"I have a broad background and I like many different styles," says keyboardist Smith, a Washington State native, a son of a jazz musician and a disciple of Dave Barduhn, Stan Kenton's longtime arranger. Smith balances his big-band jazz training with his experience working with producer Rick Parashar at Seattle's London Bridge studios, where Pearl Jam's Ten, among other flannel classics, was recorded. Smith, who's not as old as his name-he's only 30-balances his company with co-founder/executive producer Bill Ronan, 40, who has a college economics background and no prior ad industry experience. He actually worked eight years in the purchasing department at the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority, but don't hate him, he had nothing to do with that nasty Money Train movie.
"The only thing I knew about advertising was what I read in the paper, but I had a lifelong love of music and I was a bit of a guitar hacker," says Ronan, but kismet intervened and his life became a musical only when he moved to Seattle to take a job at Boeing's marketing department in 1993. He happened to run into Smith, who was looking for a marketing guy as he expanded his one-man studio, then known as Post Music, and the rest presumably will be history, now that CineVox has hired Midwest and West Coast reps, and, more significantly, opened a New York office, manned by Ronan, who's come back home-he's from Brooklyn.
So why the far-flung New York move? Well, L.A. was out of the question, says Ronan, he hates L.A., and CineVox had to bulge somewhere. According to the pair, the company is virtually the only full-fledged music/sound design house in town, but this is a dubious distinction at best in a town of Seattle's size. "There are some small, very cool creative shops here, like WongDoody and Big Bang Engineering," the Voxers point out, but, from a big-biz commercials music standpoint, there are only four main agencies: Cole & Weber; Elgin Syferd DDB Needham; McCann-Erickson; and The Evans Group. The CineVox reel is kind of Pacific Northwest oriented, as you might expect, though 60 percent of the work is from out of town now, says Smith, with ISDN technology one of the keys to making big-ripple soundwaves.
Nevertheless, most of the key spots on the reel are regionally-grown jobs, the standout for national exposure being, appropriately, Boeing's "Space" anthem from Cole & Weber, that high-minded montage of multiethnicity that looks like the charter flight for a United Nations acid test. "It's all about the human need to seek out our reason for existence," says Smith, "and this spot is a good example of the CineVox way. There's a blur between the sound design and the composition. It's a real choir mixed with mutated chanting and swirling sounds. It's live shakuhachi played over a bed of custom-made textures that help to capture the mysticism of the Far East. Everything is a contradiction."
Indeed, that's the CineVox way: "To combine unnatural, manufactured pieces of sound with live instruments; most of the sound design is wielded as a compositional element," says Smith, who works closely with chief sound designer Zack Belica, usually well before the compositional process begins.
The coolest spot on the reel, say the Voxers, is "Adjectives," a type-driven snow frenzy for K2 skis, also from Cole & Weber. "It sort of represents what we're into," says Smith. "It's got live drums mixed with samples and Japanese noise band elements, and it's a Tourette Syndrome style of composition; musical fits and starts. At the time I was working on this, my girlfriend was hired to do kissing scenes in some TV commercial. There's definitely a frustrated sort of rage that manifested itself musically." Whew, lucky she didn't make a porn film!
A close second in the cool department is a guitar-goosed spot for Ice Breakers tropical drinks (from Northlich Stolley LaWarre in distant Cincinnati) that Smith calls "industrial beach music with a surfotronic ubergroove"-in the unlikely event CineVox doesn't make it, this guy could write for Spin. Other notables are an elegantly acid jazzy lope for Nordstrom and a new-agey choral ode to the glory of pain for Avia, and CineVox has a serious piece of cine on the new reel with its trailer music for the latest Jack Nicholson dud, Blood & Wine. It's tense and explosive, as you might expect, just like Jack.
The other key aspect of the CineVox way, according to the Voxers, is authenticity. "We don't rely on studio musicians," says Smith, "and we strive for real sounds and real instruments. We don't use synths to replace organic sounds, they're used only for synthetic sounds."
"And we draw our players from the different scenes," adds Ronan. "If we're doing a grunge thing, we'll pull a guy out of a grunge band-not a difficult matter here. If it's a jazz thing, we'll get a guy who played at Jazz Alley the night before. For a classical thing, we'll get guys from the Seattle Symphony. If a client wants something that requires a big string section, but he doesn't have the money for it, we would encourage him to go in another musical direction rather than fake it with synth strings."
Even their engineers are pulled from the record industry, they say; main engineer Don Gilmore works with the likes of Pearl Jam and Temple of the Dog. Speaking of shaggy temples, what about Seattle's waning grunge reputation? Does it make any difference to their business? No, not much. These days, Gerard Schwartz and the Seattle Symphony are just as happening as Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, but if clients want grunge, hey, they'll get it. "In fact, Bill and I are both wearing flannel shirts right now," says Smith to conclude a phone interview. "Yeah," says Ronan, "I even just put a little finger hole in my