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TBWA TALK #1: Sound Is Also Design

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Randall W. Macdonald talks about his job, the new high-end studio, the move from Wave Studios to TBWA\NEBOKO, and much more.

TBWA TALK #1: Sound Is Also Design

"Music and sound are taking on an increasingly crucial role in advertising, so it's incredibly important to include it upfront in the process. The new studio makes this possible." Randall W. Macdonald transferred to TBWA\NEBOKO's production house Vidiboko last year in the role of Sound Engineer. Prior to this, he worked for twelve years at Wave Studios in Amsterdam. When he heard that he could help realize the perfect in-house sound studio at TBWA, he couldn't say 'no'.


Q> What does a sound engineer do and what is it like to work as a sound engineer in advertising?

Randall> Sound engineers are needed in all sorts of places. In film, at festivals and events and also at an advertising agency. In an agency, as a sound engineer I have different roles. I create sound effects, direct voice overs, do the mix and master for TV, radio and online media and sometimes I even compose music myself. Because it's all quite precise you know. At times I call myself a sound designer. I am creatively involved in the final product. That end product, the commercial, often lasts only thirty seconds, but it has to be perfect. The creatives come with a rough idea and together with my suggestions we arrive at the perfect soundtrack for a film or ad. We use the term 'the chicken or the egg' on a daily basis. As in who is leading; the film, the music or sometimes even the voice over? We all depend on each other at this stage of the production process. Furthermore, a great deal is expected of you. I often work under time pressure and sometimes have to change things at the very last minute. You have to be able to cope with that.


Q> What are you working on now?

Randall> We recently finished building our own very awesome sound studio, which we've been working on for the last few months. For weeks I was actually a kind of contractor. We are one of the few agencies that have our own studio. A high-end post-production facility with musical capabilities. You can compare it to Wisseloord in Hilversum. Same quality, same possibilities. Super professional.

Q> What is the advantage of an in-house Sound Studio? What makes this studio so special? And what is the benefit for the client?

Randall> Music and sound are taking on an increasingly crucial role in advertising. That's why it's so important to include it in the creative process, and the new studio makes that possible. From the beginning I have been involved in the development of the studio. As a result, both the small and large technical details that I had put on my wish list over the years have all been added. The quality is just top-notch. In addition, internally the studio directly creates much shorter lines of communication and an a more streamlined creative process. Creatives don't have to go out the door all the time; they just walk by. The same goes for clients: they are often at TBWA's office anyway, so that saves them a lot of travel time as well. And while I'm on the subject of benefits, it's also just a really nice place to work in. We want to make it as comfortable as possible for everyone.

 

Q> Do you have a certain ambition?

Randall> I think it would be great to play more of a creative role earlier in the 'making' process. In recent years techniques in the field of sound have accelerated, think of 3D & Spatial Audio, interactive websites, augmented reality and VR. I have grown along with these developments and from my expertise, I can perhaps give guidance in devising new campaigns in which we can use these kinds of techniques to really make something new.

I also like to do more with music. I am a composer myself and together with my colleague Jeroen and all the other talent that is under the TBWA roof, I think we can make a lot of beautiful things! We now have such a nice studio that we can use perfectly for recordings, jam sessions and all kinds of musical creations! And as a newly turned proud father, I would love to see my daughter behind the controls one day. More ladies in sound!

Randall working on the sound for State Lottery New Year's Eve commercial with Fritsie in the background.


Q> Why did you make the switch to TBWA?

Randall> I worked in a great team at Wave, but after twelve years it was the right time for a new challenge. And where else does one get the chance to build an entire new studio from scratch? Another awesome thing about TBWA is that you get exposed to many different disciplines and backgrounds. There is a lot of knowledge here. I meet people here who I can learn from and with whom I can get to a higher level creatively, it's an exchange. For example, I am asked for advice when ideas are still in the concept phase.


Q> What is the secret to the perfect soundtrack?

Randall> I'm happy when all the ingredients work well together. Sounds very logical, but it's not. It is imperative that the basic ingredients are right, before you go into the mix. In addition, you must be able to sense what people mean. Sound is abstract, which can sometimes make it difficult to put feedback into words. I once got asked 'could it be greener' or in a different colour. But also: 'It should be louder, but also softer'. This then meant 'someone who shouts, but from a distance'. Communicating, listening carefully and empathizing, I think, is also a nice skill.

 

Q> What stimulates your creativity?

Randall> Group synergy - where everything comes together. Sparring with each other. And the sound studio promotes that.

 

Q> What would you like to give up-and-coming sound engineers?

Randall> As sound engineers we often tend to live in our own little world and stay behind the scenes. However, 50% of my work comes down to social skills and people management. Create a good atmosphere and keep the passion going. Inspire the voice actors and put the talent at ease, to prevent someone from clamming up. The 'talk back button' is the magic button.

 

Q> What have you seen in the past thirteen years of working in this industry?

Randall> Less cockiness in advertising. Before my time, advertising was an extravagant world. Mad Men era. Those creatives are aging.

 

Q> What's the most disruptive thing you've done in your work?

Randall> If disruptive is considered breaking with traditions and ingrained working methods, then I could say that I have found unconventional ways to make certain sound effects, for example, and mixes stand out better and more powerfully. The detailed answer to this is fairly technical and more for the 'sound-geeks' among us. ;-)


Q> Which client would you like to work for someday and why?

Randall> I'm thinking more in terms of a style or certain directors that could fit multiple brands rather than a specific client. For example, I'd like to see more plot-driven humour back in advertising, ones that go big. I’m talking about the Heineken commercials from years ago or the Booking.com commercials. But if you really press me for an answer; Lurpak. I would love to do the sound design for their Hero-Film of the Year.  It would also be nice to work on the latest iPhone commercial for Apple. Showcasing features through funny and slick films - often supported by snappy Guy Richie-esque sound design - I always have a soft spot for that.

 

Q> What should customers really be concerned with? Can you give them a hint?

Randall> A conscious point of view on the future and being able to take us, the consumer, with you there. Companies are just like pop stars, influencers or politicians; the movers and shakers in society. They can give direction to problems, such as climate change and inequality. I can only applaud the way adidas, for example, deals with these issues and the way they incorporate them into their campaigns. As long as it's genuine and you don't give consumers the feeling that a brand is jumping on the "better future for everyone" bandwagon. Or just trying to portray itself in a positive light. It's often a difficult task for the creative department to walk that fine line of real and heartfelt emotion, which is actually amazing when it succeeds.

In conclusion, I think real emotion and humanity are very important in advertising. Getting a product stuffed down your throat with a lot of shouting and fanfare is a thing of the past. Fortunately, you see a lot less of that, except for the apparently still necessary BOGOF chicken meat ads.

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Creative Agency

Creative Agency: TBWA\NEBOKO

Author: Carli Jager

Genres: Music & Sound Design

TBWA\NEBOKO, Fri, 29 Apr 2022 17:02:52 GMT