People starting out in the audio and broadcasting businesses are usually faced with the contradiction of being qualified for the job but not having the practical experience most potential employers still feel is necessary for someone to really understand what they are doing and how everything works.
Adam Smyth has been in the fortunate position of having the academic grounding but also the opportunity to work in audio-for-broadcast and music recording studios at a junior, non-technical level that nonetheless gave him both a good idea of the world he was trying to getting into and the chance to move into other roles. All of which contributed to being named Most Promising Newcomer at last week’s Conch Awards.
The 24-year-old Smyth is now a sound engineer at Soho Square Studios in London and beat off competition from freelance sound editor and dubbing mixer Jussi Honka and Jim Goddard, a sound editor at Boom Post. The Awards Committee commented on its choices: “There was so much work of a very high quality that selecting a winner in the Most Promising Newcomer category was by far the most difficult task of the day. Without exception all those who were considered can be very proud of the work they submitted and I have no doubt we will hearing from many of them again in other Conch Award categories in future years.”
To be considered for the Most Promising Newcomer Award a nominee has had to have worked in the creative side of the UK audio post-production business for less than three years. Smyth has been a full-time engineer for scarcely two years but prior to that had been a runner at the Pierce Room music studios in Hammersmith while also working part time in the same role at the Voice and Music Company in Covent Garden. The facility moved into new premises in Soho Square during 2008 and was renamed Soho Square Studios last year.
Despite taking a degree in Audio Engineering at Alchemea College in London, Smyth says he knew he would have to do some running before getting the kind of job he had studied and trained for. “I was under no illusions that I could just turn up at a studio with my CV and start working as an engineer,” he comments. “I realised I would have to do other work like making the tea and cleaning up. I knew that because I was working with the best and they all had done the hard graft.”
Smyth says there was a degree of inevitability about his going into audio and music recording. His father John had been a broadcast engineer at London commercial TV channel Thames Television, his grandfather was a jazz pianist and family friends included Vic Keary of Chalk Farm Studios. “Music has always been in my family and I was aware of it from an early age,” he recalls. “I would wander round the house and my Dad would be listening to one thing and in another room my Mum would be listening to something else.”
A defining moment in Smyth’s understanding of professional audio came when his godfather, Peter Laugalis, also a broadcast sound engineer, took him to Teddington Studios for a recording of the 2000-2006 situation comedy My Hero. “He asked me to help him in recording the audience, so I was rigging microphones,” Smyth says. “I could hear the audio and vision mixers and the director on the intercom, which is when I started to understand what all the different departments on a TV production did. The music world was already instilled in me but that day was when broadcast came alive for me.”
This, he says, stood him in good stead when he starting working at the Voice & Music Company/Soho Square Studios. “The same principles apply in post as in music,” Smyth explains. “It’s all about how everything works together.”
Since being at Soho Square Studios Smyth has worked on commercials, been a dialogue mixer on the Disney-Pixar animation Brave and done sound design for TV series including the spoof reality show Lemon La Vida Loca, starring character comedian Leigh Francis as Keith Lemon. Smyth says this last show presented some creative-technical challenges because there were only about ten atmos tracks, leaving some “gaps” in the soundtrack. “As we don’t have a Foley department I had to go into the effects library and build up the atmospheres.”
As for the future Smyth says he is “taking it as it comes” and is enjoying working on project for commercials, radio, TV and film. “I get a buzz from doing trailers and enjoy working in 5.1,” he says. “I would love to mix a feature.” Looking at what Adam Smyth has done so far, don’t rule it out.