano, solo violin, solo cello, glass harmonica and harp.

What is your niche or speciality, that makes you stand out from rest of the audio professionals?
I think one of the things that sets me apart, is the desire to have a foot in old and the new. I strive to have a healthy balance between the analog and the digital. I think there are beautiful things about them both. On the purely digital side, I have a current composing/mixing rig that is:

  • Nuendo on a Fast PC with SSD drives.
  • Sampler Workstation is a PC running VSL Ensemble Pro. This thing is amazing and will stream thousands of voices over a single gigabit Ethernet cable.

Most serious media composers, are using a variation of that same mode of working. So that alone, is not necessarily original. I mention it, because I also have (and use constantly) lots of hardware/outboard gear that lives outside the computers. A good portion of it was invented, and in heavy use, decades before computers became the entire ‘studio’.

Can you give us a brief summary of the equipment you use regularly?
The nexus of my studio is: SSL AWS900+SE mixing console.

I bring all the audio from the computer via MADI into (2) SSL Alphalink Converters that show up on the analog inputs to the board. I also record to a 2” 24 track Otari MTR90MkII with 24 channels of Dolby SR as an option.

Together, the analog and digital (once converted to analog) gets mixed at the board with automation from Nuendo. The final, mixed stems are sent via MADI to Pro Tools 10 running on a separate machine downstairs. While I have audio up on the board, I use a variety of outboard gear, hardware synths, guitars, flutes, and drums to create, shape, mangle, caress and generally harass the sound.

A partial list:

OUTBOARD GEAR (highlights)

  • Korg MR-1000 DSD recorder (I record archival, 5.6Mhz DSD mixes straight from the SSL console. For me, it’s a fantastic way to capture as much detail as possible before down converting to other PCM sample/bit rates.)
  • Pultec EQH-2 EQ
  • AMS RMX16 reverb
  • (2) AMS DMX15-80s digital delays
  • (2) TC Electronic 2290 Digital Delays
  • (3) Lexicon PCM96(S) reverbs (one is a surround unit)
  • Bricasti M7 reverb system with remote
  • TC Electronic System 6000 reverb, mastering system
  • (2) Messenger Mic/line tube preamps
  • API lunchbox (512c preamps, 550b EQs, 525 compressors)
  • A Designs Pacifica 2 ch. Mic pre
  • Grace m906 Surround monitoring system
  • (5) Adam P22 monitors, (2) Adam Sub12 woofers

INSTRUMENTS (highlights)

  • EoWave MkII Suitcase Ribbon Synth
  • Moog Rogue, (4)Slim Phatties, Taurus III
  • Oberheim SEM Pro
  • Moon Modular CV sequencer
  • Gibson 1962 SG Jr. in TV yellow
  • Gibson 1959 Les Paul Jr. Double Cutaway in Sunburst
  • Martin 2006 D35 Johnny Cash model in Black lacquer.
  • Kay 1960’s thinline hollow body bass with Beatle approved flat wound strings ;-)

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

  • Valhalla reverb plug ins.
  • Waves Puigtec EQ, La2a, 1176
  • Soundtoys (haven’t been able to use them for a while since last I checked, they weren’t 64 bit yet. Love them though.)

SOFTWARE:

  • Ableton Live (probably the most inspiring piece of software I’ve ever used. It is an instrument unto itself.)
  • Nuendo 5.5 (My main environment. Really dig this software.)
  • Melodyne (also, an amazingly creative tool when used to do things other than tuning vocals. Ever tune a cymbal to DMaj7 flat 5? or tune a swarm of bees into a major or minor key? The possibilities are endless…)

When do you find you are most creative?
Between 5:45 and 6:05 am… Seriously though, I do enjoy getting up early in the morning. It’s such a quiet and contemplative time of day. You have hours before the phone starts ringing. Those distractions that we all deal with in an average day can be death to creativity.

I have a routine. It helps me to continue producing music even when the ‘meter’ isn’t running. It makes me a much happier person in general. If you pay attention to that little, fuzzy creative entity inside, it doesn’t get pissed off and screw up your life! I never had a ‘plan B’. I’m getting a little old to be a firefighter, and following my Dad’s footsteps as a fighter pilot was off the table a long time ago. Guess I better continue figuring out how to do music for a living…

What is your usual process for creating audio content for games, films etc.?
Every project is different in the way I begin. The common thread is my need to find a way under the skin of each project. It’s not enough for me to know that I have to create music in a certain style etc. I have to know ‘why’ I’m creating it. Part of my process is to come up with an overarching ethos or concept for the film or show. It’s almost a license for the music to exist. That may be a bit abstract, so here is an example. My latest project is ‘Cult’ on the CW. It is a very creepy, David Lynch kind of TV show. The music needed to be unique and have a recognizable voice of its own. Early in the process, I came up with the idea of giving ‘Cult’ a score that sounded like it was made with things you would find in the attic. That was the jumping off point I needed to get going. To me, that ended up meaning wood, scraped metal, old vintage synths and FX, music boxes, bells, and treated voices. Although I will add: If you are hearing those things come out of your attic, I would recommend a priest or at the very least a thorough exterminator…

Are there any particular secrets to your creativity?
I certainly can’t take credit for this concept, because I think I’ve heard Brian Eno talk about it recently. The answer for me: Mistakes.

I wait for mistakes. I love them, cultivate them. I try to leave room for a little chaos and entropy in my music. Those are the things that make it come alive for me and hopefully others. This next thing was probably the most difficult obstacle a child of dual, serial overachievers has ever had to overcome. Please Listen Carefully: Perfection is a myth. What?! Did milk just come out of your nose? It’s TRUE ladies and gentleman. The irrational pursuit of perfection can be soul crushing if chased to the extremes. So how does the rubber hit the road you may ask? These are a couple ways I try to leave room for some ‘inspiration’ (sometimes comes in form of mistakes).

  • I’m trying to perform more and more parts live in the studio, and with other musicians! Gasp…
  • Try to do less editing, where it isn’t needed. I’m not saying it should not sound good. We practice our instruments and craft for a reason. But, why quantize the stuffing out of something that is perfectly imperfect?

Any specific “lessons learned” on a project that you could share?
Sure. Remember I said, ‘Learned the hard way’? Well, it’s pretty simple:

  • Turn things in on time.
  • You’re not writing operas (unless you are, then you people can skip this one.)

I was working on a TV show. I was so caught up in delivering ‘perfect’ tracks, that I blew a deadline. In my opinion, I did the best thing I could under the circumstances. I spoke with my producers and said, ‘Yes, I really messed that up. I’m deeply sorry, and to prove it, here is a whole bunch of money to pay for lost time on the dub stage.”

Writing music for Film and TV (and other venues) ultimately comes down to delivering a product. Of course, as artists, we always want things to be as close as possible to our internal visions of what the product ‘should be’. Do it, make it awesome. However, don’t be afraid to do the very best you can in the time allowed. If you always deliver things on time, nobody will notice the extra things you wanted but left out for time.

Any tips, hints or motivational speeches for the readers?
Oh man, I’m certain your readers have come to the end of their patience. All I have to say is:

  • Make art. Make art in many varieties: Good, Bad, Mediocre, with a twist and without. Welcome those ‘mistakes’ as happy accidents and have fun doing what you love.

Thanks for listening to me ramble. I would sincerely like to hear from the readers. I’m fascinated by how different artists approach their craft.

Thank you Audio Spotlight!