When Dr. William E. Smith sent me a LinkedIn connection request, I couldn’t wait to reply in hopes of an opportunity to chat with him about his work as Assistant Professor of Music Technology at Bowie State University, in Bowie, Maryland. After a little Googling, I realized that he is the saxophonist from The W.E.S. Group, an established, jazz band in the Washington, D.C. area.
I enjoyed interviewing Will and hearing about the plethora of projects on his plate. I learned a lot from our conversation.
Q. I read your bio. What do you want me to know about your recording career that is not mentioned there?
I learned how to produce and mix, as a result of that album. E. L. Copeland (Sting) used to book and do sound for the BET Restaurant in Washington, D.C. I worked there, and E.L. eventually showed me the ropes.
Q. The Music Technology curriculum at Bowie State covers recording and mixing hardware. What is some of the gear used in the studio at Great Media Music, your production company?
A. I use Reason. It’s an easy interface, and its sounds are above par. Early on, I worked with Roland, Yamaha, and Cubase, which is what I used for Monique’s album. I use an ART preamp and AKG microphone. That’s it! It’s knowing the basics of sound — waveforms — and how to manipulate to get what you want.
More expensive gear makes the mixing process easier. But in the 40s and 50s, there wasn’t a lot of gear. Van Gelder’s recordings are an example.
Q Spark. I decided not to ask the question about analog versus digital, but you mentioned Van Gelder.
A. Today, software analyzes waveforms to mimic analog sound. I only work in the digital realm.
Q. Composing for TV, film, and video games sounds like tedious work. Can you tell me about your general processes, in beginning such a project?
A. For the most part, the music is instrumental. Then I take a methodical approach: Science and art, where science comes first. I explore the basic elements of music: rhythm, melody, harmony, timbre, form, texture, dynamics.
Then I vibe out on art. I appeal to the emotion of the scene: happy, sad, happy sad. The emotion may determine choosing minor chords that lead to major chords. More music theory.
The main factor is knowing that I am not writing for myself. I’m writing for the director’s vision.
My advice for someone entering film music composition is for them to read a lot of scores and examine the tools and elements that were used for those scores. Learn a variety of styles of music and try replicating it. I have a PhD in Ethnomusicology, which has instilled this level of examination.
Q. What are some recent and upcoming Great Media Music projects?
A. I have a couple of book trailers coming out. In fact, “Love, Lies & the D.A.” is a good example of a happy sad composition. I’m currently working on a play in Chicago.
Dr. William E. Smith authors the blog, Dr. Will Smith’s Playlist. Visit the blog for music reviews, interviews, and articles.