Zhivko Nikolaev interview

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

My name is Zhivko Nikolaev, better known as Mystix Instrumentals. I’m 21 years old, I was born and currently living in Bulgaria. A few years ago at the age of 14 my interest in music started to grow. I bought my first guitar and I started learning on my own but one instrument just wasn’t enough so I became interested in music making software as well. It was six years of learning, recording and producing music just for fun, in my free time, between going to school and work, until I was forced to push it to the next level when I suddenly got fired and left without a job. Yeah, it could be really stimulating. I discovered that there are many opportunities for music composers like me and I quickly started to adapt to the new environment. For two years now I’ve been working as a freelance sound designer and composer and for those two years I received many custom-made audio commissions and won 13 international music and sound design contests just for the first 12 months. And I’m still green! :)

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

When it comes to custom-made audio, I have skills in multiple disciplines and I can handle anything you throw at me. I have experience working in many various musical genres, creating sound effects for many different products in all kinds of areas. What makes me stand out is myself – I had lots of opportunities to prove that I can do the job better than 400-500 other musicians that are freelancers, professionals and even teachers, and I proved it.

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

I have a home studio where you can find a powerful desktop PC with two terabytes of hard drive full of my sound libraries, audio editing and music making software. Squier’s Vintage Modified Stratocaster, M-Audio’s BX5 D2 studio monitors and ProFire 610 audio interface that supports 24 bit/192kHz sound.

What are your go-to plug-ins and software?

I’m working mainly with Image-Line’s Fruity Loops Studio + NI Komplete 8 Ultimate. Going deeper into audio editing, Adobe Audition CS6 and Celemony Melodyne are coming really handy. If you think about picking the guitar up, don’t invest your time and cash in a processor, all you need is Guitar Rig 5.

When do you find you are most creative?

There is no hour of the day, day in the week or week in the month when you can get creative. Ideas just hit you, just like that! No matter what time of the day it is, whether I’m in the studio, waiting for the dentist, walking in the street or just lying in bed late at night, ideas are forming inside my head, I figure it all out, I take notes in my head and I just can’t rest until I finally do it as I imagined it. The thing is to let it come naturally, it doesn’t work by force, so whenever you feel stuck, give it a rest and start fresh after a while.

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

-Well, firs thing’s first! I read the brief carefully, two times if I have to, until I get the whole picture. If something isn’t clear enough and there’s doubt, I start asking questions. When I get the whole idea I try not to think about how I would get it done, but how the client imagines it sounding and this is very important.

-If there are any reference files such as scripts, videos, voice-overs etc. I go through them really carefully and I try to notice every little detail there is because these things work in your advantage if you fully understand them.

-Right after the first two steps I do a little research on my clients. Anything you can find on the web is useful: what’s the company all about, what kind of people work there, what kind of previous products they have developed and if you can, get your hands on these products to see how they work and how exactly are they made. This can give you even more advantage if you have just 10 minutes to spare.

-Then, with all this information in my head and the deadline marked on the calendar I can start building the work plan in my head, take a look at similar products for even more inspiration and go through my libraries to see if there’s something useful for the exact situation.

-Now, when it’s a-a-all figured out, I can finally start working! I don’t have to tell you how that goes, everyone has their own methods.

-When I’m done working and I have a demo for the client, there are two more steps to cover before I’m finished and they are:
First, I give the demo to someone I trust to give me an objective opinion of it, in my case, I play it to my wife. This is important because you can’t hear it that clearly after hours of working on it and your ears need a rest. Maybe if you hear it an hour later, after watching a movie or listening to some of your favourite songs, you’ll be able to judge it more clearly. Second, if I have positive feedback from someone else, I take a quick look at the brief again and if it all fits, it’s now ready to be sent to client.

Are there any particular secrets to your creativity?

Usually I don’t, but my uncle gave me for Christmas some kind of Zen candlestick that is supposed to boost your inspiration and creativity! I have it here in my studio sitting on one of my monitors, I light it up sometimes. There it goes, it no secret now!

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

Oh, yes I do have! I figured out a thing or two of my own but I’m still perfecting these techniques so I’ll maybe talk about it more next time. For now I’ll just say that I love to explore to the last detail the abilities of any audio editing software that I can get my hands on. It’s a bit of an effort, but combining the qualities of the different tools you have near at hand, can reward you with great results.

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

You do what you do and you’ll learn all kinds of lessons! I’ll talk to you about something that I think is really important, no matter how experienced you are.
Go easy on clients, most of them don’t have a clue when it comes to audio production. They might give you a brief that you’ll misunderstand or suddenly change their minds about what they actually need and you can end up starting to work from scratch. I know how frustrating that can be at the time, I’ve seen people respond to this kind of stuff in the ugliest ways possible but you have to remember that you have a reputation to build, or keep, and a single implication of bad behaviour can cost you another two or three jobs because you won’t get a recommendation. Another piece of advice – respect people’s time! Don’t call clients, they get to call you if they need anything. Write e-mails and wait for them to respond in their free time, after all they don’t think about your progress all day long.
The “lesson learned”, or to cut the long story short – stay professional, it opens doors at every step!

Any tips, hints or motivational speeches for the readers?

Here’s something I wish I could have learned a long, long time ago – you can’t always trust your parents :D especially when they say that music isn’t going to take you anywhere. There are too many examples that can prove them wrong, just do your thing, figure out a way to be good at it, figure out a way to become even better at it and you’ll be one of those examples… but you shouldn’t care anyway. And even when you get there, there’s always something ready to go wrong and you just can’t be prepared for anything. But less head banging and more problem solving is always a great idea.