From the Editor: Time to Step Out and Step Up

Aug 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Tom Kenny, Editorial Director


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It would have been easy to put a shot from American Idol on the big screen of this month's cover. It's a certified Number One show every week it airs, and for the past seven years, it has served as something of a calling card for Levels Audio of Hollywood, bringing them America's Got Talent and So You Think You Can Dance?, among many other weekly shows, including the HBO hit Flight of the Conchords. They're great gigs, steady as she goes, practically guaranteed repeat business.

But then Levels founder/owner/mixer Brian Riordan called and said he would like to pop in a still from Expedition Africa, a show tracing the Stanley and Livingstone adventures for the History Channel. His logic, as he explained it, was that everybody knew he did Idol; people around town already associated him with that high-pressure reality-show environment. He loves the shows, but he felt like he was getting too promotional for a cover. At the same time, he was really jazzed about heading into equatorial Africa and showcasing the range that his tight-knit and hard-working staff enjoy. I applauded the move, and it got me thinking.

It's awfully easy to get pigeonholed in this day and age. You need a heavy-metal track? You need to hire Producer A. You need a blockbuster track for a special effects-driven summer release? You need to hire re-recording team XYZ. You need a score for a multiplayer race game? Well, then you have to hire game audio composer J. Why? Because you need the confidence, and these professionals have a track record.

But that track record can be a double-edged sword for an engineer, producer or composer. Much like a mystery writer can have a hard time launching another character when all their audience wants is another Dave Robicheaux plotline, so too can an audio professional be locked into a particular area of expertise. And it's not always fair. Most every professional I've met across more than 20 years of reporting on professional audio has wide and varied interests, along with talents across multiple genres. Most got intoaudio because of a love for music — all types of music. To presume that a hard-rock producer would not be right for a singer/songwriter might seem logical, but it wouldn't always be correct. If Rick Rubin can do the Beasties, Slayer, Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond, certainly others can show their range, too.

So while it might seem best in this current economic climate to hunker down and go with what you know, it might also be the absolute right time to branch out and head to Africa, literally or figuratively. Shake things up. Explore your interests. Bid on the romantic comedy. Step out of your comfort zone and see what happens. Certainly, you don't want to neglect a client like Idol, but then you never know where the next Idol will come from.

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