About Me

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I live in Brooklyn, NY and I love it here.  I came here for my career in 2009 and haven't once looked back. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Focus on the Narrative...

It's cold in Cape Cod and how the wind howls!  I stepped outside earlier today to go and see if the CVS two doors down from this house was open and had to hold the hat I borrowed from my dad on my head to keep it from getting picked up by the wind.  I was only going to seek out tissues because this head cold has forced me to consume almost every facial tissue that was in this house when we arrived yesterday.

So far, despite having the sicks still, I've had a great time.  Today was a long day of just hanging out in the house and meeting relatives from my mom's side either whom I've never met or wouldn't remember meeting.  Been awful nice to not leave the house all day except for a fruitless trip to an already closed drug store mere steps from the house.  Oh and one slightly longer walk earlier in the day before everyone arrived when it was weirdly warmer.  I think it's helped me get over this cold a little.  Even after taking last Wednesday off, I think I must've relapsed as I have been coughing and coughing and blowing my nose incessantly.

The good thing is my voice has come back up a few notes in pitch and is not squeaky despite the veritable assault of four days of non stop coughing.  The voice over gig is slated for Tuesday at 1pm and I was told in the audition notes "younger, edgier, not voice of god."  You should've heard me Thursday and Friday at work.  People would ask, when I answered the phone, "Tim?" as if I'm the only one whose voice could possibly be that low but acknowledging that something definitely wasn't right.

Yes.  It was me.  Barry White had nothing on me.  But it wouldn't have been appropriate for this read.   Well it might've worked but the point is that's not what they said they want...and after all I have the range...on a good day.  The job is an ad for a new Bourne novel called Bourne Ascendancy.  Kind of an exciting gig, really.  And I really hope I can keep getting gigs like this.  I need stuff to pad my promo demo because I really only have one job and a few solid recordings from coaching sessions that I can include on there now.   The promo demo is something that I've wanted to get rolling for quite a while...really since that first promo gig, "Scarlet," that I did in November 2012.  They've got to be the most fulfilling jobs I do.  Ask anyone who's ever watched network television sitting on the couch next to me.  Whenever a network promo or movie trailer comes on, I mimic the voice style and ham it up.  I love it.

Of course, sounding like those guys is not the only thing that gets jobs.  As my coach and I have discussed in our sessions, it's about sounding believable.  Thinking about the words and not just how my voice sounds.  You can start to obsess over it and then you forget things like properly breathing and a phrase or two could drop out at the end and you have to do a retake and things get slowed down and the director gets impatient and the whole experience can be unpleasant and then they never hire you again.  Okay, that's like, worst case scenario, but you get the idea.  Focus on the script.  Tell the story.

Focus on the script.  Tell the story.  Replace script with narrative and it's good advice for both of my endeavors.  "The Life" score is the same.  If the music is not helping to tell the story and is just there because of some convoluted obsession with canvasing the visuals with aural support, then its effectiveness could be minimal to nil.

Thankfully there's a tiny bit less pressure on the scoring because I can watch the scenes over and over, retreat for a day or so and come back to it and ask myself, "is this still working?"  It's remarkable how I've actually become dissatisfied with my first takes and wanted desperately to go back and fine tune it.  At first, they sounded great (even the director liked them) but now they sound like music playing in the background.  I know that that literally is what it is but you don't want it to sound like music playing in the background.  I'd rather people not notice my music at all until the parts where it's supposed to shine.

At any rate, my first takes now sound childish and elementary, so my second takes sound like gold now that I have a clearer idea of what I want for each scene.  The opening cue is a great example.  I had music playing from the start of the scene and it was basically a structured song with a chord progression and a melody, albeit stripped back.  Just an electric guitar with delay strumming whole note chords and my token backwards guitar melody.   The mood of the music really struck a chord (boy, I really didn't want to use that phrase just then) with the director so we moved forward with it. That cue ended up being on the cut that went to the Boston screening.  But there was something wrong with the audio channels from the dialogue track and when it got burned to DVD some of the character's lines in that scene were completely missing.  So we just had background noise and my music.  So, now all of a sudden, my music is laid bare, flaws in my performances and all.

But what was most compelling was that, on my second listen, I started to realize that a continuous musical idea was not fitting this scene.  The first thing you hear in the opening scene is music.  And once you're hearing it you can't unhear it.  So, all of the other things you're supposed to be noticing about the scene are diminished (especially when the lines of dialogue are missing).

The solution, I figured, was to strip it way back.  I tried an idea with all the audio I had already recorded.  I got rid of the strums on the delayed guitar and didn't even bring in the backwards melody until a few seconds into the scene.  The I let it fade before the main character's dialogue starts.  Then the music, as it was originally orchestrated swells up once the dialogue is done and carries us into the next scene.  This is an oversimplification of what's going on but, let's face it, I've never liked writing about what music sounds like.  Whenever I had to do it in graduate school, all attempts came across as asinine and contrived.  Program notes.  Pssht! Hated that shit.

But, I digress. Essentially, on the first pass, I got the mood right.  But it took a second pass and a mishap at the screening for me to return to it and reevaluate, attempting to also hit the mark with the music's timing and cadence.  It's all about feeling the rhythm of the scene itself and figuring out how to make the music match that rhythm.  Focus on the narrative.  Tell the story.

That's all for tonight guys.  Tomorrow I'm hanging out with my 94 year old Uncle Norman again and my dad's sister, Aunt Suzy before they drop me off in Boston for the bus ride home.  4 hours in a bus and I only have one episode of "True Detective" left.  Wish me luck.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Big things...

I thought I was going to let an entire month go by with just one blog entry.  Truth is I haven't felt like writing.  Not that there haven't been things to write about nor that I haven't been busy.  I guess I just got to a spot where I was re-evaluating this whole blog, its purpose and what it brings to me.  I envisioned it, at first, as a chronicle, and, at some point, I thought maybe I could pepper it with advice on moving to NYC, on being a composer, or on just following your dreams despite the odds.  I've done all those things and various people have taken notice, gotten something from my blog themselves or just cheered me on.

At the end of five years and two months doing this and writing a blog about it, though, it feels like its main purpose is still a journal for me.  And I think I'm okay with that.  For a few months, I'd been perusing so many amazing blogs and seeing what kind of traffic they have and then questioning whether or not I had something so valuable to offer.  Maybe I could find something, if I thought about it.  Maybe I could reinvent my blog altogether.

But then again, don't I have two simultaneous careers going here? I'm getting close to a lot of big things (I've been over how I don't believe in jinxes or superstitious things before), and maybe if I ever do get there, I'll cap off this blog and save it somewhere and start a new one. I'll find the time to write something more valuable and substantial when I figure my shit out.  For now, let me talk about what those big things are.

I just got another voice over gig, slated for next Tuesday, this one an advertisement for a novel.  This is the same guy who hired me to do "Scarlet" a few years back. A repeat customer worth his salt, unlike the one a few summers ago who wanted me to work for peanuts and wouldn't give me copies of my work.  This is also the highest paying single gig yet.  So, I'm feeling pretty good. 

Minus a little bug I'm fighting with a sick day and copious amounts of ginger tea and the like (got some essential oils from a friend, too).  Oh, and one newly delivered memory foam mattress which I unraveled this morning.  You should've seen the thing inflate.  I wasn't even done stripping all the plastic off it before it start to extrude out of the bag and take over my suddenly tiny bedroom. 


It's the most comfortable thing I've ever laid down on.  I already feel millions of times better in it than I have on the old spring mattress.  I was having all kinds of problems of late, with my back, especially my neck and even my ankles (?). 

But moving along, I mentioned that "The Life" had a screening in Boston a few weeks ago.  A few new players are coming on the scene and it's still got a lot of interest behind it.  Survivors at the screening were very moved by it.  And, while we're still working on the edit and all that, I'm back to tweaking the score again.  Unfortunately, because of the timeline of this screening we hadn't had a chance to do any kind of sound design so my score wasn't best represented and one of the producers didn't like it.  The writer/creator/producer that I'm friends with stood up for me and pointed out that the lack of proper sound design basically rendered it nearly impossible to achieve a decent mix with the music.  Plus, these cues were a tad bit thrown together and, in my mind at least, still preliminary, due to the short notice decision to put music on it in the first place, for this screening. 

At any rate, I'm not letting any of that shake me. I've got a great chance to do some meaningful revisions and have already re done most of the score, aiming for much more subtle renderings of my ideas.  I'm in the throes of digesting the first season of "True Detective," as well, and listening closely to the music cues on that one.  Spectacularly done.  All of it. 

It gives me great refreshers on what kind of stuff works and what doesn't.  My aim for this score, as with any score of its nature, is to hide between lines of dialogue and to never draw attention to the score, and overall, just go with a "less is more" approach given the subject matter and the strength of these performances.  I've found that simple things like slowly fading in the musical idea, or just going with something extremely brief at just the right spot instead of covering the whole scene, or even just having the overall volume of it lower, are all very effective methods.  That last one is also why an overall mix that was not given any attention drew attention to all the flaws in the score.  When something doesn't work, you can really tell when it's louder than anything else.   

It's really hard to score like this, incidentally, with things unfinished. So ultimately, I'm going to wait to do my final mix until I've heard something a little more ironed out.  But that doesn't mean I can't keep working now on the overall ideas. 

So, that's where I am.  There's really only one cue for me to retouch.  And then countless (I hope not) revisions on the others.  I have a brand new 12-string guitar coming in the mail soon and will be using that to rerecord one of the cues.  The guitar that I have had since I was 16, I'm finally through with.  It developed a nasty fret buzz on the open E-string, so I took it in to my guitar guy to see what it would take to fix it and he spotted that my bridge was coming away from the body of the guitar.  A few twists of the truss rod got rid of the buzz somewhat but he told me it could be up to $300 to fix everything.  Some of my frets are coming up as well too.  I paid somewhere around $200 for it in 1996.  So, I figured, time for a new guitar...especially since I need it to work on this score.  I'm so psyched about having a new guitar, too.  Not about selling the old one though.  That's always a pain. 

Anyway, up ahead this weekend, for my mother's birthday, I'm heading up to Cape Cod for the weekend.  It should be nice to get away for a hot second...even if it's the Cape and it's going to probably be colder than here.  Some day it will get warmer...I keep telling myself that.  I'll update next week after that VO gig.  Meanwhile, I sleep in my new bed. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The process...

It's good to have goals.  It's great to achieve them sometimes.  But sometimes, it's just amazing to still be trying.  I say this as I sit discouraged in one of the areas I've applied myself while simultaneously more confident than I've ever been in another.  Voice Over felt like it had a strong start this year but none of the audition invites I've had in the past few weeks have turned into anything.  In fact, the only one that got close was cancelled.  Music, on the other hand, has shown some early promise and despite the odds of any of the opportunities I'm presented with really going well, it just feels really invigorating to be writing again.  Creating for a change instead of waiting for things I've put out there to garner me attention. 

This is when I feel most in my element, making something and, in the moment, not caring what happens with it beyond what the director or producer is going to think. That time when my mind hasn't gotten to the point where I'm wondering if the end product will be seen by the right people.  I'm just in my head creating.  I just want to see it get done the same way I can't stand to look at a pile of dishes unwashed in the sink.  I see a project that needs doing and I just go at it until it's done.  The challenge of figuring out the best way to accomplish it, strategically navigating the obstacles of each music cue, the intricacies of the plot and the structure of each scene, that eureka moment when I try something and it works.  All of it is what I live for. 

There was a moment when George and I were going over some of my cues and we decided to try taking two elements from two separate cues from earlier in the episode and melding them together to really highlight a certain change in this one scene.  Unanimous positive reaction and high fives all around.  My mind just buzzing with delight at the accomplishment in the moment.  See?  Why in the hell would I want to do something else besides exactly this? 

I wrapped up the seven cues for the pilot episode (down from a potential ten), just this evening and I'm not even technically done.  This screening on Friday in Boston at the Harvard School of Public Health is a preliminary test screening of sorts and the episode itself still has some phases to go through before we actually premiere it.  A few changes to the edit and pretty much all of the sound design still remain to be tackled.  The idea was for me to get some music on this thing so that it wasn't so rough around the edges when we screen it for the first time.  We lucked out, in fact, that George and I had a good week of nightly meetings since our shifts at NY1 overlap by a half hour.  So we were able to hash things out real time.  Which is a great experience and certainly tops batting emails back and forth and waiting for the other party to reply.

So, anyway, the work there is done for a while but, depending on the degree to which this thing changes and how much the sound design effects my own mix, I will be doing a fair bit more work but the bulk of it is done.  The cues are written, timed, recorded for the most part (though I may re record because, let's face it, I'm a perfectionist), and time codes have been meticulously laid out for start times and all that. But it's an understatement to say that I can't wait for this thing to come to fruition.  We're all hoping it'll open up some doors for us.  But again, regardless, I live for this process so I'm trying not to get up in my head about all that. 

I have another potential job that just came up tonight writing a bumper for a friend, this, in addition to the feature length that I might be doing.  Knowing that I potentially have more work in the future is a huge boost right now.   

Now, I can't even let it get me down that voice over success has not been the same.  The two have progressed at their own rate all along and I've obviously been composing longer than doing voice over.   I choose to take away this from this past two months: I'm still getting attention for my voice and the reasons I didn't get those jobs (besides that one being cancelled) is more likely to do with the clients just wanting a different sound than it is anything to do with my read itself.  Even if it was, that's why I have a voice coach, to whom I'm taking my audio files and those scripts in a week.  In other words, not sitting on my ass and whining about another failure.  I see failure as an opportunity to find out what I did wrong and improve.   No other way. 

With that said, it's late, as it always is when I'm writing, and I should finish this amazing gluten free beer and get ready for another day.  Good night!