This month's Cherry Audio Featured Artist, Dave Polich, has done sound design/programming/production for major artists such as Michael Jackson (for the "This Is It" Tour rehearsals), David Foster (16-time Grammy-winning producer, composer, and songwriter), The Cure, Fleetwood Mac and so many major artists too long to list here.
We first met Dave when we noticed an email he sent us completely raving about our new instrument release of the CA2600. As Dave informed us that he worked on the sound design team for WayOutWare's timewARP 2600, needless to say, we were humbled:
"I have done sound design for many products, hardware and software, since 1990, for Yamaha, Korg, Roland, Dave Smith, Native Instruments, Arturia, and others. I just wanted to say I am beyond impressed with CA2600. I was part of the sound design team for WayOutWare’s timewARP 2600, and I feel CA2600 surpasses the quality of that synth. CA2600 really sounds like the hardware to me..it has that kind of metallic graphite ARP sound which no other developer has nailed. The CA2600 filter self-oscillates just like the old 2600’s, right down to the extreme resonance level boost which of course you had to be mindful of. Synthesized percussion, blips, lazers, whistles and bombs are a breeze to create on CA2600. I absolutely love this product and I think you folks there at Cherry Audio deserve a Sound On Sound software synth of the year award for it. Thank you for making such great products. I look forward to the next ones!"
With an absolute boatload of experience and knowledge in the field of sound design and music production, Dave talks about his career, the CA2600, synthesizers, sound design, studio production and industry trends:
Q: Tell us about yourself. What do you like to do outside of music?
A: I love watching anything and everything fantasy and sci-fi! Including classic 50's movies like The Day The Earth Stood Still, Them, It Came From Outer Space, and Forbidden Planet. If there are monsters, spaceships, and rayguns, I'm onboard, man. Lately I've been watching reruns of the silly 60's Irwin Allen shows like Lost In Space and Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea, and the 80's TV series Buck Rogers In The 25th Century. I'm also a huge fan of the Stargate SG-1 series as well as every Star Trek movie and series, including the newest ones, like Star Trek Discovery and Star Trek: Picard.
Q: How did you first get into music?
A: Easy answer - the Beatles. 1964, I saw their first US appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Then I noticed that the girls at school had pictures of the Beatles in their school lockers, and I figured wow, there must be something to these guys. So I took up drums and walked around school with a pair of drumsticks in my pocket, thinking I was Ringo Starr. Drums were my first instrument, played them for eight years, then transitioned to keyboards, which was an easy move because both drums and piano are played rhythmically.
Q: After working with so many legendary artists, what did you take away from these sessions? Any fun "behind the scenes" stories?
A: Well I'm not at liberty to talk about a lot of what happened while working as keyboard tech and programmer for Michael Jackson's "This Is It" rehearsals, other than to say that we never actually did the show because he passed away suddenly the week before we were headed to O2 Arena in London. Here's a couple of takeaways that I can talk about though: I learned that David Foster is one of the biggest Beatle fans who ever lived, and can play rings around most anyone, in any style. And on the 2013 tour with the Cure (pictured above with Keith Uddin, The Cure's recordist and world-class mix engineer), every show we did there were about a hundred fans in the front rows, all wearing makeup and dressed like Robert Smith (the Cure's lead singer). These people followed the Cure around the world, literally, and attended every single show.
Q: We were excited to read your comments about the CA2600. For developers of virtual synthesizers that emulate these classic instruments, what do you appreciate the most about the emulations and software format, and, what are some of the pitfalls that software developers need to be aware of and avoid?
A: Citing the CA2600 as an example, I really dig it when a software synth emulation sounds like the hardware. And it bugs me to no end when it doesn't. All of the Cherry Audio synths sound like hardware to me, which is to say, they have that elusive three-dimensional juicy analog sound, that somewhat metallic iron-oxide "coating" to their timbre which analog circuits impart. If you've owned a lot of hardware synths and keyboards, and I have either owned or used every single vintage synthesizer and keyboard there was, that "sound" gets burned into your memory banks. It isn't something you can explain to someone whose only experience with synthesizers is software. Hardware synths don't sound "small" - they sound big and meaty. Without citing specific products, I can tell you that many software synth developers apparently never encountered the synths they are emulating in real life. Obviously, that comes from not having the actual original hardware synths around to match their emulation to. I should mention, a software synth GUI that looks like the original hardware synth is really important to me because I'm so familiar with how the old synths worked.
Now here's a pitfall software developers can't avoid; no matter how accurate their emulation is, the sound isn't coming from the original hardware instrument's outputs. A lot of those old vintage synthesizers had noisy or just plain crap outputs, sometimes the sound would clip coming out, and that's different from the sound of an emulation coming out of a 24-bit 96khz computer audio interface and into a pair of studio monitors. So I would say to developers, ignore the crybabies, who never will buy anything anyway, who say your synth plug-in doesn't sound like the "real thing." Cherry Audio's DCO-106 sounds like a Roland Juno-106 would, coming from a computer, not poor quality hardware outputs.
Q: The studio setup for your studio, DCP Productions, is awesome. What are your favorite synths and go-to gear?
A: I have to say, my Sequential Prophet-6 is my favorite synth. It's a Prophet, it sounds massive and juicy, and it's got great effects and features. I also love my old Alesis Ion, which was discontinued so many years ago. I did a lot of factory presets for it, and my "payment" from Alesis was the Ion itself. It's a unique VA synth that sounds like nothing else out there, with its 17 filter types, three consistently variable oscillators, arpeggiators, and effects. It kinda sounds like a PPG Wave and an Access Virus had a baby together...it's all by itself in terms of tonality. And of course, there is my Yamaha Disklavier MIDI Grand, which is the ultimate piano plug-in, except it's a real piano that also doubles as a MIDI controller. I start out every day noodling on that piano.
Q: How do you decide what instruments/equipment to use for a specific project?
A: Most of the tracks I
produce are guitar-driven, oddly enough, so I start a song with a MIDI drum
track, followed by a rhythm guitar, and a bass sound. You know, I spent
too many years waiting for guitarists to stop arguing with their girlfriends
and come over to record a track, so I taught myself to emulate guitars using
guitar sounds either in software or in a workstation. Virtual guitar plug-ins
have come a long way in recent years, so many of them sound absolutely real if
you know how to "play" guitar from a keyboard. This allows me to
sketch a complete "power trio" track, and then I'll add the
"candy" which is keyboard and synth sounds. I either send the demo to
a guitarist friend so they can learn the parts and record them and send me
their stems, or I keep my virtual guitar tracks, or I use both "real"
guitarist tracks and my virtual guitar tracks. If it's an EDM tune, that
will be synthesizer driven, so again, I do the drum track, the primary synth
"rhythm" track, the bass, then build out from there. A lot of song
production these days is the sounds themselves, I like to say that every synth
sound in an electronic music track has to be its own hook. Naturally, I do get
calls to produce an orchestral track from time to time, so I go to my
orchestral libraries for those sounds - strings, brass, woodwinds, piano,
Q: How do you balance the use of analog gear with digital devices?
A: I have a lot of outboard synths and keyboards, so I absolutely have to have a hardware mixer with multiple inputs to run them through. The mixer is bussed to inputs on my audio interface and into my music production computer. But a mixer allows me to record vocalists, guitarists, horn players etc. in real-time with no latency. I've been producing tracks that way since like forever. I'm not a guy who can do music production without a hardware mixer. I guess it's just an old habit leftover from the days of consoles and tape machines.
Q: As an established authority of sound design, what advice can you unload on the next generation of sound designers and producers to be successful in their craft?
A: Learn by making a lot of mistakes. Sound design isn't really something that can be taught - you have to teach yourself, starting with moving a cutoff knob and hearing what happens. I didn't know anything about synthesis when I got my first Minimoog. It took me three hours of frustration trying to get a sound out of it, until I realized I had to increase the amp decay to something other than zero...lol. Also, get a fundamental understanding of how sound works. All sounds in the universe are based on sine waves, every single sound! Learn the difference between the fundamental tone and the harmonics above it, and how the harmonics envelopes are shaped. Don't increase the distortion drive and call yourself a sound designer who made a new sound. You just moved a control without knowing why you moved it.
Q: Have you tried the new DCO-106 or Polymode Synthesizer? What are your thoughts on those new Cherry Audio instruments?
I have both and love both! Full disclosure - I bought CA 2600 and was so impressed, I sent an email to Cherry Audio about it, and offered to do sound design for any upcoming products. That led to my getting involved in doing some presets for Polymode - which was a dream come true, because I had posted on a forum that I was hoping Cherry Audio would port their Polymode module (for Voltage Modular) to a standalone synth, and lo and behold, here it was. And it sounds just like I remember my own Polymoog 203a sounded. It sounds exactly like my old Polymoog. Not "sort of" or "close enough." Now, the DCO-106 sounds great, too. Sadly the Juno 106 was one of the few vintage analog synths I never owned or used. But hey, now with DCO-106, I guess I can say I have one!
Q: Any tips for people looking to break into the sound design industry?
Find a company whose
products you like, buy one of their products, make some sounds for it, and send
your sounds to the company! I still do that. If you're looking to do sound
design for games, be a gamer first and a sound designer second, and get
together an mp3 demo showing off your sound design skills. Offer to work for
nothing or next to nothing on your first gig, do a great job, they'll ask you
back, and that's when you can say, "well you need to pay me better for this next
one." If you're great, they will! Oh, and make sure you have the most powerful
up-to-date computer you can afford, and a well-treated room and great studio
monitors. You'll be basically living in front of those monitors for several
hours every day, every week.
Q: Where can we find your music? Where can people connect with you?
Editor's Note: Thank you Dave for this fascinating, humorous, super-informative interview and helpful advice. For our readers looking to get into the sound design business, take heed!
Feb 3, 2021