Andy's home studio is pretty basic, yet the music he creates in it is broadcast quality and used in TV shows and films on a very regular basis!
Let’s talk about gear and home studio setups: I looked at your studio on our Forum (click here to see it), and I was surprised by its relative simplicity. Here’s the equipment list you published:
Room approximately 12' x 11' x 8' high finished in drywall/sheetrock.
8" monitors on sand filled stands with isolation pads under the monitors.
Audio Technica Headphones for recording and reference.
1 UA 610 tube preamp.
1 Apogee Duet 2 interface.
1 Mac Pro 12 core computer.
Various guitars, basses, percussion, and Akai MPK8888 weighted keyboard.
Various internal and external drives for projects, samples, backups, and archives.
Bazzillions of gigabytes of Virtual Reality.
4" thick 2' x 4' Owens Corning 703 absorbers in all corners and 1st reflection points.
"I record lots of ideas and then I edit them to death and keep paring down until I get to the kernel of the idea."
I think a lot of musicians believe that they’ve got to invest tens of thousands of dollars to get quality sounds in his or her home studio. Can you recommend what you think would be a good setup for somebody who’s serious about doing film and TV cues?
In my opinion, this is the shortcut to a setup if someone doesn’t really have anything:
- A used Mac. I have found that Macs are fairly powerful, will last forever, and although you don’t have Apple Care on older macs, there are lots of them around that can be cannibalized for spare parts. PCs are cool too if you already own one. Save your money!
- A DAW (digital audio workstation) – If you have a Mac, Garage Band works great, and it’s free with the OS. You can upgrade to Logic for $199. It’s hard to beat. If Apple bugs you [laughter] you can buy other brands of DAWs like Ableton, Cubase, or Pro Tools. Reaper is free for non-commercial use, and $60 – I think – for a commercial license. That’s hard to beat!
- An inexpensive audio interface – Lots of people have produced many broadcast quality tracks on a two-channel Focusrite or Presonus unit. They can be purchased for under $200, usually. [Editor’s note: Here are some audio interfaces, including the ones Andy mentioned, and they can often be purchased for as little as $99!]
- A cheap keyboard. Less than $100 will get you something that can at least control your software instruments.
- A Gauge ECM-87 microphone is great if you need to record acoustic things like guitars and vocals.
- Headphones in the $50 to $100 range. Learn what good productions sound like on these and reference against your own works. If you have more money to spend, you can get monitor speakers, which are my choice for working. If you have monitors, $250 invested in sound absorption panels can make things sound more “true” in your room. If you put them on stands then you can move them when you record as well and make a little “booth.”
That’s a basic setup. Probably about $1,000. Less, if you already have a computer!
"I think that simpler pieces work better under picture."
My setup is pretty much exactly like this, except I have made a few upgrades over time. My computer is a 12 core Mac Pro, so it can handle a lot of virtual instruments and lots of tracks and plugins. But I bought it used. In my opinion, you can’t beat used equipment that’s in good shape.
You can always spend lots of cash on upgrades for the future. If you operate your studio to hire out to other clients, you might need to make those expenditures to attract those clients. That’s not what I operate my studio for though. It’s designed for me. That’s why I don’t have a lot of outboard gear. I work totally “in the box,” and if a publisher needs a session broken out into splits [submixes], I can recall the session and export it while I’m eating dinner.
How much TV do you watch to learn more about what it is that shows need from composers – both in the styles of music and the compositions themselves?
I watch some actual TV. I also watch some TV and movies on Netflix. I look at a lot of stuff on YouTube. I would like to score some extreme sports videos, and I am really interested and impressed by what I hear in scores used in heli-skiing and whitewater kayaking videos.
My observation is that composers (who may not know the drill yet) often worry too much about composing the next great opus, rather than noticing that simplicity often works best. Do you see that as well?
Absolutely. It’s the hardest thing for me to write something simple.
My “compositional method” is something maybe like Beethoven – I am a scratcher. I have seen original scores of his where there are holes in the paper where he kept revising and scratching out old ideas.
"I try to remember that the music is supporting the picture. The music isn’t the star by itself in most cases."
I record lots of ideas and then I edit them to death and keep paring down until I get to the kernel of the idea. Usually, that provides the strongest base for my cue. Then I add some additional parts so there is a dynamic arc to the piece, but they are mostly textural doubles, or unison or octave doubles of something that is already there. It was amazing when I learned how to write a piece that is in form A, A, A, A, A. It’s minimalist in a way because you are conserving ideas.
If every cue that you write uses three different ideas, then you’ll have less in your “idea well” than if you write each piece with only one idea. I think that simpler pieces work better under picture as well! It might seem that, by itself it might not have enough music happening, but I try to remember that the music is supporting the picture. The music isn’t the star by itself in most cases.
Don’t miss the final installment of Andy’s Passenger Profile in the October issue of TAXI Transmitter!
Hear Andy’s music here: https://soundcloud.com/andy-gabrys-music