Show Off Your Studio: Juan Dussán’s simple and stylish New York studio
The Colombian-born film and TV composer lets us into his humble abode and proves that you don’t need a big space to see success.
- ROLI Seaboard Block
- Apple MacBook Pro
- Universal Audio Apollo Twin Quad
- iPad with TouchOSC, StreamDeck and Avid Control.
- Korg Kronos 2 88
- Yamaha HS8 Studio monitors
Tell us a bit about the studio, Juan!
I focus on film composition, production and collaborative sessions with filmmakers, musicians and other creatives. It’s important that my creative process flows with minimal downtime and unnecessary distractions. Over the course of my professional life as a film composer, I’ve found that I work best in a visually clean space. Working within this clean and organized space helps me have a clear mindset for maximum functionality. For me, it’s the underlying concept of an ideal studio environment.
Rounding out the creative process is the high-quality gear that I use in my studio. Not skimping on my working tools allows me to present my work to film directors with highly professional standards. I’ve had this setup for the past two years, and since I moved to New York from Colombia two years ago. It’s constantly evolving because I am always open to change – if trying different things helps me to discover a better way of organising the space or improving the technology.
How do you use your studio?
I do everything from, composing, recording, orchestrating, and mixing, to meeting with filmmakers for spotting sessions, and score development meetings. If I need to record a string player, for example, I would bring them in, or set up a remote session via Zoom and Audiomovers. If I’m working on a bigger scale project, I would book a bigger studio to record different ensembles or orchestras and to work with a bigger team of people.
There are bad and good stories coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was fortunate to be able to work on and finish my album Voyage during this time. It was fully produced in my studio with the help of many great musicians that were able to contribute remotely.
Which DAW do you use?
My primary DAW is Logic Pro X. I use it as my main composition tool. I’ve used it for many years and I am very familiar with it, which makes my workflow smooth. I like that the program is very stable with MIDI and virtual instruments and that it’s versatile for audio editing. My secondary DAW is Pro Tools, and I use that for music editing, temping, recording sessions, mixing and mastering.
What’s been the biggest investment in your studio? Was it worth it?
That would have to be my computer. It’s a fully maxed out MacBook Pro 2018. It has actually allowed me to run considerably big sessions in Logic and Pro Tools with no performance problems. I use a lot of orchestral virtual instruments like the Spitfire’s BBCSO Professional (arguably another big investment), which can get pretty CPU heavy, and it runs quite well on my machine. Moreover, mixing and dealing with audio plugins in these big sessions has been great. I would say it was worth it!
What would you save in a fire?
Definitely my drives, my computer and my camera. I don’t think I would have enough time to save my keyboard, but I could replace that. My drives are essential because all my projects, archives and sounds are stored there — it’s basically my entire life, thankfully I have everything double backed up on a separate drive and on the cloud. The computer because that’s just the way I can access the files and work. And my camera, because I have a very deep relationship with photography.
How does the studio environment help you with your creativity?
Rewinding four years, with my previous setup I couldn’t keep up with my own creativity. I was fighting against poor tools and an inferior setup. If I spent three hours working, at least half that time would have been trying to fix the technical issues. I gather inspiration from within. The neat, organized, and well-lit workspace provides me with a clean palette. My writing sessions are more productive and I have found that when I am happy in my own space I have the energy to be a great collaborator.
I moved a few months ago, so I had to move my studio into my new space. I was in the middle of scoring Floundering, a short film directed by Austin Prario. In the process of resetting my studio, I found myself working less efficiently. It was not until I had my physical space just so that I found myself in a good mental space to finish it.
I believe that all the tech in my studio is there to enhance the creative aspects of my work, so I am constantly looking for tools that allow me to work more efficiently. I can spend many hours sitting working on a film score, but it never feels exhausting.
How did you go about getting the acoustics right in the studio?
I partnered up with a great New York company called Trademark Soundproofing. They made fabulous tools for soundproofing and acoustical treatment for my room and I’ve been developing and improving its sound with some of their solutions. Right now, I have some of their acoustical panels on the walls and I’m looking into adding some ceiling clouds to help it even more. I am not looking for a perfect sounding room, but I would like to hear everything as well as is possible within the limitations of my space because I’m not doing heavy mixing here.
What atmosphere do you try and create in the studio?
My most creative hours are often late at night, so I try to keep a low light vibe, it’s quite relaxing but also highly productive. During the day I love to have the natural light coming from outside. When there are meetings with my collaborators I like to find out what environment is most creatively beneficial for all parties. Being able to be flexible here, whether it’s in the middle of the day or late at night, I always strive to have a chill atmosphere. I’m thankful that I have a reputation for being fun to work with but that’s because I love what I do and have fun myself.
What is your favourite piece of gear?
My favourite piece of gear that I own is the ROLI Seaboard. I love how it transforms any kind of sample or synth into something organic and unexpected. In my score for the short film Red Veil (dir. Tom Sidi), I used it in combination with a chamber orchestra that I recorded remotely in Prague, Czech Republic. Using the Seaboard has become almost a fundamental part of my style as a composer.
I am thankful for the great team at ROLI for all their support in my career and for making instruments that are tools for inspiration. Last year, I was invited to do a series of performances and tutorials with Korg, explaining how the ROLI instruments and the Korg Kronos play an important role in my creative process when working together.
What is next on your shopping list studio-wise?
I’d love a Korg Prologue, or a Moog Subsequent 37. I have been looking into some analogue synths. I have been widely inspired by Jordan Rudess from Dream Theater, and I think that my sound has definitely been influenced by him. My love for synths definitely comes from that source.
What is your dream piece of gear?
A Steinway & Sons B Grand Piano –– I come from a classical piano conservatory background, so I feel at home when I play one of those instruments. Some other dream gear of mine is the TC Electronic System 6000 Reverb. I have used it before in different studios and I just love how it makes my work sound. I think it’s the perfect reverb for orchestral music. Lastly, I want to mention the Neve 1043 Preamp and EQ, which I love for it’s amazing, powerful and crisp sound.
What is your top piece of production advice?
In the case of film music, storytelling is probably the most important aspect of it. Music should always support the plot and the picture rather than overpowering it. The concept will often inform the production value of the music. So, stay focused on the creative aspect of your work as much as possible, and try to get an extra pair of trusted ears to hear your music and give you constructive criticism.
What is the one piece of advice you would give someone starting out building a studio?
My advice would be to try to learn as much as you can about the room acoustics, technology and sound. This will come in handy when you need to set up your workstation. I went to the NYU Screen Scoring graduate program, where I was fortunate to learn about these topics, and improve my critical ear.
Tech issues can get in the way of the creative process very easily. Spending too much time fixing issues rather than writing music is a nightmare. Don’t be afraid to try different arrangements of your setup (including speakers, sitting position, height, etc.). Work it until you feel comfortable and you love the sound. It’s okay to change it from time to time. Also, double-check your mixes with headphones all the time. It’s easy to miss things in acoustically imperfect rooms.
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