The Factory Studios founding partner on how a love for radio led to success in sound design, taking notes from Wes Anderson and the future of podcasts
Anthony Moore’s work sounds incredible. A founding partner of Factory Studios and the Factory Family, his 20 years experience in audio, sound design, music and broadcasting have seen (or heard) him produce some of the most revered commercial work of modern times. Projects from his iconic back catalogue include a series for Honda, from ‘Hands’ to ‘Ignition’ and ‘The Other Side’, every John Lewis Christmas campaign since the launch of the ‘Long Wait’ in 2011, huge work for Apple, Lurpak, Nike, the BBC and Channel 4, as well as three feature films.
Most people outside of the industry (and a good few in it) have no idea what sound design actually is, but if you just listen to his work you can instinctively understand what great sound design can do for a creative idea. That’s why in 2019 he earned the British Arrows Fellowship Award for his “outstanding contribution to the production of commercials”, making him the youngest person ever to receive that honour.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Anthony to find out more about one of the ad industry’s greatest sound designers.
LBB>Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like generally?
Anthony> I was born in Liverpool. I still have lots of family up there. I’m a massive Liverpool fan; football and music are in the blood. We moved to America for a few years when I was 10 and then I returned triumphantly with an American accent. Within days, this accent returned to Scouse as the New Jersey drawl didn’t quite fit the mean streets of Norris Green. We settled in Cheshire for my teens and that’s when my accent became what’s known in the trade as ‘generic northerner’.
I moved to Cornwall for university and then landed in London about 23 years ago.
LBB> What was your relationship to music like growing up?
Anthony> Growing up I’d either be playing football or messing with my super basic Yamaha synth trying to make a future number one smash hit.
I was always mad for music, listening to it or playing it. When I was little, I always used to bang on anything that made a noise. I was also a keen air drummer. Then, my parents relented and I got a drum kit. I played that first kit for ages and then when the skins broke, my parents saw that as an opportunity to quieten things down. So I then asked for an electric guitar. When I hit my teens, electronic gear started to become more accessible and I got hooked on synths and drum machines. I was a pest for wanting to get hold of musical instruments. Still am!
I think there’s just something in musical people, a passion to explore and play with sounds. I was absolutely fascinated by sound and music, I still am. My curiosity for it continues to inspire and guide me now.
My three older brothers helped to shape my musical horizons when I was younger. They had lots of amazing records for me to get my hands on. I was exposed to all sorts of music – punk, prog rock, disco, rap and even the new romantic scene – loads of great stuff. My brothers also introduced me to Joy Division, New Order and all the Factory Records stuff which I absolutely love and has been a big influence on me.
Looking back, some of the stuff I was hearing I didn’t totally get at the time, but it was there and I’d be taking it all in. I also loved listening to my mum and dad’s easy listening collection from the ‘70s. It’s a proper guilty pleasure of mine. It was stuff like James Last and Klaus Wunderlich, all these weird and wonderful easy listening tracks which then turned up on The Avalanches’ debut album many years later.
I’ve got loads of records at home that I’ve collected since I was about eight years old. I’m working on a passion project to delve into the weirder stuff and find obscure samples to re-work. I’m basically trying to be The Avalanches.
LBB> And how about sound more generally? I feel like the vast majority of people don't know what sound design is. How did you end up getting involved?
Anthony> Originally, my thing was radio. I wasn’t really aware of sound design and post production when I was starting out. When I was at sixth form, it was super hard to find an obvious way into a career in sound. I remember asking my careers officer about wanting to do work experience at a radio station, their response: “We don’t have that on the list. What about the library?” – not helpful in the slightest.
So, I went out and made it happen for myself. I wrote a letter to BBC Radio Stoke and managed to get myself a week’s work experience there. I immediately fell in love with everything to do with radio. I was editing on reel-to-reel tape machines with some chalk and a razor blade – proper old school!
After the work experience placement, I was offered a position to join the station’s youth programme, ‘Mix FM’. The Beeb didn’t pay you, but you received full BBC training in all aspects of radio production. I then spent two amazing years meeting and interviewing loads of brilliant bands to create my regular music features for the show. There was no Pro Tools back then, so many a late night was spent editing in the studio with bits of tape stuck everywhere. I’d then mix everything down live to tape to create my master mix. You learnt a lot doing things in that way – you had to really listen and trust your ears. If it sounds good, it is good!
That’s where I got the radio bug and a clear idea of what I wanted to do. After university, I was brimming with confidence and ready to smash the radio industry. I didn’t manage that.
LBB> No? Why not?
Anthony> When I came out of university, the digital revolution in audio had started – Pro Tools had arrived! I was used to working super fast on tape machines at uni because their very primitive DAW was ridiculously clunky and slow. But when I graduated and tried to get a job, everyone wanted to know if I could use Pro Tools. The whole landscape had changed in those three or four years while I was down in Cornwall. Damn it.
Then I had a chance meeting with one of my now business partners at a BBQ in South London. Back then the company was called The Production Factory and they needed a studio assistant, so I managed to blag an interview and from there I was offered the job.
LBB> What were those early years like, working at what was to become Factory?
Anthony> It was the late ‘90s and we were doing loads of work for the music industry. It was boom time for the DJ mix compilation CDs and I was able to put my DJ talents to good use by being the mixing talent behind these projects. The famous DJs who actually graced the cover of these branded mixes rarely turned up, so I ended up being the faceless DJ behind a host of number one charting mix CDs! We also did a lot of radio production for the ad agencies, which I loved. HHCL used to be over the road from us and they were regular visitors to our studio.
The early ‘00s began with the economy in recession and this brought about some big changes for the future of our business. We decided to start again, so we re-structured the management team, which I was now a part of, and we became Factory. It was a fresh start with a new ethos to work with like minded creative thinkers who were up for pushing the boundaries of sound design. We wanted to make work that we could be proud of and we wanted to break the mould of what an audio post production facility should be. We wanted to change things up and do it our way.
We attracted clients who liked that we were doing things differently, agencies that also broke the rules, like Mother and HHCL, they really got behind us and our rep slowly began to grow. There seemed to be a creative renaissance as we came out of the ‘00s recession and our friends at Mother were doing loads of renegade, slightly punky work that stood out from the crowd. That vibe really resonated with us and it kicked off a fantastic 10 years of work with those guys making some groundbreaking stuff that is still talked about now. That time felt fresh, exciting and super collaborative. It seemed to herald the arrival of a new breed of advertising creatives.
LBB> Why do you think you took to the job of advertising sound design so naturally and why did you fall in love with it?
Anthony> I love my job because my projects can be so varied and I think that’s a good thing for me. If I sit at home, noodle around and try and make some music, I go a bit stir crazy after a day. I like when there’s loads going on. I think that’s good for my creative soul.
A lot of the top end sound design and music composition in advertising is as good as the stuff you’re getting in feature films. London is full of amazing sound talent that smash it on a regular basis. It’s annoying when ads get looked down on from the features world. The levels of craft are still the same and I often find that some commercial projects allow you the space to be quite experimental and create challenging work. Don’t get me wrong, I do love the feature film projects that I’ve been involved in as they bring a different type of sound design challenge, they give you more space to create deeper themes that help to drive the narrative. When I’m doing a film project, it will take over my life for six months to a year, it’s a proper commitment that you have to immerse yourself in.
What’s great about our sound design industry is that you get to meet and collaborate with so many varied and talented people. It smashes loads of influences together and I think that’s a really healthy thing. It’s also allowed me opportunities to work with some utterly amazing people over the years – giving me some proper WTF moments!
LBB> Talking of unexpected moments of creativity, are there any that stand out for you as particularly amazing?
Anthony> Being involved in a couple of jobs where Wes Anderson was directing was quite a ride. I never got to meet him, but I received detailed emails from him about what to change. It’s a real insight into how someone like that works and how they take it right down to the minutiae.
Musically, I’ve been lucky enough to have met or worked with lots of interesting composers and musicians from the likes of Elton John, Gabriel Yared, Mike Skinner, Arthur Baker and Jon Hopkins. It’s amazing to work with those sorts of people and get an insight into how they do things.
LBB> What have you learned from your decades as a sound designer that you'd love more people to understand? I'm sure there are misconceptions all over the place!
Anthony> It makes me laugh that lots of people think that the sound is all there, captured on set by the location recordist and all we do is make it sound good for the telly. But, that’s what I love about what we do, things aren’t always what they seem. Sound design for film and TV is sonic landscape that’s always evolving. It dates back to things like Star Wars and Blade Runner, where all of a sudden there’s this new collection of sounds that you’ve never heard before, but yet, they feel so right and ultimately, they begin to define that genre. You don’t question why a light saber sounds like that, you accept it and enjoy it. As a sound designer, you are key to creating this new sonic language and I think that’s such an interesting area to explore and work in.
I recently did a talk in my son’s primary school and I took in a small plastic bag to help me demonstrate how sound can trick you. I told the kids to close their eyes and tell me what they heard when I scrunched the bag up. They all told me that it sounded like I was walking on leaves. You see, sound isn’t always as it seems. Tricks of the trade alert now, but if I ever do anything with snow or skiing in the visuals, I always add in a layer of sizzling bacon – it really sweetens the sound, gives it an edge.
Sound design and storytelling have to live together. For me, that’s what it’s all about. I love sound design when it’s immersed in the story and informs your understanding by adding a richness and depth of meaning. Every sound should be carefully considered and if it’s not serving a purpose, ask yourself, why is it there?
Aside from that, there’s a lot to be said for just getting on with people. You could be the most amazingly technical sound designer who knows every plug-in and all the cool tricks, but if you can’t spend eight hours in a studio and get on well with the bunch of people sat behind you, then you’re probably not going to get the repeat bookings that will help to build your career. Relationships are key in this business and what we do is a ton of fun, so collaborating with your clients, getting them involved and making them enjoy it is super important. That’s a big part of our ethos at Factory.
LBB> You've worked on a ridiculous list of top ads. What are you personally most proud of?
Anthony> I love all the Honda stuff we did with Wieden+Kennedy London. That was three or four years of really golden stuff. Kim Papworth and Tony Davidson [Wieden+Kennedy’s ECDs at the time] were super supportive of how we approached the sound design on each job. They unshackled things in a brilliant way by opening up the doors for us to play around with the sound. As soon as those guys said we’re going to do something mad with the sound design, you knew that we were properly going to go for it. Such fun times.
I remember taking Honda ‘Hands’ home when we had finished it as I wanted to play it to my wife. She’s amazing because she’s super grounded and if she sees a shit ad, she’ll tell me, even if it’s one of mine! With ‘Hands’ I remember her saying it was the best thing I’d ever done and because those words came from her, that meant the world to me. When you’re in the thick of it, you need those external influences to help you gain perspective, it’s important.
With W+K London we did some amazing Honda work such as Hands, The Other Side, Inner Beauty and Ignition. The crucial thing about those projects was that the creative teams put the sound design front and centre from the get go. That’s why that stuff is so good. We’d be involved early on, there’d be time to play with things, to experiment and get things wrong, because that’s how you discover what’s really right. I always encourage clients to do that, because if you build in time to play and experiment, you’ll uncover amazing things that can really step things up a notch.
Obviously, I’m super proud of the John Lewis Christmas commercials that I’ve worked on. We did our ninth one last Christmas and I’m hoping to make it to 10 this year (please Mr Brim!) To have been involved with that campaign from the very start and for it to have seeped into popular culture and completely defined an era of advertising is pretty mind blowing. I think it’s one of those things that will be forever looked back upon and referenced as it’s become such a phenomenon. It’s such an honour to be involved with that project year on year. And my mum bloody loves it!
I’m also extremely proud of Channel 4 - We’re the Superhumans. It totally transcended advertising and became something that meant so much more to us all in 2012 - and still today. I love those projects that have rippled out into popular culture, great pieces of work that have really resonated with people.
I’m also very proud of what we’ve created with the Factory Family group - Factory, Siren, Honey and Texture. I look back now and it feels like we created something pretty damn amazing with all the odds seemingly stacked against us in those very early days. We just got stuck in, did what we felt was right and went on a fantastic journey to build an exciting company that’s the home to a brilliantly talented group of people. My team make me so proud on a daily basis, they totally inspire and excite me for the future – watch this space!
LBB> Having started in radio, how do you feel about how that medium has changed over the years? It's interesting how huge podcasts have become. And obviously that's also part of your business now too!
Anthony> We’ve just opened the Podcast Lounge at Factory [which, despite coronavirus, is open for sessions - as is Factory more generally - since lockdown eased somewhat in the UK]. We’ve been working with podcasts and audio content for the past three years or so. I think the genre is still finding its way, but I think we’ll see lots of movement and change over the next two or three years as people realise they can do so much more with audio. I think there will definitely be a push towards more craft and better production values in podcasts.
Essentially, podcasts are on-demand audio and I think that term can be whatever you want it to be as we move forward. That’s why we’ve opened the Podcast Lounge as we have masses of expertise in working with sound, music and voice. We want to give people a space where they can come to record their content and collaborate with us to make great audio stories and experiences. We are also creating and developing our own ‘Factory Originals’ stories which opens up another new and exciting area for us to explore and create within.
A lot of podcasts actually annoy the hell out of me. But that’s my challenge with Factory Originals and the collaborators that we are working with... I want to make THE BEST podcasts! Audio is the theatre of the mind, so with the right sound design and a brilliant story, you can close your eyes and we can take you anywhere! I want to create cinematic audio experiences that will make you stop and really listen. That’s the dream, and the challenge.
LBB> What else keeps you busy? Do you have any nice hobbies or weird fascinations?
Anthony> I’m really lucky because my hobby has turned out to be my job! Free time always feels like a bit of a rarity for me, so when I get out of work, it’s all about spending quality time with my wife and kids - that time’s golden.
I enjoy time spent in my home studio making music and having a mess around with my guitar, drums and keyboards. I’ve got a hard drive full of too many half-finished tracks, one day I’ll finish them! This dabbling at home often finds its way into a job at Factory, the curiosity of messing around when there’s no pressure is great.
When I was super young, I remember that I always wanted to be a famous musician, a guitar or drum hero! But I quickly figured out a long time ago that my place is behind the mixing desk. To be honest, it’s way more interesting being on this side of the desk. More time for eating sushi too.