Blake Henderson is a music composer, sound designer and audio engineer. He’s written for large brands like PayPal, Dropbox, and Tesla. As a Soundsnap user, we invited him to do an interview so we could learn more about his work, his process and what inspires him to write music.

 

Composing Music and Designing Sound

SS: Tell us about yourself, where you’re from, and long you’ve been writing music and doing sound design.

BH: I’m a Utah native living in Oakland California. I compose music, create sound design and mix/master audio of all types. I’ve been teasing sound for over 20 years now.

As a kid, I hoarded the family’s karaoke machine and built a make-shift studio in the basement. I recruited my little brothers to bang on pot and pans while performing overdubs with the dual cassette decks. We made a couple albums of wannabe Beatles tunes sung dreadfully. I had a band throughout my late teens and 20’s and make music still under the name “TaughtMe”.

 

SS: How did you get started writing music and designing sound? What draws you to sound over other mediums?

BH: I do sound because I’ve gotten good at it. I’d absolutely love to be a wonderful painter, but would rather not start all over in a new discipline. The appeal of music needs no explanation. Even babies love it!

As for sound, I’m enamored by its ability to create a kind of poetry when merged with certain visuals. Combining the two can create something greater than the sum of its parts. That excites me.

SS: For projects that you do both music and sound design for, what’s your process like? Where do you start?

BH: Those jobs always start with music so that pacing and vibe can be locked in for the editor/animator. I typically provide multiple sketches from which the client can choose. Once they select a direction I explore it further, fleshing out the tune and decorating it. As a musician, it’s nice to have tempo locked before doing sound design because that work is influenced by the music and vice versa.

 

SS: How do you handle creative blocks? Do you have a process for getting out of a funk?

BH: Oh man! Not sure I have any magical advice. The muses can be quite erratic. Perhaps one useful tip is to throw away what isn’t working and start from a different direction entirely. Sometimes we paint ourselves into a corner and starting at it from another perspective is the solution.

Throw away what isn’t working and start from a different direction entirely. Sometimes we paint ourselves into a corner and starting at it from another perspective is the solution.

SS: Do you have any projects that you’re most proud of?

BH: I recently composed eight 15-second tunes for Dropbox that turned out great. We were going for a minimalist psychedelic vibe using analog synthesis and textures. It was a dream job in that they kept pushing me to make it weirder. Anyone who does commercial music knows that typically clients are risk-averse and the tendency is to follow comfortable trends. It’s wonderful to work on projects where genuine experimentation is encouraged. I personally believe that audiences are more sophisticated than marketers often believe.

 

SS: Now for everyone’s favorite question: What tools do you use? DAW, plugins, microphones, preamps, etc. Have any favorites that you always go to?

BH: Gear is fun! It’s crucial to use tools that excite you and to enjoy the process whenever possible. I use a combination of digital and analog tools. I’m a fan of Elektron gear and often use their Analog Keys and Analog Rytm for sound design. I’ve been running Pro Tools since I was a kid so I stick to it. Lately, I’ve been really enjoying plugins by Goodhertz and Fabfilter.

A staple for me is using Vari-Speed techniques. I’ve always loved slowing down audio. I often record instruments at a faster tempo and them slow it back down. Oooooohhhhhhh.

SS: Do you have a favorite instrument that you always default to? What about a favorite type of sound effect that you use a lot?

BH: When composing for commercial projects I tend to work with midi and software instruments so that I can switch instruments as I go. Native Instruments Kontakt is used constantly as well as Maschine. Once I’ve arrived at something special then I might add acoustic instruments. Guitar is my mainstay.

SS: Do you record a lot of your own sound effects, use stock libraries, or do a mix?

BH: It’s definitely a mix. I record foley when possible. I’m a huge fan of Tim Prebble’s libraries (HissAndARoar.com) and I peruse Soundsnap often.

 

SS: Any cool sounds from Soundsnap that ended up making the cut in your projects?

BH: Plenty! I really dig Soundsnap’s interface. It’s just leaps and bounds more friendly than many others. I’ve pulled numerous sounds from the site, most recently an interior car ambiance that worked perfectly in a spot.

 

SS: Do you ever use sound effects in a musical capacity?

BH: Always! In my personal music, I’ve used buckets or boxes for drums. You can pull sound from anywhere. I’m into music that contains unexpected tones and textures. Let’s paint with sounds.

 

SS: You do both production and post-production sound. Do you prefer one over the other?

BH: Doing post work, especially music composition, can be emotionally taxing. You tend to impart a good deal of yourself into that work and it’s draining in a particular way.

In contrast, location sound is more of a technical pursuit and I find that it’s a big relief to focus exclusively on catching sound as nicely as possible. Once you have a handle on the technical aspects it’s quite straightforward. For me, doing both is perfect because they each provide reprieve from the other.

SS: If someone wanted to contact you for work, how would they get ahold of you?

BH: Let’s collaborate! I’d love to hear about what you’re making. Email me at Blake@ClumsyCongregation.com