R.A.P. Interview: Jeff Thomas

JV: Sounds like with Killer Hertz 5 getting all your attention, this is going to well be your best product ever.
Jeff: I have no doubt it is. We’re working on other projects too, which is good. We’ve done some sound design and radio stuff this year for South Park and Dr. Phil and some others, as well as some sound design work for 20th Century Fox. I think it’s good to bring in those projects, too. I’ve also done a little bit of consultancy work and a little bit of training work, which I enjoy. I’m not looking at anything that keeps me in the studio 12 hours a day. I like the fact that I can be doing other things.

JV: You mentioned how people’s bullshit meters are wound up pretty tight these days. How else have you seen the world of imaging change over the last ten years?
Jeff: Well, I think the obvious thing has been the advent of the computer and digital workstations. I managed to get a hold of a Revox 2-track machine in here a few months back and I was explaining to Alex why they call loops loops. Back in the day, we had to record a loop onto a bit of tape and then splice it out, join it back to the front, put it around your finger and through the head chassis of the reel-to-reel machine, and hit play and record it onto something else. I turned around, and his jaw was on the ground. At Triple M, if we wanted to do some beat-mixing or more intricate stuff like that, with a multi-track, you had to fly it in in real time, which for that kind of stuff is pretty tricky. What I was doing then was sampling it all. Then if I played it and recorded it back into the multi-track on its lowest vari-speed, it was exactly an octave down. So I would record stuff in from the sampler, playing an octave down on the keyboard, do everything kind of in slow motion so that when you played it back, it would be the way you wanted it.

I think that’s the fundamental difference; nowadays, you really don’t need to think so much about how you’re going to do something, and you can concentrate pretty much on a creative presentation. You don’t have to worry about the logistics of actually trying to make that happen in an audio sense. That’s really changed everything. Ten years ago, when I put out the first Killer Hertz CD, people wanted things as simple as individual touch-tone tones. Nowadays, that’s just so far off the radar and so hard to comprehend because you can generate noise within Pro Tools. You don’t need to be a musician anymore with loop-generating software like ACID. These have brought on huge changes.

JV: What mistakes do you think many programmers make with regards to imaging their stations.
Jeff: (chuckling) What mistakes do programmers make? It depends who you’re talking about. I think some of them maybe want to crowd up production with too much information. They see promos as being these things with a little bit of fashion, so they’ll load up the information that they need to get out and think that that sticks. And like I said before, I just simply don’t think it does.

I think the other mistake is probably that they don’t empower their production people. They don’t sit down with them at the beginning and share the vision and share the dream. They’re kind of too hands-on on a daily basis and don’t give out enough leash. I think if you sit down with somebody at the beginning and explain to them the reasons why you want it to be done this way and share that with them, the chances of you coming up with a better product are much greater.

JV: Besides obviously acquiring Killer Hertz 5 and the entire Killer Hertz collection, for that matter, what other advice would you offer to imaging producers who want to take their work to the next level?
Jeff: I think it’s become very competitive again. There was a time a few years back where it didn’t feel like there was a lot of up-and-coming engineers, and I think that’s turning around again. And because of that, I think you have to be 110 percent committed. I hate to use a cliché, but there are people out there now that can practice in their bedrooms, which was never the case when I was working in a production studio with a big board and a two-inch 24-track. But now they can, and there are people out there that will do it for nothing. I think you’ve really got to be committed. I think you’ve got to be extremely passionate about it.

And also, I think you’ve got to try and carve out your own identity. I don’t think you’re going to be around for a hell of a long time if you’re trying to mimic a style or mimic a sound. I’m not saying that I haven’t borrowed from people, and people have borrowed from me. That happens all the time. But I think you need to map out what is your playing field from a sound point of view and then explore every inch of that playing field.

But I think the bottom line is commitment. And then, at a certain point in your career you’re going to say, okay, well, I’ve moved a certain amount of times for radio. I’ve lived in all these different places for radio. Now it’s time for radio to come to me a little more, and that’s when you can start to address balance and things like that.

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