Ian Stynes | Interview

What was your inspiration for your pursuit into the music industry?

“So, I actually spend most of my time in the audio post production world now. I edit, sound design and mix audio to picture for film, television and multimedia/video games. A little background on me – I’m the chief audio engineer at a studio in Manhattan called Great City Post –www.greatcitypost.com. We do everything from the promo campaigns for the past several MTV awards shows (VMA/MMAs), to animated series for Comedy Central and Adult Swim, to indie feature films like Pariah (produced by Spike Lee) and For Ellen (Focus Features), to video game sound for various console and app developers. Over the years I have mixed, edited and produced audio for HBO, The Weinstein Company, 40 Acres & A Mule, Sony Pictures, NBC, The Coca Cola Company, The Discovery Channel, Rockstar Games, Spike TV, IFC, The Sci-Fi Network, AMC and The Cartoon Network. I have had movies in Sundance, The Berlin Film Festival, SXSW and Tribeca.

I did start out composing, mixing and recording music and like to think that I bring those sensibilities to the post production audio world. Maybe that’s why I love the Slate products so much! And it sounds kind of cheesy but it really all stems from an interest in and a passion for sound. That passion started out with music for me and has expanded into different arenas. Sound designing and mixing can definitely be a very musical pursuit. Starting out, I built up a DIY studio in my basement in Queens. I played in bands, started recording those bands and then moved on to recording other bands – it was all word of mouth and organic. The studio was centered around a Tascam MS-16 1 inch tape machine. It was all analog in the beginning then I slowly worked my way into 2 track DAW editing (when I got the 2 track editing software Sony Soundforge I thought I had died and gone to heaven). Now fast forward years later and I’m running large Pro Tools sessions on mix stages with 200 plus tracks. There is a little bit of analog “magic” that I do miss from those days but Pro Tools is such a powerful program and the plug ins are so strong now that I wouldn’t even think about trading it in at this point. That said, I try and incorporate a little “color” or “flavor” into everything I do – whenever possible. I learned how to manipulate audio with analog gear. Most people who work with post basically use the same tools these days – Pro Tools with Wave plugins – if you are really lucky you will have a Digidesign Icon to mix with but that still won’t actually effect the sound. It can get kind of stale if you are not careful. Don’t get me wrong these are all extremely versatile and powerful tools – it’s amazing stuff really! I used to mix without automation altogether – I’d have the band help me out – we’d use artist tape and paper clips to mark all our manual automation moves on the board. So much of your brain power was focused on remembering the actual “performances” of the automation moves. It made things fun but took away your focus from the actual mix at times. Everyone had their own favorite gear in the analog days – mixes really varied from room to room – even how the room was wired up had an affect on the sound of the mix. I’ve mixed through a whole bunch of different flavors of analog consoles – SSL, Neve, API, Soundcraft, Mackie etc etc. The Slate Virtual Console Collection is the first software that I’ve come across that actually gives you a little bit of that analog driven “magic”. These plug ins don’t just add noise or distortion to your signal chain and call it “analog”. They really round out the audio in a similar way that an old console would when you would drive or saturate the audio through them – the peaks were tamed and there is a bit of magic “glue” there that wasn’t before. Slate really has a unique approach to how they accomplish this – if you are reading this don’t just listen to me – check it out for yourself – the VCC, VTM and FG-X plugins are special. Once you really try them out you will hear what I am talking about.

For example, I had a huge mix with tons of sound design that I was doing for a show called Ugly Americans that aired on Comedy Central. There were over 150 tracks of audio – surround mix etc. The mix was finished and I was very happy with it. I got a demo of the Virtual Console and just tried slapping it on my effects and music tracks and I was blown away at how much more warmth and clarity it brought to the mix – really awesome! Anyway, I guess the point is that I try to think back to those early days and channel that energy when I can. The Slate products really capture that “soul” of classic vintage analog gear in a way that no other plugins are doing these days in my opinion.”

What key decisions did you make to succeed?

“There is a range of acceptability when providing audio mixes and sound design. Beyond this, you provide your personal “stamp” or your unique sensibilities. As a sound designer you really want to try to give whatever you are working on something that only you or your team can give it. Part of that is the gear you choose and then how you use it. Hopefully you can capture your own sounds and create your own unique sound library and then it’s up to you to “tastefully” manipulate those sounds. I try not to use the same stock sounds or plugins whenever possible. Kind of like when you run instruments through an old stereo preamp – or an old tube tape machine to give it some distinct characteristics. I try and keep that same intention in mind when making sounds and mixing. That and I am extremely lucky to have worked with some wonderful people. We have an especially great team of people here at Great City!”

Can you give any advice to the “at home” writer/producer working on their art and pursuing a career in audio how to “make it?”

“Well, I don’t know if I’ve “made it” just yet. You need to always be reaching towards something new or else you get stagnant. It’s important to devote time to getting better at whatever your skill set lacks – first learning the “right” or accepted way to do things. Then build upon that and think about what you can do differently than the status quo.”

Over the years, what changes have you made to your process in order to ensure continued success?

“You definitely have to be able to adapt and grow with technology and roll with the punches. Technology changes but knowledge about basic audio concepts does not. Take that love of audio and try and constantly build your skills and apply it to whatever new technology you are dealing with. Don’t forget to explore and have fun too! That’s where the real breakthroughs come into play.”

You’ve recently finished a sound design and mix for an animated Zoolander series for Ben Stiller’s production company – Explain to our audience what it means to you to be a sound designer. Did you use any Slate products on the mix?

“That was a GREAT project to work on! There are many types of productions (especially indie narrative features) which require a great deal of work to just fix problems in the audio – or just to enhance the production to the point of making nothing stand out as missing. This is work that most people in the audience won’t even notice has occurred unless it was done improperly. Than there are projects like Zoolander where you can be truly creative and help design a whole aural landscape. There are many cases in audio post where you are limited by what the production brings you – what was recorded during the actual filming. Animation in the end is composed of the visuals and whatever sound you add or create and that’s it. There is a lot of action in this series that lends itself to creative interpretation. The audience definitely gets to appreciate the work you’ve put into a project like this. This is the work that stands out and it’s fun to do! I used the Slate VCC and VTM plugins and I think they are an important part of why I am so happy with these mixes.”

To what extent do you utilize analog and digital in your producing, mixing and mastering?

“We have preamps for recording voice over, foley or sound design but beyond that I use very little analog gear at this point in my mixing. I have a little bit of outboard processing for certain sounds I need but mostly I keep it in the box. For sound designing I have some vintage gear I like to run things through to give it a little color and then print those effects. That’s why the Slate VCC, VTM and VG-X plug ins are so great – you can give your mix some of that character without having to patch outside the box. In post production recalls and tweaks are extremely common. Often you will have to revisit a mix many months later and your setup could have changed by then. You need everything to be self contained in a session.”

Recently bring slotted to start a movie in two or three weeks starring Kristen Wiig & Bill Hader – How will you use Slate products in the full production process?

“I plan on at least using the Virtual Console Collection and the Virtual Tape Machine in the mix for this project – but I plan on using Slate plugins for all my future mixes! Movies really benefit from that analog sound – so many great films were mixed through large analog consoles. This is becoming less and less practical in today’s post production landscape but with plugins like VCC and VTM we can retrieve a little of that magic.”

Do you have a favorite Slate product? Why?

“I love the VCC and VTM plugins. I’m also really interested in checking out the Virtual Buss Compressors as well. I would like to try those on my master aux sends.”

What do you think of the RAVEN MTX?

“I am very excited to try it out – that and the Raven MTI. I have been talking about how we should be using touch screens to mix with for years. There is so much standing in the way with a traditional console between you and what you are trying to do – too much interfacing going on. In the same way that moving from having no automation to having automation cleared up space in my mind to focus on the mix – I can see how the Raven could clear up space by simplifying the whole interfacing process. With the Raven it seems like you will just be able to touch what you want to touch and simply make it happen.”