Interview with Bryan Jerden

It sounds like you stumbled into sound design from working in traditional recording studios…could you explain your progression a little bit.

I started recording band demos as a teenager. Looking back it kind of reminds me of the kids in the movie Super8, but I was recording sound. At first it was all about the production process, figuring out tempos and arrangements but at some point I realized my true love was audio processing. When I was 19 I got a job in a job in a professional studio with the idea that I would record and experiment with sound on the “off” hours.

While working as an assistant I went to a recording arts and media school. It was there that I was exposed to post production audio and began seeing the total scope of sound and how it relates to all forms of media. It was there that I learned how to create and edit music to picture and was introduced to the world of sound effects.

Within about a year of finishing school I remember getting the opportunity to work with a composer recording a film score. I loved the process of bringing the picture and story to life through the use of music. Sometime after that experience I started to seek more opportunities to record music for media and eventually ended up recording some music that ended up in a video game. For me, this was the ultimate high because I was such a huge video game freak.

By this time a lot of things were happening in my life, and in technology, that eventually set me on a path away from the recording studio. For one, I was outwardly seeking visual media artists in order to explore and practice music to video. At the same time I was lucky enough to have jumped on the pro tools scene very early on (long before version 5.1.3) and saw it as an opportunity to be more creative without a big studio.

Lastly I wanted to take control of my own creativity, so I sought to get a job in a post production facility.

You’ve worked a lot on the Need for Speed series, could you describe your role within that project and your responsibilities

My role on the Need for Speed has varied from game to game. Carbon was my introduction to school of Charles Deenen and the Need for Speed/EA Blackbox experience. On it I served as a sound editor on quite a few of the cut scenes. Before Carbon I had helped with some misc sound design on Underground, but not on the same scale. Carbon mostly entailed using creatively designed source and editing and manipulating it to fit the picture. What was cool was that I was working on a car racing game, but never used even one real car sound. There were quite a lot of animal designed sounds and I learned how to cut entire scenes with them, rather than using conventional car revs, bys and skids. On games like Shift and World my responsibilities broadened. My job on both of those games was doing game trailers. For most it is an entire build from the ground up starting with music editorial, music design, quite a bit of sound design and lots of sound effects editing.

Working on the NFS games has been one of the great blessings of my career. It was always hard and rewarding work and I always learned so much. Its an experience I would have never been able to have if it was not for my Sound Supervisor Tim Gedemer and Charles Deenen and I am very thankful to be a part of it.

It’s not often that audio folks move between traditional media and games all that much, so what sort of challenges do you face switching back and forth between the dub stage and pumping out assets?

What I find interesting is that most of the guys I work with and admire, move very easily between feature films, games and theatrical trailers. To me it is extremely important to not only know how to create great assets, but also how to create entire soundscapes for those assets to come alive. Whether it is game play, an FMV or a whole trailer, the thing I try to bring is a sonic experience that is completely memorable because it stands out. As a sound designer that is what I set out to do. When I am on a dub stage it usually means that I am supervising a mix. Being a mix supervisor is an entirely different challenge that includes being responsible for all audio assets, including all dialogue assets and music. It involves knowing how to work with mixers, producers, directors and creative leads in order to finish and approve a mix that meets the creative vision and gets mastered to the proper technical specification.

Do you have a favorite ‘magic’ moment in the process of working on a project? finding a signature sound, seeing the first pass completed, etc? any examples where everything just gelled?

For me every project is like finding the correct route. In sound design there is a lot of trial and error. Not only to find what works, but to find what really rocks! It is usually a process of painting in broad strokes at first. At some point it starts to turn into a language of sorts. Eventually you get to a point where things take shape and you are in your first stage of being finished. If there is a magic moment for me this is that point. When I am near finished is when I start back at the top and take a pass looking for the weaknesses. I always try and take a final pass to take things to another level. Thats where the real fun begins!

You still record bands from time to time, what part of engineering pulls you back to the recording studio?

The thing about recording in a studio with either an artist or a band is that it is very inter-connected. What I mean by that is you have a couple of musicians that you work with to refine how they will perform their parts to suit the song best. You work with the song, find the best tempos and changes that suit the song best. You pick specific instruments (les paul vs. strat for example) that suit the parts with in the song best. Usually the next thing is to start thinking how to best mic the instruments, picking specific microphones and microphone techniques, choosing preamps and compressors etc. At some point you begin recording and all of these decisions make their way back through the speakers while the band is playing around you. Lastly there is always the part where you try and encourage musicians to play the best they can. It is a very involved process which is something I really like. I still record music to this day because I just love music so much.

What are some of your favorite game titles over the years, and what was special about them?

I have been playing video games before they even had joysticks, visuals or sound. The first game I fell in love with was called “Enchanter”. It was a choose your own adventure style read along game from around 1983 and it took me and my dad over a year to finish it. Truth be told, I am a big fan of all kinds of games. I had a ton of fun with the first Doom game. The first racing game I could not put down was Grand Turismo, which I loved for the physics. The first couple of Tony Hawk games were pretty addicting and I took all the experience of those games with me when I worked on EA Skate and Skate2. I have always been into the Medal of Honor games but lately I have been into the Call of Duty series. Overall I think my all time favorite game is Splinter Cell because it is a very methodical. It is a very intense game.

For someone trying to get into game audio, or post production work, what sort of advice would you give them now on how to get started? what skills are the most important? what software should they know?

Learn your craft on your own. I think its a great idea to go to a school or learning center to get off the ground and get some additional pointers on specific industry stuff: but dont wait to get a job to start learning your craft. There are plenty of videos to grab, lots of inexpensive libraries and relatively cheap recording equipment that can get you cutting sound effects in no time.