How to create the BEST Imaging FX in the world…

Most of you guys heard his name already: Jeff Schmidt – he is the guy behind all the Alien Imaging stuff. His libraries like Fuse Reloader or Warp are legendary and sold all over the place. As a FX creator on my own, who loves making Noizes and Sounds  Jeff is an unbelievable talent and I am so happy we got him on board to create custom FX for all the Benztown libraries. Jeff is also a very talented imaging director and an electric bass guitar player.

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I love his work and by listening to new his new package I go nuts. Jeff is this guy you ask yourself, how did he fu***** do it + he inspires me to start a second episode of FAME FX just so I can prove myself against his great products.

If YOU want to learn how to create the best IMAGING FX…..Enter Jeff:

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1.When did you start doing Sound FX / Imaging FX and why?

Alien Imaging was launched in 2002 – but I started creating my own FX in 1993 or 94 on 1/4″ tape. I was just looking for new sounds and the station had zero budget.  Times really haven’t changed that much – have they?  😉

The station I was working at did have a service called “Rock Slides” which were mostly Classic Rock nostalgia and time line type elements. It was too old school sounding for the station which was a Z-Rock Alternative type format – but there were a few fx on those.

So I recorded a bunch of those elements on to tape and then started splicing them up into little pieces.  I also spliced up little pieces of songs – drum hits, guitar stabs, voices – whatever.  It was all reckless experimentation. Once I had all these little pieces of tape on the table, I’d just start splicing them together in random order, reversing some parts etc…

Then I’d record those spliced sounds off onto another tape. I often had so many edits in such a short space the tape would break when I pressed play. I’d take those recordings and start the splicing process all over again – getting more and more cut up.

Over the course of a few weeks I ended up with a little custom library of sounds I’d use on promos and sweepers. I liked it because it didn’t sound like anything else in the market at the time.  I had no idea what I was doing – just stabbing in the dark trying to make stuff sound cool. I’m sure if I heard that stuff now I’d be horrified.

2. When do you decide to create a new package? Is this done by the mood you are in or after a particular sales cycle?

Even though Alien Imaging Sound Design is a business – I’ve never thought about “sales cycles” to even committing to regular release schedules.  I’ve always created new sounds when I needed stuff for a project. That could be an imaging client – or a re-launch or a new promotion.  Only after I’ve tried stuff out in my own work do I decide if it’s worth releasing for sale to others.

I’ve created a lot of stuff that I didn’t think was good enough to release.  And some stuff I just wanted to keep for myself.  Alien Transmissions for example. I was using it for over a year on an Adult Alternative station and never thought I’d make it into a release because there was no “market” for it.  But I eventually did release it – and am I’m glad I did.

3. How do you narrow down the material and ideas you want to use for the next package?

It depends on what I’m trying to achieve.  Each library had its own inspiration and sonic purpose. I tend to start making sounds in similar ways – but once I start creating I change things to keep it fresh. Sometimes I discover a “sound” that I like right away. WARP was like that.

Other times I’ll change my mind a lot during the process and end up somewhere I totally didn’t expect. TORCH was like that.

4. What material you go from? What do you create from scratch? Any tricks you can tell?

Again, It depends on the vibe I’m trying to create.

For ORGANISM 3 I had a Roland synth (don’t remember which one but it was a JV series that accepted expansion cards I think) It had a “banned” Techno expansion pack in it that apparently had un-authorized samples on it so it wasn’t being sold commercially any more.  I used that and created some patches that had a weird almost gooey sound to it. That became the base material for ORGANISM 3.  I then heavily processed and edited the base material in Pro Tools – mostly with GRM Tools Sound Toys plugs.

For FUSE and FUSE RELOADER I was going for a really hi-tech kind of sound.  So FM Synthesis was the backbone of the base material for those libraries.

I’d create patches, play notes & chords, tweak parameters via foot pedals, modwheel and mouse – then record the output.  Sometimes I’d put plugs on to further tweak the textures.

I’d do that for 20-30 minutes at a shot sometimes. Then go back – find all the little bits that I felt could work and then start producing pieces with them – adding in samples and other recordings I’ve made.  Just like I did with the 1/4″ tape back in the day – only now it’s all in a digital workstation.  The process for all my creations is similar to that – multi-step – just using different methods, and sources of creating the base material. But it’s all synthesis and sound recording.

5. What production system do you use?

I’ve been a Pro Tools users since 1997 – finally got certified a few years ago. I also use Ableton Live & Logic. Reason also, but not nearly as much.

6. What plugins do you use to manipulate certain sounds? What’s your favourite plugIns? (maybe screen shots)

I use a great many plugs but a few that get the MOST use in both my radio sound design and my video game/film sound design are quite un-impressively, Pitch Shift / Elastic Audio and Reverse.  Seriously – those tools are invaluable and are used on EVERYTHING I do.  Don’t discount the basics.

But for the geeks looking for more exotic ideas – I’ll say this – sampler, sampler, sampler! I use Konakt quite a bit – but prefer Structure much more while working in Pro Tools because you can drag and drop audio files right from the timeline into the sampler.  The Sampler forms the foundation of a lot of what I’m doing.  Logic also has a terrifically powerful stock sampler that comes with Logic for free.  Avid Structure does provide a free version – but in typical Avid fashion – it’s pretty stripped down and you really need to buy the upgrade to get a full professionally functioning sampler.

Another cool tool which got a fair amount of use in creating WARP was Camel Audio synth “Alchemy”.  It’s a sample based synth that allows you import your own samples and apply 4 different types of synthesis.  The UI to import your own samples is clumsy – it’s not drag and drop, but it can help create some great stuff. I dig it.

I also rely heavily on ALL the SoundToys plugs. Can’t say enough how awesome those tools are in every facet of audio production.

Massey Plugins (RTAS only) are also terrific, easy to use, inexpensive and sound great.

GRM TOOLS are still some of the most creative tools out there. They have been in my kit since 1998 – but they’re pricey.  I prefer using them in TDM – as they are really buggy as RTAS plugs in Pro Tools.

I’ve found Michael Norris Spectral Design plugs do many of GRM’s types of FFT processes for free.  But a lot of tweaking is required to get similar fx to GRM Tools. Plus – they only run as AU plugs – so you need to use them in Logic, or Live something else other than Pro Tools.

I use Vienna Ensemble Pro to host AU/VST plugs and instruments in Pro Tools.

Convolution Reverb – take your pick – I’ve used many and the key for creative sound design is to load non-IR samples into them and then run audio thorough them.  You will get piles and piles of worthless noise doing this – but if you stick with the process you will eventually strike gold.  The Waves and Avid Convolutions are best for that as they don’t rely on proprietary IR methods like the industry standard Altiverb does.

Finally – Native Instruments make some terrific instruments. Absynth, Massive, Kontakt, FM8, Reaktor and Kore have all been used in the creation of my libraries.

A note of caution. The more tools I have acquired – the more time it takes to make sounds because I’m always chasing the “potential” of my gear.

I would encourage producers not get too wrapped up in buying lots of tools. Get a few key pieces of kit and learn their potential inside out.  Especially synths.  They’re so powerful these days – learning how 1 synth functions inside out will yield far more results more quickly than having several synths you only know how to change presets on.

Also – there’s no single piece of gear that’s gonna help you churn out an entire library of material.  They’re tools.  Often times – the master craftsman is not the guy that totes around 8 different hammers – but can do all his work with 1 or 2.

7. What master plugIn or outboard gear do you use?

I haven’t used outboard gear for my radio production (outside of mic pre-amps) since 1995.

My “final” or master plugs have changed a few times over the years.

If I can remember correctly for ORGANISM 3, (my first library released in 2002) I used TC|Electronic Master X and Waves L1.

I switched to the WAVES Linear Multi-Band Compressor and L2 for FUSE and FUSE Reloader.

Alien Transmissions I used The McDSP M4 Multi-Band Compressor and M1 Limiter.

For WARP I used iZotope Ozone and the McDSP M1 limiter.

For TORCH I went back to Waves Linear Multi-Band and replaced the Limiter the Kramer Tape simulator.

I think the key take away is that all these tools perform similar functions but have slightly different colors and behaviors. They all have sweet spots.  Hit them right and they sound cool.  Hit them too hard – or not hard enough and the results are unimpressive.  With widely varied and abstract sound like radio fx – it’s a totally different approach for me than for music and sound for picture.

8. Who influenced you work?

Lots of people.  For my game & film work it’s Randy Thom, David Farmer, Walter Murch, Ren Klyce, Gary Rydstrom, Ben Burtt, Paul Menichini, Charles Deenan, Don Veca, & Emily Ridgeway.

For Radio FX, I’ve learned something by listening to the work of pretty much everyone making radio FX. But here’s a few “inspirations”

My first real exposure to radio sound effects and inspiration to take what I was doing with tape to another level was Sean Caldwell and Hal Knapp’s XFX stuff in the early/mid 90s.  Then, later that decade came Joe Kelly’s AV Deli.

ORGANISM 3 was really just about creating something that didn’t sound like ANYTHING else I was hearing on the radio at the time. So in effect – I used everything I was hearing as inspiration of what NOT to do for that library.

Then in the early 2004 I had an imaging client that wanted to sound like KIIS in LA – but wouldn’t/couldn’t pay for Killer Hertz.  So I made a bunch of similar styled sounds for that gig. That small package was further developed into what became my FUSE Library. So that would make Jeff Thomas count as an inspiration too.

Much more recently tho – I really need to give a major shout out to Jad Abumrad from Radio Lab. It’s a public radio show here in the states about science and curiosity.  Jad has a really wonderful sense for subtle sound design and storytelling that I really enjoy.  Alien Transmissions was inspired by him.

I hate to leave people out – but it’s pretty safe to assume – if you’ve made radio fx for any length of time – I’ve probably stolen ideas from you.  🙂

9. Which stations are using your material?

Wow – too many to mention!  After 10 years it’s pretty safe to say Alien Imaging libraries have been sold into all of the Top 75 plus Canada, Mexico, Europe, Australia/ New Zealand, Middle & Far East. I think the only major hole is Russia.  Hey Russians – what – you no like Alien Imaging Sounds?  🙂

It used to be that 80% of my business came from U.S.Stations buying FX directly.  Now it’s 80% Production houses/services, Foreign Radio Stations and individuals buying my libraries with their own credit card and pay pal accounts. Most US stations are moving toward barter services rather than buy-out products because no one wants or has the authorization from corporate to spend cash.  The business has changed!

10. How do you feel about doing exclusive work for the Benztown libraries?

I always had it in my mind that someday I’d hook up with a service – but most of the deals that I was presented were pretty bad – in my opinion. It seemed like some of those services were just trying to roll up as much product as possible but not really provide much else.  Kind of like a music label.  Benztown seemed much more interested in quality and making sure the creators are fairly treated.  So I’m excited to create brand new exclusive FX for Benztown libraries!

Thanks to Jeff for sharing his audio, videos and wisdom with us.

Want more? Check the links below, get a listen to Jeff’s incredible work and get addicted!

Torch FX (inside the Demo)

More FX by Jeff – listen to some samples from Warp FX below.

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