Bruce Nazarian: Producer, Recording Artist
Part 2 of a 4 part series
This is part 2 of a four part interview series with the amazing Bruce Nazarian: producer, engineer, composer, recording artist, radio show host, educator and all-around innovator. You can listen to the podcast and/or read along.
Interview took place on September 9, 2012.
[When we left off from Part 1, Bruce had secured a record deal with the Automatix, which was sadly cut from the roster by Irving Azoff, who had taken over A&R for the record company. Bruce was able to enrich himself by keeping the recording studio that the record deal had paid for. Interview continues...]
Bruce: Unfortunately the gear was on a lease, so that meant I had to make money, which meant I had to open the studio up for commercial endeavors -- and that lasted about a year and I got sick and tired of having a commercial studio because…
Hugh: I understand that.
Bruce: It would be a great business except for the clients.
Hugh: Exactly. "God damn customers"!
Bruce: Yeah, exactly.
Hugh: I hear you bro.
Bruce: So what happened was through one thing to another and while this is going on of cause I'm still doing sessions and along the way as part of the "Was (Not Was)" crew, which I had been doing sessions on since the very first days of the band. I was kind of a charter member of the Was (Not Was) and played bass on a couple of records, played guitar on a lot of records and along the way I met Duane Bradley who was this very talented nightclub DJ, a dance record DJ. And the path got even weirder, because we put together production partnership, and in the early 80s, I started producing dance music with Duane.
Bruce: Yeah, and unfortunately Duane passed on -- so sad. He was a very talented guy, and knew everything there was to know about what grooves to work in the club and how to mix stuff, and so we wound up making dance music. And there's a whole string of those records out there that I can send you the information on -- a couple of them actually did fairly well on the dance charts. One thing led to another and we did a single on Mildred Scott, who was a very well-known Detroit singer who changed her name to Millie Scott. We got a 12 inch deal with Fourth and Broadway Records and put a record out called "Prisoner of Love". Next thing you know, it's a hit record, and we get an album deal. So back we go into the studio, and now it's like I'm working on an album production for Millie, and I'm thinking hey, this is way more fun than doing dance records. Because when you make dance records you do them on "spec" [speculation where pay is based on unrealized future profits] and then you take them to New York and you try to sell them.
Bruce: But when you have a budget, you've already paid for the record. So it's really just a question of being creative, so we made the first record and it turned out pretty good, and we got a second deal out of them, and they upped Millie from Fourth and Broadway, which is a subsidiary label to Island Records -- and second album came out on Island Records.
Hugh: That's a pretty big company. Island's pretty big.
Bruce: Yeah absolutely, Chris Blackwell's gift to the music industry. What was interesting about this is I hinted earlier that I was into the technology stuff early on. What happened was when we started doing dance records, I started working with MIDI and sequencers, and actually I started even before there was MIDI, because I bought one of the very first, if not the first Yamaha DX7 keyboard with MIDI that ever came to city of Detroit. Before then, I was working with the Oberheim OBX and the (DSX) sequencer module that went with that, and the drum machine that went with that (DMX.)
Hugh: Yeah, the DMX was like the first drum machine wasn't it? Was it Oberheim that created the first drum machine or was it Linn drum?
Bruce: It was Roger Linn.
Bruce: The LM-1 was the very first one that we were aware of other than Roger Nichols' Wendel and the LM-1 quickly, became the Linn Drum which became the standard of drums machines for a long time. I made my first couple of dance records using the Oberheim sequencer, and when I found the Linn 9000, which was like a next generation Linn Drum + MIDI sequencer, I was in heaven. Because the Linn 9000 was what really made the records easy, and organized things. A lot of records that I made early on were Linn 9000, and after a couple of records with that stuff, I started going to New York to sell these, and while I was in New York I happened to take a chance visit to the office of New England Digital on the 12th floor of 1501 Broadway. The memories are flooding back. And I saw this thing called the Synclavier ["SYN-kla-veer"] and I was blown away.
Hugh: Okay, let's just go back a minute just for my listeners, the Linn drum and the OB8 is it?
Bruce: Well, the OB8 was the 8 voice synthesizer, and the Linn 9000 was the second generation Linn drum + midi sequencer.
Hugh: These were the things that were being used like around the time of for example Madonna's "Borderline" song? That's the sound that we are talking about.
Bruce: Yeah. And the thing that was interesting about Linn drum was that it was huge pain in the ass to change sounds, because all the sounds were on chips.
Hugh: And they were all the same, so all the songs sounded the same, kind of.
Bruce: Unless you were clever enough, to know how to digitalize new sounds and get them burned onto the new chips…
Hugh: That's like, everybody could do that… yeah right.
Bruce: Then you could, right, then you could replace the chips in your Linn Drum, Well, with the Linn 9000 you had different sets of sounds and the thing that was cool about it was the sounds were changeable. So the Linn 9000 could take on any kind of drum personality that you wanted, as long as you had the samples. So this is the early heyday of what sampling is all about. And the Linn 9000 was great, but I quickly outgrew what it could do and I wanted something more, and when I saw the Synclavier at the New England office in New York, and in particular, when I saw what Peter Schwartz, the product specialist, could do with it, I said "I want that".
Hugh: Let me see if I understand the Synclavier - it's a very large console of a keyboard and complete computer system built into it, which you can construct huge structures of music, and Frank Zappa got heavily involved with it, and few other people.
Bruce: Right. But the thing that was interesting about the Synclavier was that it was not only a wonderful digital music generator -- the very first Synclavier unit generated FM sounds that were completely different than Yamaha eventually wound up with, with the DX series. And it was kind of clunky, and it was sorta interesting. I think most people may not remember, but the only time they probably ever heard the Synclavier that they were aware of hearing the Synclavier, was that it opening sound on Michael Jackson's Billie Jean. The big loud BONGGGGG
Hugh: Are you sure that wasn't Beat It?
Bruce: Beat it, sorry.
Hugh: Okay, got you.
Bruce: Thank you, that memory is a little bit dusty.
Hugh: Same album?
Bruce: So the big, that big unique sound, that was the synclavier doing FM.
Hugh: That's cool, that's why we've never been able to get that right when we try to cover that song.
Bruce: Exactly -- and if you had the right patch for the synclavier, you could just load that sound up and touch the key, and BONGGGG -- you heard that sound right there. But what really got people excited about the Synclavier was when it moved from being an FM only instrument to being a sampling machine, where it could sample sound to disk, and it could be chopped up into little samples -- and then, when it became a polyphonic sampling instrument in the mid-80s, all hell broke loose!
Hugh: Ensoniq was coming with things around then too that were…
Bruce: Yeah, but not nearly as sophisticated and not nearly as programmable and not nearly as good sounding. The thing that made the Synclavier big amongst them all was that it sounded great. And if you knew how to program, which it turns out that I did, you could make the Synclavier do just about anything that you wanted it to do, and you could make it sound real.
Hugh: And what was the reason for that – was it like 24 bit, 48khz or something technical that made it sound so good like that?
Bruce: Well, it was a 16bit machine, not 24bit but interestingly enough instead of 44k sampling, it had 50k sampling, and it could go up to 100k sampling. So depending upon how you wanted to allocate system resources, meaning hard drive space, you could sample at 100k, which is phenomenally beyond what anything else could do at the time except for maybe 1 or 2 of the very early 96k digital recorders that were out there.
Hugh: And that is the benefit -- a much more crisp, immediate sound right?
Bruce: Well, it's 2 things, it's fidelity and lack of noise. The fidelity is greatly increased by the sampling, because the higher the sampling rate, the better the playback of the sample. Because you've got more little digital snap shots to describe that particular sound. So I would use it as a 50k because inexpensive big hard drives were not the order of the day back then. In fact, if you…
Hugh: And that's more than anybody uses now.
Hugh: Yeah, isn't it?
Bruce: Yeah. That's because devices these days aren't set up to sample at 50k.
Hugh: No, I mean, you've got 44, 48, 96, 192 but I mean, you are not even using those.
Bruce: No, because most of the time you are balancing what you can do with what you need to do in order to be compatible with the distribution network. And at a certain point, and those who are golden-eared fanatics of sampling are going to shudder when I say this -- at a certain point, enough bits are enough bits.
Hugh: That's what I'm saying, I mean, human ear just can't just really tell that.
Bruce: The human ear can tell, but most of the time we are not given that, because commercial music distribution doesn't really much advance beyond 44 or 44.1k. I mean, we've had 44.1k on CD for 20+ years at 16 bit, and only recently have we gotten to the point of where there have been distribution and play back systems that could go beyond that.
Hugh: It looks like the ‘Blue Ray' of audio.
Bruce: Yeah, kind of. Kind of.
Hugh: That shows you how behind I am because I don't know about those.
Bruce: Well, there are been advances in digital music playback and digital music distribution -- these days we can easily do 48k or 96k and play it back and kind hear a difference, but these days you've got to ask some questions. Why would you want to make a 96k record that's basically playback of 10bit or 12bit samples? I mean it's kind of… as opposed to doing a live recording of a live orchestra at 96k or beyond, and that's where the early digital devices really made their name, was in doing live direct recordings to digital, where you really could hear the difference in fidelity and the lack of noise. And I remember my earliest productions were on 24 track, and I would fight tooth and nail to keep the hiss out of the mix from playback, because if it's 24 track and you haven't spent a lot of money to do Dolby SR or Dolby A noise reduction, you get noise on 24 track masters that adds up.
Hugh: So how about a nice cassette tape placed on stage?
Bruce: No thanks. But the interesting thing about the Synclavier was when you played back the track, it's totally quiet. So this gets us back around to the point I'm trying to make, which was Millie Scott's 1988 record, "I Can Make it Good for You", was completely done on the Synclavier and Direct-to-Disk recorder. Totally tapeless.
Hugh: I'm going to try to get a youtube of that and post that up so that you can hear it.
Bruce: You can actually go to dagnome.net and you can listen to the samples of that record on my website. Unfortunately it's not 48k but you can tell from the MP3 that it sounds really good.
Hugh: What's that website?
Bruce: http://dagnome.net. And that's my nickname, da gnome.
Hugh: That's because you are very tall.
Bruce: Yeah right. Thank you very much – no, because in the mid-70s, somebody tagged me with that moniker and it stuck all these years.
Hugh: Yeah, when you use that DaGnome, that's quite a sort of an image, I know, I'm not trying to put you down, you are a little bit shorter than me. I'm not a tall guy myself but that's what people call the Dagnome. This is like the Napoleon of gnomes seriously.
Bruce: Yeah, well. Maybe that's why I was sublimating all these years trying to reach for good stuff to do because I was just trying to prove that there was more there than being just 5ft tall.
Hugh: You are sure proved it man, you never stopped. You killed it man.
Bruce: Thank you for that. So, for me the Mille Scott record was a landmark. It didn't necessarily go on to be acknowledged as such but it certainly in terms of using the technology to make great sounding records or to make great sounding music, I'd like to think that was a high water mark. In much same way that, but in a different way than "Slave to the Rhythm" did, from Grace what's her name, I'm going to blank on her name.
Bruce: Grace Jones. That Trevor Horn-produced Slave to the Rhythm record was Synclavier all over the place. But they used it in very different ways and if you ever touch base with Steve Lipson who was actually the guy programming the Synclavier on that record, I'm sure that he could tell you lots and lots of stories. Many people listen to that record and they go, wow, listen to all these weird sounds. I listen to the record and I go, oh gee he's doing random sampling, oh he's doing pitch change and phasing with that -- if you were a Synclavier owner, you knew exactly what Steve was doing because those were the sounds that came out of the Synclavier when it was doing poly sampling.
Hugh: So what's the name of the song that we could listen to that for?
Bruce: Slave to the Rhythm. It's the only song that's on the record. It's like 11 versions of the same song basically.
Bruce: Yeah, but what's interesting is the way they slice and dice and rearrange them and do them differently. Now, what's different about that, as opposed to what I did with Millie, was that Slave to the Rhythm had live rhythm sections on a number of the tracks. And it was a really strong go-go influenced rhythm section. And by go-go, I don't mean 60s disco and cages on the side of the stage with dancers in frilly dresses. I mean go-go like Chuck Brown from Washington DC
ugh: Oh, Chuck Brown isn't that like "Take me to the bridge y'all, give me the bridge y'all" ?
Bruce: Exactly. Like "Bustin' Loose", that go-go music. That's Washington DC go-go music. That is exactly what Grace Jones was channeling on a lot other tracks on that particular record. And you know when you get into that groove, it is absolutely infectious.
Hugh: I love it. I mean, not just, it's like a huge band that's all rolling in the same direction like a freight train.
Bruce: Right. And as Bootsy Collins would say, it's all about the one. You know that big strong down beat that just lays the landmark for the rest of the measure, and then you come back around to the one again, and it's like it's the essence of funk. And they really worked it on those records. So I was the product of a lot of these musical influences, and I just, I did the tapeless record on a lark. I wanted to ask the question of myself -- "can you make a record without tape?" Because I'd been doing it with tape, and I hated the tape noise. I hated the noise. So we did Millie Scott's second LP on Island with no tape at all, with the exception of the then brand new format of DAT. That's the digital audio tape format which was what we mastered to. And we made the album from the DAT masters.
Hugh: Okay, so you did it all on hard disk or was it all on the Synclavier?
Bruce: Well, it was a combination. By the time I got to the Millie Scott record, I not only had a very full blown Synclavier system with lots of RAM and lots of poly sampling voices and lots of output midi, and a big console -- but I also had 16 tracks of direct to disk. So I recorded all Millie's vocals in the direct to disk. I recorded all my live guitar parts on the direct to disk, and everything else on that record was programmed.
Hugh: It sounds like that was kind of a ground breaking thing that you did there.
Bruce: I thought it was. I'm not sure how many other people ever really like fully appreciated the story, but now the story is out. So, there you go.
Hugh: You have to think about it, and that's why we are doing this, it's trying to bring the story out for you Bruce.
Bruce: And I appreciate that. I think it's a very interesting story of what can be done with the technology, if the technology is approached with musicality, not just technology. And that's why I think a lot of the records that use technology fall down -- because the people who are producing, they may know beats, but they don't necessarily know how it all fits together! Without wanting to sound egotistical, I apprenticed in one of the best musical times that one could possibly apprentice. And I played with some of the finest musicians on the planet. And you learn from doing sessions week after week, month after month, year after year -- what is a band supposed to sound like when it's cohesive? And that has influenced everything that I've ever done from a production stand point. It's all about the feel.
Hugh: And you know what, Detroit will teach you that too.
Bruce: Oh yeah, because if you are up on stage and you ain't feeling it, and the audience ain't feeling it, you get off the stage real fast and you don't get invited back.
Hugh: And that's true by the same token though on every street corner [in Detroit], you hear people doing it right. Not actually on street corners, but I mean, on every street you could find a group that's got that concept.
Bruce: Right. These days I'm sure they are doing it with an IMPC or whatever they are using for the MIDI production console or MIDI sequencer whatever other kinds of sequencers, but there are still a lot of great musicians coming out of the "D" who actually can play their instrument.
Hugh: Yeah, have you checked the Detroit bass player Facebook group?
Bruce: Of course.
Hugh: Yeah, it's pretty amazing isn't it?
Bruce: Yeah. It was kind of funny to see them in front of a shuttered United Sound -- if I had a nickel for every time I walked through the backdoor of United, plunked my guitar down and opened up my pedals and did a session for Don Davis or some other producer, I'd be a rich man these days.
Hugh: That's not the same as Hitsville is it?
Bruce: Hitsville was the Motown studio on West Grand Boulevard. United Sound was Don Davis' studio home base.
Hugh: And that's where they did their photo shoot a couple of weeks ago.
Bruce: I think so. I also saw one in front of what is now the Motown Museum, which used to be the studio that the Funk Brothers lovingly called "the Snake Pit" -- a tiny-ass, cramped little studio, very much like Richard Becker's garage. Richard Becker is one of those unknown names in the recording studio unless you are in the studio business -- then you knew Richard Becker, because you knew that he owned PAC-3 studios over in Dearborn, and many of Armen Boladian's Westbound records were cut at PAC-3, including a lot of stuff produced by Dennis Coffey and Mike Theodore.
Hugh: Yeah, I've been through there.
Bruce: If you were through the old one in the garage or the new one that they build after the garage burned down?
Hugh: I couldn't tell. But I know I've been through there.
Bruce: Well, the garage was a hell of a place and I'm sure it was very much like studio A at Hitsville. It was very tiny and very claustrophobic, but man could Richard get a sound. He was a very, very savvy technologist. Anyway, that gets us up to 1988, and that's Millie Scott's story. Very interesting.
Bruce: Yeah, Automatix were early 80s and Millie Scott came as part of the move to independent record production and it happened after the Automatix record was trashed by MCA and we kind of moved on around. Okay, but discogs.com says "I Can Make it Good For You" was released in 1988, which make a lot of sense because it probably would have been recorded in 1987 or early 88 and then released in 1988. So it's the mid 80s, and after these records come out, I'm in New York, I moved to New York in 1986 because the aforementioned Mike Theodore had earlier moved to New York City and bought part of the recording studio on 30th street. Mike came back into Detroit one day in 1986 and we were talking on my porch and he says, why don't you move to New York? I said why? He said well, if you move to New York I'll build you a studio.
Bruce: I said really?
Hugh: Sounds like an offer I couldn't refuse.
Bruce: Well, it's an offer I didn't refuse.
And by the time Thanksgiving 1986 rolled around, he had been true to his word, and he built the studio -- so I packed everything out of my mom's house in Detroit, and drove it all to New York City and moved it into, I think it was 251 West 30th Street. It was a place called Planet Sound.
Hugh: That's not too far from the village.
Bruce: It's not too far from the village but it's even closer to Madison Square Garden, which was just around the corner, and up a couple of blocks up 8th Avenue. So this was in the basement of a building that was quite famous, known as the Music Building on West 30th Street -- which is just this high rise building -- not that high, but high enough -- that was full of basically musician studios and practice rooms and little musical stores in there and the whole nine yards. It was a bed of the neighborhood music scene, and we were in the basement.
Hugh: Bruce, there's a couple of blocks there in Manhattan that are like 3 or 4 blocks just full of instruments stores. Is that right in the same are?
Bruce: Yeah, there's Music Store Row, and I think if memory serves correctly, I thought that was 48th Street. And I think it's 48th Street like sort of East of 7th or East of Broadway.
Hugh: Yea you are right. Okay.
Bruce: That's where Mannys and some of the very famous stores were at the time.
Hugh: Exactly, Shirmers…
Bruce: And Sam Ash, and We Buy Guitars, lots of these places so yeah, and of course if you're in New York and you are a musical instrument junkie, you go there and drool. You window shop and you drool, especially at We Buy Guitars, because they've got every rare guitar you could ever think of, and of course at astronomical prices.
Hugh: I've just remembered there being like blocks and blocks of these little hole-in-the-wall guitar stores like on every floor of every building on these couple of blocks.
Bruce: That probably was 48th Street, because 48th Street was Music Store Row where if you were a working musician, you didn't have to go all around the city to get what you needed. You went to 48th street and popped in whatever store it was that you were a fan of and you bought your strings or your picks or checked out something new as a guitar pedal or a new saxophone mouthpiece or whatever. And then you got back on the street and went back to whatever the next gig it was that you were going to do.
Hugh: Well, New York is just so rich with all of that stuff so that, well, the reason obviously, one of the reasons why you moved there.
Bruce: Yes, that and the fact that I moved to be closer to the record labels that we were making deals with. Because the commuting was getting horribly expensive from Detroit, and somewhere along the line, I said, well I'm spending all this money on airplane tickets -- I could be renting an apartment. And that's exactly what happened. I moved to New York and rented an apartment. And so I stayed there and they built me quite a nice studio at Planet Sound. A couple of years later I moved to 20th street, just around the corner from the Limelight, a very famous disco in New York City. This was at Hip Pocket Studios, 37th West 20th street and they made me a similar kind of offer. "We got some space, do you want to come on in here and rent, we could do that." So I rented this beautiful back studio with literally wall to wall windows at the very front of control room and I could look at the Empire State Building straight out my wall in front of me. I hung out there for a couple of years until early spring of 1990.
Hugh: Were you putting out records during that time?
Bruce: Yeah, and working on sessions for people and clients, and at that point I had also been working on some advertising music with Eddie Jobson because Eddie had a studio elsewhere around Manhattan, but he would come in and do work on Synclavier (because Eddy was another big Synclavier guy). And there was this community of Synclavier owners/creators and we all knew who the others were in New York City and lots of times we would wind up in each other's places. So Eddie would come in and do some work, or I do some work on project for him.
In early spring of 1990, I remember EMI records came in and block booked my studio for about 6 weeks to do a project and I left my assistant engineer in charge of the studio and I said "I'm going to go take a vacation". I needed one badly. And I did. I booked a flight out to L.A and spent some time hooking up with old friends whom I hadn't seen in a long, long time. And somewhere along the line, I dropped by the west coast office of New England Digital,and as it turns out, the guy in charge of the west coast office at the time was a close friend of David Kershenbaum, the very successful record producer who had made lots of very successful records with artists like Duran Duran, Supertramp and Tracy Chapman. What was interesting about David was he had entrepreneurial plans about putting together a facility. He wanted to add post production, which is the production of music or sound effects after the production of a film or TV show. And he wanted to add that into his arsenal, and create this sort of gigantic studio complex. And to facilitate that, he had bought Studio 55 from Richard Perry. Studio 55 was a very famous recording studio in Los Angeles -- just literally spitting distance off the Paramount parking lot on Melrose, and it was the Decca Records studio where Bing Crosby had recorded White Christmas.
In fact if you know the history, it was the studio that was built for Bing Crosby to record, because he was at Paramount most of the time making movies. So they literally built him a studio at the corner of the Paramount lot. And it became Studio 55 after Decca records let it go. I think that's the right history of it. Anyways Richard Perry hung out there for a long time making many hit records with The Pointer Sisters and others. David Kershenbaum comes along with big money, big love, big support and bought the studio from Perry, and David moves in, and one thing leads to another. My friend introduces me to David Kershenbaum, we go out and have Sunday morning breakfast at his house, and he says if I build you a studio, would you come to L.A? I was like where have I heard that before?
Hugh: Wow, yeah, that's great.
Bruce: So David built a studio at Studio 55 and it turned into this kind of mixed music/post production complex with the original Studio 55 recording studio still being there.
Hugh: Well, they must have had a ton of work that they wanted you to do.
Bruce: I don't know that there was that much as it was that they thought that if the facility was there…
Hugh: It can get the work?
Bruce: Yeah. And what happened was they brought in myself and they brought in John Barnes who was another Synclavier guy who was a big part of the Michael Jackson musical family. And they figured if they had all the stuff there, folks would come by and rent studio time, and they were pretty much right. Although…
Hugh: And also you, I mean, your name brought some attraction as well, I'm sure.
Bruce: It did, but what was interesting was I brought most of my own clients there, because here's how freaky this was -- during the time I had been Planet Sound, I had been gradually getting more and more into working with film composers and helping them score their movies, and I started working with a composer named Charlie Gross from New York City (one of the few film composers who actually lived in New York, not Los Angeles). We worked together on Turner & Hooch, then we worked together on some other projects that Charlie was doing. And then in summer of 1990, Charlie came to me and he said, I have a problem, I'm being asked to score Air America, this big action picture, but I can't do it in New York. And I said it's funny you would say that because I'm opening a studio in L.A, and he said okay, done deal. So I moved out to L.A in June of 1990 with the gear and in July of 1990 Charlie came out and we started scoring Air America together.
Hugh: Now Air America was a Mel Gibson movie about CIA Agents that run drugs from Viet Nam, right?
Bruce: Yeah, Laos and Cambodia, but yeah, basically. Exactly that was the idea. It was the CIA covert "we are not really there" Air Line.
Hugh: Which we know is true -- I mean, I live in Miami, I know all about Southern Air Transport – but it was a good movie, it was a huge movie.
Bruce: Right, well, what you may not know is that if you go back and listen to a sound track of that movie…
Hugh: We will.
Bruce: That's me playing lead guitar on all of those tracks.
Hugh: Awesome, I bet it rocks too man, I can't wait to hear it again!
Bruce: It does. I also had an opportunity to create some additional score and source music - Charlie gave me a lot of latitude with it, so in a couple of scenes where Robert Downey Junior, for example, is blowing up the heroin factory of the Cambodian war lord, that's my sort of debut as a film composer.
Hugh: Oh, cool!
Bruce: Yet another weird rabbit in the hat for my strange checkered career. Anyway, what I enjoyed doing the most, was of course playing guitar on all of those tracks, which was really great!
Hugh: I remember seeing you in the studio at Cloudborn, just tearing up those guitar tracks man. They put you on so I'm sure it kills.
Bruce: Well, it was fun. I'm very proud of those moments because I literally beat out every first call guitar player in L.A to get that job and there's a really interesting lesson in there. It's great to be talented, but it's better to be known. It's better to be friends with somebody – and this is, by the way, a note for budding film composers -- having an agent doesn't really matter, knowing film directors does. If a Film director knows who you are and likes your music you are MORE likely to get the job.
Hugh: Thanks for that tip. I know our listeners will be very appreciative.
Bruce: Well, it takes years to learn these things, but no reason not to share it.
Hugh: That's right. Mmhmm!
Bruce: So that's the summer of 1990 -- I move out to L.A, and things are going great, and the studio is taking off, and it's doing real great, and disaster strikes in December of 1990.
Bruce: David Kershenbaum gets divorced and his wife gets the studio.
Hugh: She did what to the studio?
Bruce: She trashed the place.
Hugh: Oh she trashed it?
Bruce: She threw everybody out on their ear and it was just kind of amazing considering that I had a lease to be there. But in December I get told, "take your stuff and get the hell out of here". So I had to, like, beat it, and find a place (no Michael Jackson pun intended), find a new place literally within a week.
Hugh: Sounds like you might have had legal recourse there?
Bruce: No, it wasn't worth trying to fight it. I just said, let me go get a new place - so I wound up on the west side of LA in a place called The Complex, which, interestingly enough, was George Massenburg's old studio. I'm sure you know the name George Massenburg, very famous engineer and audio gear designer, and it was originally the studio that had been built for Earth Wind and Fire. And if the walls could talk in that place, right?
Hugh: Yeah, really?
Bruce: A couple of beautiful studios down on the main level and I had one of the upper offices with a big front window that looked down on the big studio space on the main floor. It was a lot of fun, and a lot of interesting things happened while I was there -- I got to work with some music supervisors who had office space just down the hall. And this was again with the Synclavier, and the supervisors were doing music placement for feature films and TV. Now back in those days, music placement was tough – to synchronize music to get somebody's opinion on it, you had to cue up a CD at the place where you hope the right music is, then play the reference video of the movie or TV show and hopefully you press "play" at the right time so they can hear the music synchronized to the picture.
Hugh: Didn't it have SMPTE? [Sound Motion Picture Time Encoding]
Bruce: Well SMPTE time code existed, but nobody could afford to have it in the studio, and there were few folks outside of the sound editorial community that had the technology to do it. So, one thing led to another and I said, I can do this with the Synclavier that I have in the studio. Why don't you, like, bring the sample tracks auditions down here, and I'll digitalize the music, and I'll lock it right up to the exact frame of the reference video that you have. And Digital Music Preview was born.
Bruce: Everybody does it now, because everybody's got Pro Tools in the music editing world. But back then, not a whole lot of people could do this, and reliably.
Hugh: You were the one that put that together in your mind and presented it and did it?
Bruce: Yeah, well, it was a need that needed to be filled, and it needed to be filled with an elegant solution, and this was it. And if the customer or the client, the director, is sitting there going, well what did another piece music feel like? Well, you turn off one track and you try and you rewind and you play. And if says, what if it feels like if you do it five frames earlier? Well, you move it five frames earlier and you play it again.
Hugh: Yeah, they must have loved that.
Bruce: Oh, they were head over heels. I mean it really, it worked. And while I was at the complex, I was also privileged to be part of, or at least I should say, my music studio was part of the scoring for Last of the Mohicans.
Bruce: Because film composer Trevor Jones was a big Synclavier guy from the UK.
Hugh: I've been seeing that movie on the HBO but I haven't watched it and I don't know too much about it. When did that come out?
Bruce: That had to be early 90s [1992 – ed]. Check the credits. I think you'll see my name on the credits, something to do with the music scoring.
Hugh: Okay, I will.
Bruce: But Trevor and I had chatted, and then he said, well, I want a place where I can work on the score along with John Whynot -- he's the engineer who was doing that stuff, and so they came and they hung out in my place week after week, and I got to see the score for Last of the Mohicans growing each day as it came together.
Hugh: So they used your stuff to put it together?
Bruce: Correct, and then they went with us to a scoring stage and recorded the live instruments.
Hugh: Oh, so they put it together electronically and then they refabricated it with the real orchestra?
Bruce: Well, they build a lot of foundation on the Synclavier, and they would add the orchestral parts in the scoring studio.
Hugh: Oh, okay. Did they keep those Synclavier parts in there too?
Bruce: I think so. In that score, it's hard to tell what's electronic and what's organic.
Hugh: Right. Mmhmm.
Bruce: But a lot of the parts that they were doing were real instruments, coming from samples on the Synclavier, and the Synclavier samples were so good, it was really difficult to tell what was, and what wasn't necessarily a sample. That was the other beauty of the Synclavier. The samples were so good that if they were carefully prepared, it was very easy to fool people into believing it was real instruments being played. As long as you could program it so that it sounded authentic.
Hugh: I'm gonna have to check on that movie put my ear on it and compare it along with the bunch of other stuff that you've mentioned today… but please continue.
Bruce: Okay. So after Last of the Mohicans, an interesting inflection point happens in my career. One day I'm in the studio and one of my dear Synclavier friends comes over, this is a Synclavier operator -- not an owner, Jason King is his name -- and it turned out Jason was a very busy sound effects editor. Now at this point in time, I didn't know sound effects from a hole in the wall -- but Jason came over one day and we got to talking, and he said "I really hate this thing that I'm doing -- I really want to get back into making music." And I said what are you doing? He says, "well, I edit sound effects for television. I'm working on the Dinosaurs television show, and I really want to get back to making music, because that's really what I love." Now, remember that phrase, because it's going to come back around to haunt me 20+ years later.
Hugh: Okay.[End of Part 2... stay tuned for Part 3 in which Bruce pioneers sound stage recording and gets a producer gig with Disney's "Dinosaurs" franchise!]