Shawn Clement - EMusician

Shawn Clement

Shawn Clement has been known for years as a major contribution to TV shows such as Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and World''s Scariest Police Chases, along with films and cartoons. But over a decade after he started in the business, Shawn is now finding himself writing and producing dozens and sometimes even hundreds of songs for videogames such as Kim Possible: What''s The Switch? and Open Season. Shawn found some time talk about the changing role of scoring, the challenges that pop up when producing your own scores, and why being unprofessional is sometimes the only way to get the sound you want.
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EQ: How did you get involved in scoring/producing music for TV and videogames?

Shawn Clement: I've been a working musician since I was a teenager and I started realizing film composing was what I wanted to do. I ended up moving out to LA, getting a job in the mailroom at Sony, and used all the money to buy equipment. That was about 12 years ago and I've been composing ever since.

EQ: You didn't have any formal training?

SC: All of my production and engineering came from hands on experience. I just asked questions, and through trial and error learned how to run pretty much everything. When I quit the mailroom, about a month later I got a cartoon gig and it really started with that.

EQ: As a musician, why do you prefer to also produce your music?

SC: In this business, the modern day composer has to wear all the hats. I wanted to really just concentrate on writing, but it's limiting. You have to be good at production and mixing because that's going to be part of your writing. A studio doesn't know or care how you did it, but it has to be what they want. You may have written something great, but if you don't have the production chops and it sounds like it came out of a Casio, you're in trouble.

EQ: But your production is not very traditional...

SC: I've had some professional producers come in my studio who are shocked at the way I go about things, but when they hear the final product, they say, "Oh, I guess it works". I may not know all the technical dialogue, but I know how to dial in the sound I want and that's all that's important.

EQ: What kind of equipment are you using?

SC: My main recording system is Sonar 6, and I just got this new Rain Recording System, which is this insane computer. But I'm also pretty traditional in that I use a lot of outboard gear- I have a three O2Rs linked and a Mackie 1604 as a sub mixer. For effects I have a Yamaha Rev500, an SPX990, and an Eventide H3000. Also aTC Electronics 2290, a Lexicon PCM-70, and some of my samplers are an Akai 6000, an Akai E4, a Kurzweil K2500. I also have a Yamaha DX7, a Roland 580 and 1080, and three Gigastudios.
When I start out I have my go to boxes- The K2500, a Gigastudio, the Akai 6000, and an E4, and I play with those and then add what I need from there. I have everything wired so it's running live all the time. I'm using every input and output on my board.

EQ: What about “real” instruments?

SC: Oh yeah, I have about 40 or 50 guitars, waterphones, sitars, tons of different things to work with. I really try and keep everything as real and organic as possible.

EQ: Do you see a difference in TV and video game composing?

SC: The videogame guys tend to care more about the final product than a lot of people that work in TV. In videogames you're given a lot more time and they tend to get a lot more involved. They really want to make the music a focal point, because unlike a score for a show, you can't really hide behind anything like dialogue or a story that's constantly moving.

EQ: And for your new game, Open Season, you wrote 50 pieces?

SC: Actually, 250 pieces.

EQ: Wow...

SC: Yeah, I was mapping out dozens and dozens of songs beforehand because I couldn't keep going back and re-miking every instrument every time I used it. So for example, I would figure out every song that needed banjo, mic it up, and just play however many songs were going to have banjo. As far as mixing goes, I kind of mix as I'm writing--purely to save time. This business always has a time factor, and I tweak songs so that by the time the piece is written it's almost already completely done.

EQ: Mix as you go?

SC: I didn't study orchestration or anything like that. It's the same as when you're a kid and you want to learn your favorite guitar lick: You buy the record and listen to the recording. I've done the same with producing, try to emulate what I'm hearing. I don't focus on specific ideas, but rather just go by my ears.

EQ: Is that an extension of you being a musician at heart?

SC: There is a stigma out here where TV composers are thought of as writing bland, sterile music, and I hate the staleness that you hear on so many shows, so what I try to do is I try to mix everything like it's a Zeppelin record. I try to bring that sensibility. I try not to pull it back, but push it as far as I can.

EQ: Do you have a hard time keeping focused when you're working on so many songs at once?

SC: You get lost. I'll sit down my friends that stop by or my wife, who has to hear this stuff all the time, and just ask "Does this sound right?" because when you're working sometimes 20 hour days you almost don't hear anything anymore.

EQ: What are you using to monitor your mixes?

SC: I have three sets of monitors. I have some Yamaha NS10's, some Genelec's, and some Truth Audios, which are a good mix of the first two. I mix really loud. I live on a ranch, and my studio is about an acre away from the house, and what I like to do is crank it up super loud and walk outside and around the property. Then I can hear what's really sticking out. I got the idea when I used to use headphones, and when I would set the headphones down I could really hear if something was too loud or too quite.

EQ: How do you take into account that most of your music will be heard on a TV?

SC: You used to have to mix for TV, but nowadays the average person is listening through home stereo systems or nicer speakers. So mostly you have to focus on not losing your EQ. With explosions and other sound effects, these are competing with your music. So, I tend to roll off the low end instead of heaping it on and that way my music is still in there, but it's not interfering with anything. You have to think of what frequencies they may be using. On its own, the music may sound thin, but in the context of the show, it stands out.

EQ: And, of course, that is what’s most important to you.

SC: Of course. If you're a composer and you have pride in what you're doing, never give them an excuse to lose your music.