Dave Gross is the perennial "man behind the curtain." Most won't recognize his name and his work often goes uncredited, but there's a really good chance you've heard what he does in TV shows/commercials, corporate videos, games or online content.
Here's our interview with Dave:
You have a unique set of jobs that are hard to pinpoint or label. In a sentence or two, what would you like to be your introduction?
Someone has to be ‘behind the scenes’ making audio sound great... That’s my job. I love being a post-production audio mixer specializing in corporate communications and marketing videos, a sound designer, and composer/session keyboardist for Production Music Libraries. Being a hero to my clients and artists who hire me is the best thing in the world.
Can you pick out any favorites from your work that you're particularly proud of?
Audio post mix for Microsoft. I love the sound design and story here.
No more humbling an honor than having world-class concert pianist Susanne Kessel perform something I composed.
One of my fav things... I had to recreate the sound of a 1950’s ice cream truck driving by for a movie scene... Doppler, crappy metal speaker horns and all.
Frameworks Music Library always has me do really cool things... Like taking a classic upbeat Christmas song and turning it into a lullaby.
Or write music for a kids cartoon that sounds like an old western theme.
How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on?
For my post-production work, the majority of it, especially now, is making Teams/cellphone/user-generated content sound as clean as possible!! Until we get back to shooting videos on sound stages with great microphones again, anyway. Voiceovers being done at home studios, especially, need a lot of attention. Removing background noise and codec artifacts is always a challenge task. When dealing with multiple people on different systems (especially on a Teams/Zoom, etc call)… Getting them to sound balanced is my toughest challenge. I’m also a session keyboard player. And doing THAT remotely with stems and maybe a producer or artist on a phone call instead of in the room with me is a very different world to work in. And I love it.
How did you get started in music?
Started playing piano at 4. Straight out of high school to playing in a Top 40 cover band for 15 years. I learned how to use my ears more than anything else during this time.
Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?
I’m not sure I’d call it frustration as much as I’d call it a major "what are you talking about?” moment, where I really learned how to decipher ’non-musical’ clients. I was working on a TV commercial music project. The client had no concept of musical terminology, but associated everything with texture and color. From ‘can you make it more Orange’, to ‘well... I was really feeling Polished Chrome, but you gave me Brushed Aluminum.' Yup... really true... I had to learn to adjust my concepts of musical language to a different aesthetic. To him ‘orange’ really meant he wanted more sweetness (which ended up happening by pulling the strings up in the mix). The chrome/aluminum comment translated to a brighter mix (more hi hats and upper frequency synths). It really was eye opening and taught me how to listen even deeper.
Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?
First and foremost, my ears!!! Those are the best tools any of us have to use. And we must trust what we hear. Gear wise, yeah. I work completely in the box with ProTools and Logic. I can’t live without Izotope RX Advanced for my audio post production... Amazing tools, especially when you dive deep into them. Big fan of the Steven Slate bundle. And FabFilter Pro Q3 is insanely cool and my main go-to EQ. Musically, Spectrasonics Omnisphere/Keyscape have a lifetime of sound possibilities I’ve barely begun to explore. And I’m anxious to dive into the newest version of Logic’s Sampler and sequencer.
Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire to get where you are in their own careers?
1) Collaborate!! Build relationships with people who have their own special skills. Find people to compliment your work and bring something new to it. Learn all the rules before you break them. And then break them. 2) Be a hero to your clients. I have a bad habit of not saying no to a project. BUT... the client comes first. If I’m not the right person for the gig, I’ll FIND that person for them. I might make less $ on that gig, but I’ll make sure it’s done right, and the client won’t forget that help. 3) value your time! You have bills to pay. Don’t give away the farm for free. Sure, we all do favors for clients, but we all have to pay the rent. Learn the BUSINESS of our business.
How long have you been working with headphones, and what inspired you to start including them in your workflow?
I’ve worked with headphones on and off my whole career. As a session player, that’s what you got. As tech has evolved, and the cost of really great sounding consumer headphones has decreased, it’s even more important we mixers check our work on as many different things as possible... Laptop speakers, studio speakers, computer monitors, and especially headphones. For me, having amazingly flat reference headphones is key so I can really hear the details, as well as hearing what the original intent of the content is.
Any additional comments or stories you want to share?
We live in a challenging time for our industry, from live music production to how TV commercials, films, and corporate videos are being created. Musicians and artists are all trying to find new and inventive ways to keep creating their work, and finding new ways to do it! In many ways, I’m inspired by the creativity I see online, and new collaborative tools are evolving. We all need to help each other thru it, and be as supportive and collaborative as we can be!
In the world of audio post production, especially in these days of ‘user generated content’, having a flat critical listening system is more important than ever. Using my LCD-MX4’s, I’m able to hone in on every detail of background noises, resonant room frequencies, HVAC tones and other aspects for forensic audio cleanup. I’m rediscovering things in my music mixes I hadn’t heard before, and listing to Hi-Res streaming audio is pure joy. I spend 15 minutes each morning before my work day just listening to a wide variety of music and video mixes to re-tune and focus my brain and ears... The MX4’s make this a perfect way to start my day.