Bob Schachner was given his first tape recorder when he was in high school. Since then, he’s worked in almost every area of audio from live concert sound to auto racing, radio and TV commercials, soundtracks, movies, and music albums. He enjoys everything from recording a voiceover to mixing a movie score or even nerding out about broadcast levels. For over two decades, Bob has been a sound designer at Alkemy X responsible for recording, mixing, and designing audio for a diverse array of clients. He couldn’t imagine doing anything else!
LBB> When you’re working on a new project, what’s your typical starting point?
Bob> The first thing I do is talk to my client to get an idea of what they’re looking for. Specifics aren’t necessary. Then I go off on my own. If it’s picking music – I’ll give them what I think they want and throw in a few “interesting outside the box” choices. Once I get things to where I’m comfortable, I bring them in. I love trying different ideas but that’s best when I’m alone.
LBB> Music and sound are in some ways the most collaborative and interactive forms of creativity - what are your thoughts on this? Do you prefer to work solo or with a group?
Bob> Music projects are different from commercial work. Of course, recording a song is very collaborative and usually pretty quick. If everyone is well prepared, we do a few takes and move on. It’s all about the emotion and the feel of a performance - not perfection. For the mix, I get to play with all my toys before the producer or artist is involved.
LBB> What’s the most satisfying part of your job and why?
Bob> The MOST satisfying part is when my client is happy and they feel that I brought something extra to the project.
LBB> As the advertising industry changes, how do you think the role of music and sound is changing with it?
Bob> Music and sound design have always been the emotion of a commercial and that will never change.
LBB> Who are your musical heroes and why?
Bob> I started playing guitar when I was 13, so guitar players are my musical heroes. At the top of the list are Jeff Beck and Mark Knopfler because they both have a unique style. One or two notes and you know it’s them and no one else sounds like them. Their playing is so personal. Of course, I love all the usual suspects – Hendrix, Clapton, Page, etc. An artist has to have a unique vision for me to really appreciate their music.
LBB> When you’re working on something that isn’t directly sound design or music (lets say going through client briefs or answering emails) - are you the sort of person who needs music and noise in the background or is that completely distracting to you? What are your thoughts on ‘background’ sound and music as you work?
Bob> I absolutely need silence. My brain is aware of sound all the time and I’m always analysing what I hear. I can’t listen to music without thinking about the mix, the sound of the instruments, and how well the musicians play. It’s funny, I always hear the melody and rhythm first and the lyrics last. The only time I can listen to music like a normal person is when I’m driving. I can experience the music emotionally since the primary job of my brain is to stop me from crashing.
LBB> I guess the quality of the listening experience and the context that audiences listen to music/sound in has changed over the years. There’s the switch from analogue to digital and now we seem to be divided between bad-ass surround-sound immersive experiences and on-the-go, low quality sound (often the audio is competing with a million other distractions) - how does that factor into how you approach your work?
Bob> I always try to make the mix work for multiple environments - headphones, earbuds, laptops, and great speakers. Surround and Atmos mixes are wonderful for movies, however, almost no one has that kind of setup at home. It might be a bit of a throwback, but stereo is still the best to me.
LBB> Do you have a collection of music/sounds and what shape does it take (are you a vinyl nerd, do you have hard drives full of random bird sounds, are you a hyper-organised Spotify-er…)?
Bob> I happily gave up vinyl for CDs but I do miss the album covers and all the credits. Before Spotify, I would rip all my CDs into iTunes for ease of listening. Sadly now it is just Spotify. And not too organised. I listen to a wide range of music and Spotify can’t figure me out. I also love to listen to new artists…well at least once.
LBB> Outside of the music and sound world, what sort of art or topics really excite you and do you ever relate that back to music (e.g. history buffs who love music that can help you travel through time, gamers who love interactive sound design… I mean it really could be anything!!)?
Bob> I tend to read non-fiction – science, history, religion, and politics. And every once in a while, my wife will recommend great fiction and I will gladly read it.
LBB> Let’s talk travel! It’s often cited as one of the most creatively inspiring things you can do - I’d love to know what are the most exciting or inspiring experiences you’ve had when it comes to sound and music on your travels?
Bob> I was a roadie/FOH mixer/road manager for 7 years with musicians like Jeff Beck, Lou Reed, Jan Hammer, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Billy Cobham, and Patti Smith. That was life-changing. I traveled all over the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, and Argentina. That was enough traveling for me. Now I’m happy to be home with my family, pets, guitars, and backyard wildlife.
LBB> As we age, our ears change physically and our tastes evolve too, and life changes mean we don’t get to engage in our passions in the same intensity as in our youth - how has your relationship with sound and music changed over the years?
Bob> I play guitar in a band with friends and a few things have changed – no heavy equipment and no loud playing. As one gets older our listening experiences expand. Personally, I measure all new music against the songs that have held up over the years. For me, it has to be as good or better.