Ever wondered how do you become a producer? Learn from Max Savage, a Pyramind graduate who went on to start a successful audio and video production company called Noisy Savage. Today, he’s not only managing a full load of client work, but also working as a producer for multiple Bay Area bands, continuing to collaborate with his former classmates, and carving time out of his busy schedule to pursue passion projects.
He’s certainly found success in this industry since finishing his run at Pyramind’s ground campus. In this story, we ask him about his recent projects, how he’s managed to secure work as a freelancer, his foray into video, techniques for maintaining a healthy work-life balance, and advice he might give to someone asking the question, “How do you become a producer?”
To start things off, give us a quick run down on what program you were enrolled in.
I enrolled in the whole “kit and caboodle.” I believe it was called the “DSP” at the time [Now called The Complete Music Producer] and it was every class that Pyramind had to offer. While attending classes I eventually ended up interning for both Pyramind Studios and the Pyramind video department. Both were absolutely awesome and crucial experiences, and I was eventually hired part-time into the video department.
Since then, you’ve gone on to start your own business as a freelancer doing both audio and video work. Can you give us a high-level overview of some of your bigger and/or more recent clients and the role you had for each project?
Sure. Well, on the video side I’ve done a good number of tech videos and various art/music projects. The video work I do is pretty varied, anything from corporate videos to some pretty out-there stuff. Sometimes it crosses over into my music work as well, which is always fun. For Cathedrals, I not only co-produced and mixed their single “Unbound”, but a year later I was co-editing and coloring the music video. Most recently, however, I finished a video for Blu J titled “Golden Dreams” which I’m incredibly proud of.
On the music side, I’ll just list some of my recent projects:
- Cathedrals on their first EP & new singles (co-production, mixing)
- Oriel Poole on her new EP (producer)
- New Spell on their three upcoming EP’s (producer, mixing)
- Zenotope on their new LP (co-production, mixing)
All of these music projects were friends or classmates from Pyramind, except for New Spell, whom we recorded in Pyramind’s studios (and it sounded awesome).
I’m noticing a trend here — it looks like you’re finding a lot of success working with other Pyramind alumni. Did you develop these relationships while you were a student or later on after you had some real-world experience under your belt?
I think that in school I met certain students and we were kind of keeping a bead on each other. Sort of a “I like what you do, maybe it’ll line up down the line” sort of thing. Three of the artists above were actually my roommates at one point so there’s that. I think it’s just about putting out enough high-quality content so that other artists are aware of you, and most importantly and especially in San Francisco’s small community… NOT BEING A DICK. It’s not that there’s an amazing amount of assholes out there, it’s just that if people enjoy working with you they will not only continue to work with you, but they’ll recommend you to their friends as well. But to answer your question it was a combo of making a lot of contacts while at school and trying to stay involved in the community once I was no longer a student. There are so many talented people in the Bay Area, we’re so lucky.
How do you maintain relationships/make contacts/get your name out there/acquire projects?
Well I kind of answered this already but at least music-wise it’s almost all word of mouth for me. A friend of a friend has a band and wants an album or a lead singer I’m working with sings back up in another band, etc. For video it’s about having a clean website with good examples of your work and being able to tell an entertaining story in under two minutes. I could probably be better about advertising but so far I’ve always had too much work to spend time with outreach so I guess that’s a good thing.
How did you get started with video? Was that something you had experience with before Pyramind? And how has that helped you over the years as a freelancer? Is it tricky to balance those two disciplines or are they complementary skill sets?
I worked as a projectionist in movie theaters for almost a decade before moving completely to being a freelancer. The good old days! With real film and oil and loud machines, now I’m pretty sure it’s just pressing play on a Quicktime window, haha. Anyways, I had always edited a bit but when I moved to San Francisco I got a job at a place called NEWPEOPLE in Japantown. My job in addition to showing movies was to take all the incredible Japanese trailers, complete with over-the-top pop songs, and edit them into cool AdultSwim-esque trailers for American audiences. It was my middle-school self’s dream job. Hip-hop beats to exploding robots and all that. That’s how I really learned how to edit, and most importantly learned to scale the amount of work and time you put into a project based on its deadline.
I actually see a ton of similarities between editing music and video and could talk for hours about it! Essentially it’s all the same. Track-based layers, telling a story over time with dynamics, color/EQ, the flow of the story whether it’s verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus or the hero’s journey — it’s all really the same. The main difference is that with music there’s WAY more room to change the nature of the story you’re telling. You could speed up a ballad into a drum and bass track, for example. With video, once you capture something there’s not as much wiggle room if you can’t reshoot, so you have less options. I love switching back and forth between the two formats, though. I feel like I get a break from each one and am able to maintain a really heathy objective view of whatever I’m working on.
In answering the question, how do you become a producer, what surprised you the most about working as a creative media freelancer?
Honestly, the hardest part is not having a boss! For the first few months you’re thinking, “Woohoo, no boss, I’m working in my pajamas living the dream!” But soon you realize that you’ll need some sort of schedule to not only keep you working and productive, but to make sure that you’re actually taking time off and resting. I think a lot of people find themselves in a situation where they don’t feel like they are ever really working, but at the same time they don’t ever feel like they have a day off because they COULD be working on something, and time off can feel guilty when there are still projects in the hopper.
For me, working from my bedroom, I separated my day into office and bedroom time. When I wake up in my pajamas I can do a few emails and such but I quickly get up, take a shower, get dressed and get out of the house. Even if it’s just for a coffee or something, the idea is to “commute.” Then when I return to my “office,” I’ll light some incense and get to work. Over time this built a habit so that when I was in my “office” with the smell of sandalwood incense it was impossible for me not to be working on something. Then in the evening when it’s time to stop working, I’ll go out again to meet some friends or take a walk or whatever and when I return it’s no longer my office, it’s my bedroom.
The other really difficult thing has to do with working in a creative field while also adhering to a deadline. A lot of the work is coming up with a “great idea” or a creative solution to something. Clients will be asking you, “How many hours of work will you need to come up with a great, creative, and original idea?” Honestly, this probably varies greatly from person to person, but I’ve noticed that if you’re stressed and overworked, it’s better to take a break and clear your head, rather than to fight it and try and cram more work in. The latter almost ALWAYS results in you spending hours trying to cram a terrible idea into a project and you’ll end up down a creative rabbit hole. I think it takes some experience, but I can tell when I’m forcing something, and that it’s break time. I suppose it’s similar to ear fatigue. So, when you catch yourself metaphorically reaching for the volume knob or cranking up the high end because the track isn’t hitting hard enough, it’s time to take a break!
Now that you’ve had a few years of work experience, is there anything that you learned at Pyramind still sticks with you on your current projects?
Oh yeah, tons. But the biggest piece (outside of the plethora of technical knowledge) I took away from the entire experience at Pyramind was probably that art is subjective. At Pyramind when we would share our assignments in class, some students would dig your work, and others may appreciate the work you put in but not care for your sound. When you release content into the wild some listeners may hear it and think, “Oh my god, this is so terrible that I’m done with music entirely…” But someone else out there will hear it and think, “Holy @#$%, this is what I’ve been waiting for my whole life, thank you so much. This completes me!” If someone doesn’t dig your sound, that’s their problem!
What advice do you have for audio/video creative professionals who are just getting their careers off the ground?
DON’T BE A DICK. Also, get a clean website with some good examples of your work and start networking. Remember that your website/card/resume can be edited and tweaked endlessly. Having SOMETHING up is significantly better at getting you jobs than having nothing up. Also, make sure you leave time for your own personal creative projects or you’ll burn out and only see art as a job and not as your passion. I’ve had a great time with my own small pieces. Usually, I’ll give some kind of tiny deadline, like one day for recording, one day for music and half a day to finish. The idea is to get it finished as fast as possible since it’s a passion project and it’ll always end up your second priority to paying clients. Some of my favorite pieces were created in a few hours!
Where do you see your path as a producer/engineer going next?
I love the producer side of music right now. The word “producer” is pretty ambiguous these days, but what I end up doing is becoming another band member for the length of whatever EP/LP they are creating. This is amazing for me — maybe it’s because I’m an editor but I love working and collaborating with other people’s art. Essentially editing it, if it needs editing or sometimes stopping them from editing it before they alter something I think is perfect! So, to answer your question I’m really happy with what I’m currently doing BUT I would love to set it up in a way that I could spend more time with each artist. I guess that’s the nature of living in a city, never enough time and so many projects!