Pro User Interviews

Rich Aitken

Rich Aitken is a Production Director for Nimrod Productions LTD based out of Oxfordshire, England. As a mixer and producer, Rich has worked on soundtracks for more than two hundred million video game sales including, Killzone 2, Wii Fit and Gran Turismo. With a client list that includes the likes of EA, Nintendo, Ubisoft and Warner Brothers Interactive.

We sat down with him recently and here's what he had to say.

Q: What key events led you to start Nimrod Productions?

I landed a big publishing & record deal in the 90's. The money was great but rather than going the traditional route of advancing (find producer, make record, have minor hit, disband and live life of ponderous misery reliving your brief time in the sun). I decided to invest in up and coming digital technology. I was an early adopter of Pro Tools III. Then I met a young bass player, Marc Canham. We got along well and he told me he was setting up a production company. I thought it was very ambitious for somebody who hadn't done anything yet, but I was intrigued. Sometime later I accidentally managed to land the gig of scoring some music for the game Driver 2. The subsequent worldwide hit of this game opened some doors for further video game work and the rest is history and hard work.

Q: Your video games have sold millions.  Can you briefly describe your compositional process?

Well, I no longer compose. My business partner, Marc, is the main composer I work with but I've also worked with many others (Sean Callery - 24 & Joris De Man - Killzone for example) as producer and mixer. I don't tend to mix things I've produced or produce things I'm going to mix; I think that helps keep a fresh perspective. The main exception to that is working with Marc. I tend to coproduce with him and our relationship as business partners, long term friends and coworkers greatly influences that! As a producer the closest I come to composition is on the micro level. I'll often help composers with more elegant solutions to a chord change or arrangement point in a bar or perhaps suggest subtle melodic changes. In media music (for film, TV, or game) it's all about balancing the composers artistic flair with the clients wishes. It's very different from producing a band where it's mostly about working with an artist.
As a mixer again it's even more about hitting the clients requirements while trying to keep an eye on modern clarity and loudness managing methods such as ITU 1770.

Q: Nimrod Studios has its own orchestra (Nimrod Studio Orchestra or NSO).  What benefits and challenges come with having your own orchestra?

We set up the NSO as a competitive measure against work disappearing to eastern Europe. The level of prices in those territories are very hard to battle but we have found a good compromise so that our clients can work with the best players in the world in some of the most familiar facilities. We work out of Abbey Road and I've become very familiar with the sonic characteristics of all the rooms there. The core members of the organization are those that I work with most; leaders in each section and the overall fixer, as well as our orchestrator, the nicely named, Jonny Williams. I have a long working relationship with these key characters and it really helps to have a quick understanding of workflow and getting the job done. It has enabled us to really push forward what can be done for lower budgets in the UK. We've also managed to negotiate very favorably with the MU for buyouts, reuse fees and rates. It is, of course, still difficult to compete with the prices being offered abroad BUT I think we've managed to come up with a great solution, great price and still have that London mark of quality.

Q: You're known for your "live feel."  To what do you attribute this?

Not messing around with sample libraries! I'll always push for live players in musical forms that are meant to have live players. I don't like most of the sample sets out there; they're either lacking in scope or badly recorded or both! Samples are great for mock up and of course sometimes one has to use them for budget reasons. However, they are in no way a replacement for musicians. That's not to say I don't like synths or VIs; I do. I really like Zebra, for example, and have always liked MPC workstations. One must always draw a contextual judgement of samples. The point is drum 'n' bass or dubstep isn't supposed to sound "real,” it's "hyper real," and that's what I love about those genres. I don't like the part of the job where you're trying to disguise virtual strings, so I try to avoid it! Use players where possible and share the wealth. A healthy music industry isn't about keeping every damn penny to yourself. This is one of the main reasons we don’t do mastering here. I'd rather hire experts.

Q: Do you ever write and produce for bands?  If so, what is your process like in that context?

Absolutely! I'm often involved in developing bands under contract. For me it's all about finding a bands sound and helping them grow. We've worked on bands for EMI, Universal and One Little Indian as well as many Indies. I did the groundwork for Little Fish, for example. Fulfilling but low paid work! However, my main work with bands is often in remixing work for media or synch use. Under those terms I've mixed oodles of great acts from U2 to the Police to Them Crooked Vultures to Jackson5 to, well, you name it....... Right now I'm currently working with an excellent jazz singer who I'm sure is going to set the world on fire ... ha ha ... she's amazing!

Q: Your studio is home to a huge variety of gear from the classic Neve V Series desk to state-of-the-art plugins like ours from Slate. What is your workflow like, and do you ever mix ITB?

I nearly always mix ITB these days with a few inserts of groups into hardware and often summing stereo in the console or a summing unit. I do this not for sound, but for ease of making stems! Surround is always ITB. Recalls are the main reason. The modern world needs it. I use the Neve for recording and do most of the Mojo work at that stage. Mixing is about bringing out what's been recorded. All too often we hear about "can you mix it like this?" I'd rather RECORD a great track and mix it to bring out the artistic wishes present. I do many creative things in a mix but it's always to support the track and not stamp all over it.

Q: Please tell us about your experience with Slate products.

I really got into VCC when the RC Tube add on came out. That was the one that really sold it too me. I find myself using that or the Neve model a lot. The VTM has been an awesome thing for me. I don't use it to get mad saturation though - I'm a bit sick of the "I'm a tape emulation" plugins out there. I've used tape a lot. Good tape is as subtle or brutal as your intentions and a plugin has to be able to do subtle! VTM does it. I'm using it more for gain management than direct saturation and it was GREAT for doing a rework of the Ghostbusters theme recently. In my workflow it has replaced a "gain" plugin on the first insert :) ..... Using it subtly really works. I'm slowly considering selling the Ampex ATR 102 ..... Gimme time.

Rich Aitken