Composer Profile: Soundcake | As Sweet As It Sounds


Brando Triantafillou

When Brando Triantafillou moved to Chicago in 1991 to work at the now-defunct Editel post house as an assistant audio engineer, he didn''t realize that a few years later, he''d be composing. The company brought in Avid video-editing systems in ''94, giving him the opportunity to compose to rough cuts, many of which were screened in front of the client. “This is where I really began learning how to score to picture,” says Triantafillou, who also feels comfortable behind the drums, guitar, or keyboard. When Editel closed its doors in ''96, Triantafillou and two business partners opened Rhythm Café, focusing on original music and sound design for TV and radio. He threw in some producing/engineering/mixing credits for indie bands along the way, as well as recording his own music. Fast-forward 10 years, and Triantafillou is living well in his home studio under the banner of Soundcake.

How has recording your music helped you as a composer?
I think being a composer and working on tight schedules has helped me with my own songwriting. I was recently asked how I go about writing songs, and I mentioned that one thing I''ve learned to do quite well is to separate myself from my work—take a look at what I am writing/composing objectively. I listen to what I''ve composed on a very macro level rather than focusing on specific elements with the composition. I ask myself, “Is this music doing what I want it to do? Is the song working as a song? Is this musical idea adding or taking away from the song as a whole? Does the composition couple with what''s onscreen without getting in the way of the scene?” Many times, this is difficult to do because we become so close to our work, but I really think that it helps considering that much of what we do is work-for-hire.

Tell me about your studio.
It''s located in the lower level of my house. I constructed a small control/writing room, along with an iso booth and a medium-sized live room. I didn''t go crazy with the build-out since I am planning on moving to a new location. The acoustics are good overall. I have a drum kit that is set up in the live room, and I get very nice drum sounds. I''ve recorded several different instruments/groups in the room, and they all sound very good.

What are you composing to?
I compose and mix using [Avid] Pro Tools and use the Euphonix MC Control in HUI mode. I have an HD4 rig running on an Apple platform using 24 channels of Lynx Aurora converters and eight channels of an Avid 192 interface. I sum 32 channels of audio and effects returns to an SSL X-Rack and monitor using the X-Rack Master module. There are two 4-channel modules and three 8-channel modules for summing. Rounding out the X-Rack are two 4000 Series compressor/gates.

I use TDM and native plug-ins including McDSP Channel G, Waves SSL 4000, Steve Massey, Crane Song Phoenix, all the standard Pro Tools plug-ins. I don''t use reverb plug-ins; I mainly use outboard reverb units. For composition, I use EastWest Play libraries, [Spectrasonics] Omnisphere, Avid instruments, and NI instruments mainly.

Additionally, I use a Yamaha S90 controller and a Korg Triton Rack unit, along with an Access Virus and an original mono Oberheim Matrix-1000. The audio from these synths goes to a 16-channel Allen & Heath submixer that routes directly to Pro Tools.

At Soundcake in Chicago, Brando Triantafillou uses an Avid Pro Tools HD4 rig and Euphonix MC Control in HUI mode to compose and mix.

How does Pro Tools help you get the job done?
Composing within a DAW is a great way to realize your vision quickly. Also, creating various versions of an idea is easy. If you are working mainly with sample libraries and MIDI files, it''s nice to compose and then record them in as audio files all within the same application. Doing all the mixing in the box but using the SSL X-Rack to sum and monitor gives me the best of both worlds when mixing.

And monitors?
I''ve really come to trust my ATC SCM20s powered by an Adcom hi-fi amp. I also have a pair of Yamaha NS10s for use as a second reference, although I rarely use them because mixes I''ve done on the ATCs translate so well already. I only work in stereo as my space is not large enough to accommodate a surround setup.

How do you split responsibilities with co-owner Jared DePasquale?
I do the vast majority of the music production for Soundcake. Jared works with me on a per-project basis. He is a great orchestral composer/arranger, as well as an accomplished session guitar player. Normally, we are collaborating on projects, bouncing ideas off one another until we land on something we both really feel good about.

You just finished work on the short film An Evening With Emery Long. How did you get that gig?
Prior to staring the project, we all [Laura Szymber, producer and Brian Kallies, editor] got together to discuss what Brad [DeMarea, writer/director] was looking for regarding the music and sound design. They had placed some temp music over some of the scenes to give me an idea of the style of music they wanted. It was what I like to call 1960s-era Latin/organ music. Basically, it''s a simple percussion bed with organ playing both the melody/harmony and bass parts. I composed a theme that I felt matched the quirkiness of the film, then recorded real percussion including bongos, guiro, clave, and shakers. Once I made a few small changes, I recorded a keyboard player playing the organ part and adding in the swells and Leslie effects that you hear in the final music. The organ patch we used is from the Roland VK-8M module. The music you hear in the last scene, which takes place in a bar, is something I had recorded about a year earlier that was never used.

Additionally, I cleaned up the dialog tracks, added some SFX/Foley elements and mixed the final version of the film. The film was shown at the 2009 [Los Angeles Film Festival]. It is still showing at festivals around the country.

How has the composing business changed since you started at Editel?
The biggest change has been the Internet. We now have a much bigger potential client base, but also much more competition. Before the Internet, things didn''t happen as fast and there was more face-to-face time with clients. We used to have more time to put demo tracks together, and they didn''t need to sound like finals in the demo stage. Now, if music doesn''t sound as close to a final, mixed and mastered version at the demo stage, clients aren''t going to be very impressed. With everything being literally instant today, a client can audition anything they want basically from anywhere at any time.

The ability to access music quickly translates to us as composers when the client says, “I need it to sound like this by tomorrow.” Sometimes the temp music is simple and an original track can be produced very quickly. Other times, the temp track is very complex and most likely took months to produce, but we have to create something similar in a day with ever-shrinking budgets. This has become the norm in the industry. We as composers need to be able to produce many different styles of music quickly and for less money. This means that we not only need to be great composers, but also accomplished musicians, engineers, and sound designers. At the end of the day, the more we can do ourselves, the more money stays in our pocket.

Technology has really allowed this to happen. Today you can produce just about any style of music with a computer and a few microphones, but that doesn''t mean anyone with these tools can produce a high-quality product—that takes years of experience.