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An interview with composer David Levy

Posted by Jan Hoeglund on

By Jan Hoeglund

David Levy is a freelance composer, audio engineer and sound designer from Austin, Texas. He works for Rooster Teeth and has done music for games like Dawn of Ascension, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., and The Seed.

Thank you so much for taking the time David. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your musical background

I am a composer, sound designer and audio engineer residing in beautiful Austin, Texas! I started taking classical piano lessons at the age of 9 and by the age of 14 I decided I didn’t like it anymore and switched to drums. I was in a ton of bands throughout high school and college with styles ranging from heavy metal, to grunge/ rock and fusion jazz. While in college I decided to pursue a career as a sound engineer and joined a mentor/ apprenticeship program in central FL. Once I graduated I moved to south FL and joined Power Station studios. While there, I learned everything I know about recording, tracking, mixing and mastering. I was also very fortunate to work under the legendary Tony Bongiovi. I worked at Power Station for over 7 years, starting as an intern and working my way up to eventually becoming Chief engineer. I made the switch from engineering to composing in 2012. I’m self-taught.

What was your first job as a composer?

Writing music for an MMO called Dawn of Ascension (still in development). It was quite an undertaking. I had to write a ton of music. The most challenging part was writing the themes for the 12 different races. Each race had a different background story and required a unique theme/ “sound”.

How has being an audio engineer affected your writing and workflow as a composer?

I don’t think it effected my writing much, at least not on a conscious level, but it definitely helped make my tracks sound huge. My mixing and mastering experience gave me the tools to make my compositions sound larger than they really were. Today I know I can partly achieve that by combining the right instruments together, but when I just started I used a lot of the mixing tricks I learned from Ron Saint Germaine and Tony Bongiovi to make the different elements of the mix stand out and achieve a powerful mix. These days I lean more on combining different libraries together to achieve a larger than life sound.

What made you decide to switch to composing full-time?

Honestly, being an audio engineer takes a toll on you. Working in windowless, dark studios for over 10 years, mainly at night, is something you can’t do forever. I started to feel burnt out and when my wife got a job in Austin Texas I decided it was time to move on and try something new. The transition from engineering to composing was an evolutionary step that made total sense since I’ve always written music and people’s response to it was always the same: “that sounds like it should be in a movie!”. I somehow always had the tendency to write cinematic sounding music so I decided to make the leap and compose full time.

Of all the projects you got to work on, which one was your favorite and why?

Oh, man! That’s a tough one. All the projects I worked on are so different from one another. Red vs. Blue was definitely a lot of fun. Working with so many talented people was very inspiring. It was also the first time I ever collaborated with another composer, which was great. One of the my other favorite projects to date is an indie film I recently finished scoring. It’s a dark and gritty post apocalyptic survival story about two sisters who get separated and try to find one another. With an exception of a few scenes, It’s some of the most non-melodic scores i’ve ever written. There was a ton of glass and metal bowing and I even used a few experimental instruments I constructed especially for the film. I also used a bunch of your more unique products on it; Antidrum 3, the Rust series, Tortue Amour, Lakesde Pipe Organ, Tunes Artillery and a few others.

What does your workstation look like?

At the center of my workstation I have a Mac Pro (late 2014) with a bunch of SSDs for sessions and libraries. I can’t recommend getting an SSD for your sound libraries enough. It makes a such huge difference with loading times and it really expedites the writing workflow. I’m using a Universal Audio Apollo Quad in conjunction with a Dangerous Music D-Box, which handles the summing and conversion. Summing in the analog domain is an absolute must to get that big, wide and deep sound. My midi controller is an AKAI MPK88 and i’m using Cubase 8.5 as my main DAW. I actually made the switch from Pro Tools to Cubase about a year ago; best thing I have ever done. Cubase is phenomenal! I’m monitoring through a pair of Mackie HR824, but i’m thinking about upgrading to ADAM A8X soon.

How do you decide how to balance live instruments with sample libraries when you work on a cue?

In most cases, if it’s a lead/ solo instrument, it has to be live. You simply can’t beat the real thing. If possible, when working on cues with big string ensembles, I try and layer them with a few live tracks to give the track that extra push and breath some life into it.

What is your favorite Soundiron instrument?

I LOVE your choir libraries- MARS and VENUS. To this date, I have yet to find anything that sound as good and as flexible. The legato patches are absolutely stunning! I’m also a huge fan of all the smaller unique libraries you guys produce. You are one of the only companies that do that. When I need something different and unique I can almost always find it in my Soundiron folder! (I have the Omega plan)

What do you do when you're NOT composing or working as an engineer?

I seem to have a problem- I don’t know how to stop! When I do manage to step away (which isn’t easy) I try to go outside and do something that doesn’t involve staring at a screen. Sitting in front of a computer screen (3 of them, to be exact) for 10-12 hours a day can affect you in a negative way after a while, so going outside is important.

What is next for David Levy?

I would love to work on even bigger projects. AAA games in particular.

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