Interview de Tim Crossley

J’ai rencontré Tim Crossley par l’intermédiaire de mon travail (« property manager » pour une maison d’enchère spécialisée dans les instruments à cordes : www.tarisio.com), on cherchait à sonoriser notre « showing room » de sorte que lorsque 25 personnes essaient des instruments en même temps ce ne soit plus si brouhaha. Tim Crossley est venu avec son collègue pour prendre des mesures, puis a installé des panneaux absorbants au plafond le week-end suivant

What made you want to become a sound engineer (after a short incursion towards design)?

Well, I’ve always been a musician and a fan of music. After high school, I attended the Art Institute of Philadelphia in pursuit of a degree in multimedia. While there, I had a few electives in audio engineering and recording technologies. At the time, digital recording was just becoming more affordable and accessible to the average consumer. Before then, this was an exclusive field that few were in. The music industry was also changing at the time. This started to open the door for more and more recording studios to be built that were at a smaller scale than the, previously, elite and large studios of the 90’s and earlier decades. I became so interested in recording and made up my mind that that was the field I wanted to be in. I decided to move to New York City to go to another school called SAE, for audio engineering.
While in school I landed a job with a construction company that exclusively built recording studios. That’s really what got me in to the world of acoustics. After graduating, I juggled working in the field for a few years as freelance audio engineer, while still building studios with the other company. Eventually I landed a full time position at a recording studio and dropped the construction job altogether.
About a year in to it, I realized that I missed working with my hands and hated the monotony of working in the same place everyday. When building studios and working as a freelancer, I was always moving around, going from studio to studio, neighborhood to neighborhood. It kept things interesting. I decided at that point to quit the studio job and start up my own company providing acoustic design and wiring services to recording studios. It’s a field that seems to combine all of the things that I love, and I’m still always surrounded by music. I do still work as a freelance engineer from time to time though.

Is being a sound engineer in NY as glamorous as we all fantasize it or is job hard(er) to find because of the competition?

Well the short answer is, yes it is glamorous! The long answer is that it takes a lot of time and dedication to get there. It’s very much one of those fields where networking plays a huge role. It’s all who you know. No matter what your passion is, whether it’s recording bands or doing sound design for film, you’re going to have to take as many internships as you can. You need to go from studio to studio and work on as many projects as you can. You need to meet as many people as possible and let them know that you’re willing to do whatever it takes. If a studio needs someone to change light bulbs, you need to be willing to be that guy who will change light bulbs.
Anything you can do to get your foot in the door will get you closer to that dream. But for a lot of people, it’s hard to take internships for little or no money while still paying the bills. The other side of it is that, you need to get something out of an internship. If you’re getting paid, that’s great, but you’d better be getting some experience or training out of an internship as well. Unfortunately a lot of studios treat interns as “free help” opposed to “apprentice” which just isn’t fair to anyone. If you’re not getting something out of an internship, know when to leave. There’s always another studio that will take you in.
After a while, you’ll build up a report with other engineers and studios. You’ll start to get calls for paying work. It takes a few years of staying on the grind, working hard, doing a good job, and impressing everyone you meet, but eventually you’ll catch a good break or two that will lead to something amazing.

What do you think make a successful sound engineer? The personality? Which school (s)he went to? Musical knowledge? Connections?

Really a combination of all of those things are important. I’d have to say the two most important though are personality and connections. The best engineers are the ones that are patient and calm. Often we’re working under pressure, with strict deadlines. We’re usually working with a demanding producer or client in the back of the room. If you can always keep your cool, can treat everyone you work with respectfully, be patient and understanding, while still making good decisions as an engineer, you’ll turn out just fine.
And yes, connections are so very important. But if you have a good personality, then people will remember you. If other engineers and studio owners see you behaving in a professional manner, they’ll call you back and you’ll build your list of connections pretty quickly.

Is there any type of skills that is particularly needed, at least here in NY? If any, do you find yourself lacking more theory or more practical skills?

Don’t get me wrong, theory is great, but there’s no replacement for practical experience. There’s so much to be learned from doing. Nowadays there are quite a few schools teaching audio engineering, but the graduates who seems to be getting full time jobs are the ones who get experience first. Whether by interning, or working on side projects, or recording your own band, or a friend’s band, the more you practice your skills, the better you’ll become. I think that’s true anywhere, not just New York.
One thing that is happening in New York right know though is an emerging post production industry. Music studios are somewhat few and far between, and the ones that are out there function with only a few employees. The engineers who work at music studios probably aren’t leaving anytime soon so it’s harder to get your foot in the door. There are however, tons of studios that do all sorts of sound for film, television, commercials, the internet and video games. It’s a whole other side of the industry that’s growing and growing. These are usually much larger facilities with lots of employees. They’re also providing their services to industries that are growing opposed to the music industry which… well, isn’t. I definitely recommend that any struggling young engineer or student start to consider pursuing this path. It’s a lot of fun. It’s different than working with bands, but it can be very rewarding. Just be sure to brush up on your editing skills, haha!

You must surely be fulfilled by what you do, especially because you are multi specialized, but is there one aspect of the job you like the most/the least?

Regardless of what I’m working on, I love the problem solving aspect of everything I do. That’s what engineering is all about. Seeing a problem or obstacle and overcoming it by thinking of the best solution. It’s just so much fun to me. Whether it’s wiring a patchbay or figuring out what kind of acoustic treatment is appropriate for a room, I love taking a minute to step back and think about it the “why”. Why are we changing the acoustics of this room? Once I can answer that, the solution presents itself pretty quickly.
There’s not much I don’t like doing as an engineer. Maybe changing lightbulbs, haha. Thankfully I seem to have been promoted above that at this point.

Do you sometimes find clients’ expectations don’t meet your standards? I’ve talked to sound engineers working for tv who were required to compress everything and were soundly miserable about it… does this situation ever occur? If it does, what comes first, integrity or client? Are both compatible?

Sometimes this happens. I also know several engineers for TV who get “bullied” in to over compressing. I did have a bad experience with a client once. I worked with a singer a while ago (who shall remain nameless) who hired me to mix her album. She wanted to sit in on all of the mix sessions with me, which in retrospect, was not a good idea because she ended up just telling me what to do the whole time instead of letting me actually engineer. It was one of my first albums and being so excited to get the experience, I said sure. Quickly after beginning the mixing, I discovered that she really loved time based effect. LOVED THEM. She wanted all of the guitars to have huge flange and/or a phase effects that were so overdone. She wanted her vocals just smothered in reverb (which I think was to partially hide the fact that she wasn’t a very good singer). Everything ended up just sounding too washed but it’s what she wanted. I tried to keep things as tasteful as possible, because I’m a fan of using effects minimally and effectively. I was also really hoping to turn this project in to something that I could add to my reel and be proud of. Her aesthetic just differed from mine too significantly. Eventually I had to take my opinions out of the equation and realize that the important thing was to give the client what she wanted. I finally succumbed to her pressure and handed her a finished product that I haven’t listened to once since.
This was an extreme case though. Generally things like this don’t happen. Clients hire you because they have somewhat of an idea of what they’re going for, but they’re trusting you to use your expertise to make the finished product something better. Usually they realize that you’re the engineer and you know what you’re doing.

When you came here at Tarisio, I was surprised to see you were doing all aspects of the job yourself: mapping the acoustic dynamics of the room, finding a mathematical solution and then actually rolling up your sleeves and cutting, drilling, and hammering it all up. when and how did you learn how to do that last part?

Well I mentioned the studio construction job I had before, but a lot of it started before then. I actually come from a long line of handy guys. My great-grandfather was a master carpenter and stair builder, my grandfather was an auto mechanic, and my dad went to school for industrial arts before becoming an engineer and product designer. Growing up we’d always do remodeling projects around the house ourselves. If something broke around the house, we’d fix it. I was always just exposed to tools and taught how to use them and work with my hands. Building studios expanded on that greatly by way of experience and learning acoustic specific construction techniques, but it’s always been a part of me, and something I love doing.

Did you ever turn down a job? What’s the lowest you can go?

I’ve only ever turned down freelance engineering jobs due to scheduling issues. In my early days after graduating, I took anything I could get my hands on, even if it was for free or next to no pay. I did a lot of sound design work on some student films for next to nothing, but it was great experience. It all helped me in getting my name out there. If you think about it, current film students are all future film makers. They’re good people to know!
On the acoustics side, I’ve had to turn down a few projects based on lack of money to accomplish what the client wanted. Materials are very expensive and to do a construction project when the client doesn’t have enough money to pay for both materials and labor, usually means that either the work wont be up to par, or I end up losing money on the project. I’ve had clients ask me if they can be my assistant in building something (even though they had no construction experience), opposed to having to pay my employees, and that’s never a good idea. It’s hard to turn down work of any kind but sometimes you need to make sure you that you’re not being taken advantage of and that the quality of the work wont suffer because of financial difficulties.

What’s your favorite sound engineers joke?

Haha, oh there are so many!
Q: How many producers does it take to change a light bulb? A: Two. One to tell the engineer to do it, and the other to say « I don’t know, what do you think? »
That’s a favorite of mine. I also know of some practical jokes that engineers like to play on producers. I’ve met a few engineers that, when a producer says something absurd and nondescript like, “I think the mix needs to be rounder”, the engineer will turn a knob on their console that doesn’t actually effect anything, like a gain knob for a cue send that’s inactive. Then when the engineer replies, “is that better?” (after not really changing anything), the producer will 9 times out of 10 swear that that was the change they were looking for. The placebo effect is a wonderful and amazing thing!

Is there an ultimate goal you’d dream of reaching ?

Several actually, haha! Short term, I’m trying to get enough capital together to open up a proper woodworking and wiring shop. I really want my own facility where I have space to experiment with designing absorbers and diffusors and other acoustic panels. I’ve got another engineer who I recently partnered with who’s an electronics genius. He’s heading up my technical department. Once we have a shop, then we can mess around more with designing and building various audio circuits and devices. We’re working on some nice and simple passive speaker selectors and talkback boxes right now. It’s all stuff that I can use to grow my business and to be able to offer consumers products that are better, simpler and cleaner than what’s currently out there.
Long term, I’m interested in creating a line of prefabricated absorbers that are made out of eco-friendly materials. Right now most acoustic absorbers are made out of a type of fiberglass insulation. It’s really nasty stuff. It’s something that you don’t want to get on your skin, and you don’t want to breathe. On the manufacturing side, there are a lot of chemicals used which are not always safe and environmentally friendly. There’s a lot of research out there about using materials like recycled cotton or denim to make absorbers, and there are even a few companies who are already making them. I’ve noticed though, that these eco-friendly absorbers aren’t up to the same quality as the fiberglass ones. They’re just not designed well. They don’t hang on walls well. They don’t look as nice. They do however absorb well, which is a good start. There’s definitely room to improve on that idea and I hope to be the guy that does it. I also feel like we have a responsibility to find greener solutions, especially in the construction and manufacturing industries. I’d like to make a small change that can hopefully have a big impact in this niche market.

Interview réalisée par Marie Turini-Viard

http://crossleyacoustics.com/

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