There I was, mixing the highest profile, most anticipated spot of the year. It was a big-budget extravaganza that introduced Lionel Ritchie as a new musician/spokesperson for Pepsi, a role previously exclusive to Michael Jackson. It was a three-minute story, made up of three separate :60 commercials. Three different aspects of his life, featuring three of his own songs — a huge undertaking for any commercial at that time. Being that I was the youngest mixer in the business, and just starting out, all I could wonder was… “How did I get the biggest mixing assignment of the year?”
My journey to this point started many years earlier:
I grew up in Northern Virginia, right outside of Washington DC. (I guess this helps explain my laid-back Southern demeanor.) My father was an electrical engineer for the Navy, designing electronics for ships and submarines. He instilled within me an obsession with electronics and everything technical. When I was a child, his idea of a fun game was to challenge me with designing simple circuits to perform simple tasks. And to my delight, I was always able to come up with a solution. Lessons that served me well when I got into the studio.
If technology was my obsession, music was my passion. Playing piano and violin growing up led to a music major in college. I became concertmaster of the orchestra and spent hours upon hours practicing, playing and writing music — probably where I gained my ability to concentrate intensely on something for long periods of time.
I loved classical music, but Rock and Roll was really what I was all about. I always kept track of the credits of my favorite albums, and the one that always fascinated me most was the engineering credit.
My obsession and my passion came together my last year of college, when the school created a new, self-directed Music Technology program. I found the perfect opportunity to combine my interests by studying recording sciences. I made it my mission to find a recording studio in the area where I could spend some time learning what it was all about. The first time I walked in and saw all the musicians and the equipment, I knew this was for me. It was also during this year that I found out about a school in NYC that taught the very thing I wanted to learn. Next stop: NYC.
Life in Manhattan was different than anything I’d ever experienced. After spending a year living at the YMCA and studying recording at The Institute of Audio Research down in the village, I set out to find a studio where I could find fame.
What I found was nothing but major barriers to entry into the field. Too many people all wanting the same job. That old adage eventually proved true: You have to be in the right place at the right time. But I learned that the only way to be at the right place at the right time was to constantly be in the right place until it became the right time.
The studio where I ultimately got a job surprised me. My goal had always been to record bands and make albums. But here, I got my first taste of sound for advertising; it was an aspect of the sound business I had never heard of before — not just music, but sound for radio and television commercials. It was different artistically, and definitely different in terms of technical methods. As I moved up the promotional ladder (first messenger, then head of shipping, then studio assistant), the opening that became available was mixing sound for television commercials — my first experience mixing to picture.
What I ultimately discovered was that mixing to picture interested me more than mixing music only. When mixing music only, the instruments are typically what you think: guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, etc. But mixing to picture meant extending my palette. Music itself became just one of my instruments. Now my “instruments” included narration, dialog, music, sound design, and sound effects.
The business is crazy. The hours are crazy. But there’s nothing more satisfying than a great mix.
My specialty is audio for commercials. I love the energy of telling a story in such a short amount of time. I still approach each and every commercial I mix as if it’s the biggest spot of the year, and I guess that’s what keeps me excited and loving what I do every day.
Tom Jucarone is a Sound Mixer and Partner at Sound Lounge in NYC (www.soundlounge.com).