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Rod Abernethy

By Jan Hoeglund

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your musical background, influences, education, hopes, dreams?

I've been composing since I was a teen. I listened to just about anything and any style I could get my hands on, from Hendrix to John Williams. I started on guitar and piano in middle school and ended up studying composition at UNC-Chapel Hill. After getting my music degree, I played in rock bands that had major label deals and toured the U.S. and Europe, it was an incredible time of my life. In the 90's I opened my own recording studio and began scoring for television, films, commercials and video games. Since then, I've been very fortunate working in film and TV and and worked on over seventy video games.


When did you start scoring for media professionally? Was there a specific turning point that led you down this path?

I had some success composing for commercials for ad agencies in the early 90s. That work gave me great experience for scoring other media like TV, film and video games. My first game was "Dark Side Of The Moon" created by SouthPeak Interactive in 1998, I was hooked on scoring for games after that. Dark Side had over seventy minutes of cinematic scores, it was a blast! After that experience I was contacting everyone I could find to get more work in games.

Take us through a typical day in your studio. It starts with coffee and then... ?

Coffee of course, waking up in the morning is important:) I love mornings in the studio when ideas are new and fresh. The first thing I usually do is audition different sounds and libs that I might use for a particular project and familiarize myself with new patches and sounds. It's amazing how listening to patches can spark an idea for a new composition. Then I might listen to some favorite soundtracks that are in the style of what I'm composing…you know, something to help clear my head and prepare diving in...

Aside from video game scoring, you are also well known as a trailer music composer. Was that something you specifically chose to do or something that just happened along the way?

I've been very fortunate to have worked on many different facets of the music business including music for trailers. Having a knack of composing in many different styles doesn't hurt either. At first, composing for trailers wasn't something I sought after, but I love it. Creating music for trailers is really awesome, it's like doing the 100 yard dash. You start out of the gate running as fast as you can and then race to the finish line!

You've worked on a lot of game scores, including Rage, Pacific Rim, Dark Reign, Dead Space and many more. Which were the most fun to write? Which of them presented the greatest creative challenges and how did you push through them?

I have so many favorites. My heart still belongs to The Hobbit scores. I was also able to play a lot of acoustic instruments on those tracks. RAGE could be my overall fave, the whole experience of working on RAGE was the perfect gig for me. The ID audio director Christian Antkow gave me great license to explore on the RAGE tracks, he's one of the best audio directors in the business. And of course the live orchestral recordings of Dead Space at Skywalker Ranch were incredible to work on. Being a part of the music/audio team on Dead Space was a dream come true.

What project are you currently hard at work on?

I'm afraid I can't say, but it's an action fantasy score. I'm using Olympus Choir ALL the time:).

What kind of system are you running these days (Mac/PC, DAW, hardware, etc)?

I'm currently using Digital Performer on a Mac Pro for my DAW. I've used just about every DAW out there and I keep returning to DP because it's easy for me to get around on. I have a PC server that's loaded with my orchestral and percussion libraries. Over the years, I've honed my system down to a bare minimum of hardware. I use Apogee convertors, they still sound the best to me. Like everyone else, I have tons of virtual instruments and plug-ins but I'm still using my favorite hardware synths including my Oberheim OB-8, Access Virus TI, Roland Juno 60, Nord Lead 2 and all my Roland 1080s and my MKS-80 Super Jupiter.

How much of your scoring is sample-based versus recorded live?

It's about 50/50. Orchestral libraries are incredible these days and the amount of life you can get from some of the top-of-the-line sample libs are really astounding. Most of the time I'm never using "one" library orch patch for an instrument but mixing different libraries together. All orchestral libraries "breathe" differently if you know what I mean. Combining libraries can bring new life to a sampled instrument voice.

For instance, if I'm looking for a great cello legato of say six to eight cellos, I use the small ensemble legato patch from a couple of different libraries. Doing it this way can make an instrumental part come to life. You have to be careful not to overdo it or you'll end up with too many voices of the same instrument. And pay special attention to combining the ADSRs of the various patches and the different halls and ambiences that the different libraries were recorded in.

For some projects, nothing can replace a live performance. That's the case on many of the tracks on my latest album "Dark Evolutions" where the live string performances make the compositions come to life. Sometimes nothing replaces a real human moving a real bow on a string:)

What is your favorite Soundiron instrument library?

Right now, it's Apocalypse Percussion Elements. You guys hit a home run with this one, it's going to be a "go to" percussion lib for me. I love the Arp section, it's great for coming up with quick rolls and quirky patterns that I normally wouldn't think of. Olympus Choir is the best choir ever, enough said. And I use Cathedral of Junk a lot, it's a great tool kit of sounds, you guys need to charge more for that one:)

Do you have a secret for using samples that you're willing share with all of us?

This is no secret, but when making your own samples always listen to them in reverse…most of the time it will amaze you.

What changes do you foresee for the future video game and trailer music over the next few years?

Hard to say. Many of the so called predictions for games that I've heard over the years have proved false, for instance when we heard years ago that PC gaming was dead…lol! It's stronger now that ever! From what I can see, episodic gaming is going to become more and more popular. Games like Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. And we're going to see more games like Journey that have a greater reach and appeal than your standard first person shooter.

For trailers, I'm hearing less of the heavy taiko drum action-big choir approach, but who knows…trailer music follows trends that are very hard to predict.

What do you do in your downtime?

I love playing guitar outside the studio. And I know this sounds crazy but I like building things out of found objects that I find at local antique stores and flea markets…kind of a 'steam-punk" hobby. It's not unlike the same creative process for composing:) .

Do you have any final words for all the young composers and producers reading?

Learn what you're good at. Then make it better.

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