Let’s get started with the Jamey Scott Special! Here is an exclusive interview with him, talking about several aspects of his career, workflow, tools, and more! Hope you enjoy it.
DS: Please introduce yourself… how you get started in sound and how has been the evolution of your career?
JS: Ok, well let’s see… I’ve been involved in what we’re calling sound design now for around 17 years, I think. That number is a little nebulous because I was working on my studio chops without working on professional projects for a long time.
I was a Jazz guitar major at San Diego State University, paying my way through college by playing around San Diego, in bands at bars, that sort of thing. $50 a night wasn’t really much to buy studio gear on, so I had to work a lot to fund my passion for gear. Eventually I amassed enough stuff to put together a demo that ultimately got me that first job, which came shortly after college around 1994, when I was asked by a college friend to create some sound effects and music for a CD-ROM companion that was shipping with some McGraw Hill books that he was doing graphics for. The first job was a blast. They sent me this list of sounds that they needed like “Vacuum cleaner turning on” and that sort of thing. Easy stuff. But then it started getting harder like “chime for bonus achievement”, which got me to thinking… “hmm… how am I going to make that?”, which let me down the path that I currently walk today as a creative problem solver of sound.
DS: Did you have a mentor early or something like that? How did you get involved with video games?
JS: I never really had a mentor… that came later via nagging smart dudes around the internet like Charles Deenen. Early on, I was just hanging by the skin of my teeth, learning from each new challenge. I’m thankful that there were those opportunities for someone inexperienced because I very much learned most of what I know “on the job”.
Back to the “first job”, I ended up moving my gear into my college buddies’ company building and became their in-house sound and music guy. It was a super cool gig for me. It didn’t pay much, but it paid enough for me to evolve my studio gear a little bit at a time and pay the rent so I was pretty happy. But then I discovered MYST, which kinda changed my life. I stayed up for hours fascinated by that damn game. It was hilarious, my wife (then girlfriend) would leave for work shaking her head at me because I was so engrossed in the game. Then she’d return 7 hours later and I’d be in the same place and she would just freak out.. “I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU HAVEN’T MOVED ALL DAY!!!”. I’d say dumb stuff like “well I did go to the bathroom a few times”. Anyhow, MYST had a “making of” quicktime movie on the disc and it showed how they made some of the sounds and I remember thinking “well how cool is that??”.
As luck would have it, the company that I was working for started to do some contract work for Presto Studios, who had released a game called The Journeyman Project, which was very similar to MYST but much more sci-fi, which was right up my alley, so I checked it out. I loved it and eventually had a chance to meet a couple of the guys making the game. They had a sound and music guy at the time so I never thought I’d have a shot to work for them, but they parted ways shortly after the Journeyman Project sequel, (Buried In Time) and so I approached the decision makers at Presto.
I was pretty green and wasn’t ready for prime-time at the time and they were definitely prime-time so I knew it was a long shot, but I went for it anyway and ended up getting an interview. It went well. 6 years later, I had been the audio director, sound designer, composer, and pretty much everything else on about 8 of their fantastic projects, including MYST3: Exile, which was a real benchmark for me, given that MYST was my initial attraction to the game industry.
Sadly, they closed their doors in 2001 and I decided to go freelance instead of immediately lock myself back into an office situation. I didn’t really intend on staying freelance forever because I enjoyed having the stability of a job, but I started to land some pretty big clients and one thing led to another and here I am, 9 years later, still freelance!
DS: And how about films?
JS: The film thing came a little bit later and it was mostly out of my desire to have a deeper understanding of the craft and business of sound design.
Working on games is at times a very derivative process in that I get a lot of people asking me to come up with sounds that sound like this or that and most of the reference comes from movies. At that time, there were very few resources available in regard to how sound designers make things so I had to let my ears lead the way. I spent most of my childhood transcribing guitar and saxophone solos and I had a college education in music, so my ears were highly trained. I could pick out the layers of most sounds and if I could figure out how to make the layers involved, I could reproduce sounds identically. I got pretty good at it, but I really wanted to work on movies, mostly for the opportunity to work with and learn from guys who innovated these techniques. I didn’t want to be an imitator, I wanted to get to the point where I could stylize things in a new or unique way.
So, I convinced my wife to move the family to Burbank in 2003 and we’ve been settling in ever since.. lol. I landed my first feature film job within 2 months of living here. I didn’t even have my studio built yet and here I was convincing this guy that I could redo his film’s sound and mix it like a pro… I was a bit naive. But, opportunities led from one to another and I actually did get to the point where I could build a full feature films sound from nothing to a final mix. I’ve worked on about 17 features and a ton of short films so I’m pretty comfortable with the process now.
DS: How do you stay creative? do you have any kind of method/habits to enhance your creativity as sound designer? where does your inspiration come from?
JS: Good question. For me, creativity has never really been an issue. There’s a direct parallel to composing in this regard that I think about often.
With composing, the understanding of music theory is core to the craft. If you have a deep understanding of it, you can always just come up with something. It may not the best something you’ve ever conceived of, but there’s always something. By having that deep understanding of music theory, you can always evolve that little something by thinking about it analytically. Like putting together a puzzle. The theory gives you the guidelines to craft something out of nothing systematically.
It’s the same way with sound design for me. The long road always starts with a little step and fortunately, those little steps are always just available to me in my mind. I then let my years of learned techniques take over and can usually craft that little nugget of an idea into something pretty evolved and fitting to the task at hand. In that sense, sound design is a lot like composing for me.
DS: You’ve worked on a lot of different projects, from indie films to short films, and AAA games. What industry you like the most? Did you have a favorite genre or type of project?
JS: It really depends. I like having a lot of diversity in my life. I like working with new and different people; collaborating and getting to know others artistically and personally. It’s a really rewarding and rich way for me to live my life and I’m usually very energized by new opportunities.
The best projects are always the ones where I’m clicking with the people involved and we’re having fun doing what we’re doing. Technically, I think my favorite thing to do is mixing prerendered game cinematics. Having the freedom to design all of the content in those scenes and having the luxury of time to perfect the 5.1 mixes are just a thrill for me. I like the feeling of completion and the end result of knowing that they were silent before I got to it. I’m mixing the cinies for Epic’s next game Bulletstorm right now and I’m having a blast with them. Full bore action sequences with lots of little details. Fun stuff :)
As far as which industry I like the most, that’s tough to say. They’re very different industries and yet very similar in terms of the actual craft of sound. The film industry is far more political and systemic, which I actually kind of like. There’s a lot more to learn in the film industry from an artistic standpoint too, but the game industry also has some things going for it that film guys cannot hang on. Games are more technical and films are more emotional and I like both aspects. From an aesthetic perspective, I think I lean more towards film because I am a subtle artist and my greatest moments are centered around an emotional context. Games invoke plenty of “cool”, but rarely any emotion. I’ve always been more drawn to subtle things and telling stories with sound that aren’t so on the nose or over the top. At times I think that my personality is not cut out for games because I’m such an emotionally motivated person, but I’m also compelled by what’s cool, so when I’m in the midst of that, I definitely feel like I’m in my element in games.
DS: If you had to give one advice to a sound designer (both pro and young)… What would you say?
JS: I generally don’t like to be forthcoming with advice because I always feel like a student and I’m the one that should be getting the advice! lol :). But in retrospect, I think the best advice that I can give is advice that was once given to me by Charles Maynes.
He told me that you need to live your life for love and everything else will fall into place. That was really important for me to hear at the time because it was right when I moved to LA and I was having a hard time adjusting. I felt like everything was just so urgent and that I had to sacrifice everything for my career if it was to take off.
But ultimately, hearing that helped me settle into the perspective that my career is ultimately not the thing that will bring my happiness, it is my relationships, and that has rung so true time and time again, year after year, situation after situation. My wife, my children, my family, my friends, and my clients. They are what matter the most in life and the next gig, the current artistic conflict, the politics, the competition, the guy who won’t pay me, etc.. that stuff is all just bumps in the road.
DS: You do both sound design and mixing crafts… What do you like the most? Also… if you know you’ll mix a design you’re working on, how that affect the way you work on it??
JS: That’s a really good question. I like mixing the most, but a mix is only as strong as its parts, so I like to create the sounds in my mixes so that they support what I believe to be a good mix.
That works inversely in regard to designing sounds for a mix. I have a certain way that I like my mixes to sound so I can design sounds in a way that fully support my mixing concept.
It’s not like I NEED total control though. I’m happy to work with and support other people who contribute to a project when I’m mixing. Sometimes though I secretly mess with other peoples designs to make them work better in my mixes, but that’s part of the gig. You do what you have to, but then I’m usually excited to hear what other great pros that I’m working with are doing and it inspires and motivates me to take things to an even higher level.
DS: What are your main tools in the studio and the field?
JS: Well that’s easy.. my ears! haha… Seriously though, I think my greatest asset in my studio is the studio itself. It was designed by Chris Pelonis and the sound is so good that it is actually a very precise tool that I use to determine what should go where in a mix and in a design. And because the room was basically built for my speakers, I would include them in that category.
I’m a pretty straight-forward kind of guy. I have 2 ProTools HD systems that I use in tandem via Satellite. I mix in the box for everything and I don’t like using faders and consoles. Both of my PT systems have 2 192 digital interfaces so I use my second system as a dubber for complex mixes when I’m mixing by myself. I also frequently have an assistant mixer when things get really deep, so I’ll run fx and dialog on my main system and he’ll run bgs and music on the second system. 2 ways of offsetting the load of really big mixes. I find that HD3 systems just aren’t enough for some of the bigger mixes that I do so it really helps to split them up. I also have a little Mac Mini with an 11 interface that I use for the rare occasion that I record guitar, but mostly as a dedicated video playback device via SatelliteLE. It’s connected directly to my projector. That machine also has all of my softsynths on it that I connect to via VSL pro. Really helps the stability of protools to get those softsynths out of the main system. Avid still hasn’t gotten that right sadly.
I have a machine room on the other side of the ADR booth that houses my two main Macs (8core Intel machines), my interfaces, and all of my networking and server gear. I do all of my own IT and cabling, which is the reason I’ll probably die young… hahaha.
In the field, I have a cool little rig that I take with me everywhere I go. It’s a little bit elaborate but the sound I get is worth it. Essentially, it’s a core-sound 2496mk2 preamp connected digitally to a Sony D50 that I just use as a memory stick recorder. All of the good stuff is happening in my Mics and the 2496. It all packs away nicely in a tool belt and I have all of my cables custom made to perfect lengths so it’s a very slick and stealth recording rig.
DS: Why you don’t like faders and consoles? What kind of tools you use for mixing then?
JS: Well, I think of that stuff as old school. Even though I started working in studios in 1993, I never sat at a console. I stated out using DeckII and moving automation with my mouse, so I got really quick at it. I always saw those fader consoles as harkening back to a paradigm that was never mine. I’ve really tried to use them. I’ve had a procontrol desk, a mackie fader controller, and others, but I always just come to the same conclusion with them. They’re a glorified mouse and keyboard and at the end of the day, I’m WAY faster with a mouse, a keyboard (and of course, QuickKeys).
DS: What has been the project that you’ve enjoyed the most?
JS: A film I recently worked on called Desert Son. It was a feature film that I found myself totally in my element. It’s an indy art film about some derelict kids living in the desert and it was a clean palette for me to exercise 16 years of sound ideas that I’ve had floating around in my head. Completely different than any other games or movies I’ve worked on, and very rewarding. The design is very subtle but rich and emotional.. probably to no one else but me, but that’s ok. There are no “cool” sounds designed for it like I do for Gears or Unreal Tournament, it’s all just about pace, overall story arc, and provoking the right moment at the right time and doing it in an unexpected and challenging way.
But then, I think if you asked me that question right after I finished Gears 1, I probably would have told you that was my best work. I dunno… I tend to get really into what I’m working on and I let it capture me so whatever my last thing was will probably always be my best work or my most favorite thing… that said, Desert Son was an amazing project for me. Fingers crossed that it gets some sort of distribution.
DS: So, what are you currently working on? what’s next for Jamey Scott?
JS: I’ve got a little too much on my plate at the moment so I’m working very hard. I’m working on Gears of War 3 and Bulletstorm with Epic, I’m audio directing a game called Hunted for Bethesda, and I’m working on these little Dr. Seuss iPhone apps for a startup company called Oceanhouse Media. These are all keeping me very very busy. Oh I’m also doing work on SOCOM4 for PS3. Right now I’m focusing on getting to the end of this busy stretch which will end in a couple of months. Then I’ll worry about what comes next. I think I’d like to get onto another feature film where I can really stretch my legs, but I’m open to whatever.