As PSNEurope walks into the lobby of SMP Amsterdam, the new home of ASCAP Award-winning composer Martijn Schimmer’s SMP (Schimmer Music Productions), it’s hard not to be impressed. With a décor that’s part luxury apartment, part high-end antique showroom (a coffee bar made from formaldehyded CDs – pictured below right – is a particularly nice touch); a spacious live room kitted out with custom, moveable Mutrox acoustic panels; and no less than four of Avid’s newest Pro Tools S6 modular mixing control surfaces in its newly refurbished, state-of-the-art studio spaces, it’s clear SMP is in Amsterdam for the long haul.
Most famous outside of his native Netherlands for the theme music to TV singing competition The Voice – one of a number of Schimmer-scored Dutch television formats to have been exported worldwide (Deal or No Deal, Splash! and The Winner Is are others) – Schimmer has risen to become one of country’s the most sought-after composers and producers. 60 per cent of SMP’s work is in television – “themes, series, idents, the news, channel branding,” says Schimmer – with another 30 coming from music for advertisements and 10 from “all sorts of [other] stuff”.
Schimmer says SMP is “starting to do more and more [advertising jingles]” – one of the reasons he moved the company to the capital from its former premises in Rotterdam. “If you want to do commercials in the Netherlands, you have to be Amsterdam,” he says. “Rotterdam is also nice, but it’s not where the creatives are.
“You have two places: you have Hilversum, which is where the traditional broadcasters are, and you have more companies moving to Amsterdam because it’s a real city. More and more is happening here. A lot of the music talent is located around Amsterdam, too, so the drummers, the singers, etc., we work with, they’re all close.”
As for the “all sorts of other stuff”, a major part is the five or so film scores Schimmer composes a year. However, he admits that “it’s not the best business”. “In Holland, it’s very difficult to get funds,” he says, “The budgets for movies are very, very tight and the budgets for the music are even tighter, so it can be difficult to produce something good.
“Most of the time we want to record real strings, real stuff, but it’s hard to do it without a budget. So then you have to compromise – sometimes we do a combination of samples and real recordings, and if there’s too little budget we just don’t do it, because it sounds like an unfinished product. It’s like painting a painting but the paint is already dry… you don’t have the flexibility to really fill it in the way it sounds in your head.”
At this point, Schimmer plays PSNEurope through Focal studio monitors some of his recent compositions, including a section from the (surprisingly listenable) score to the Disney-distributed children’s film Fuchsia the Mini-Witch (Foeksia de miniheks) – recorded in Sofia but mixed in the Netherlands – along with the dance-influenced theme used by RTL Nieuws (RTL News). Referring to Foeksia, Schimmer explains: “We did the recording over there, then did the rest of the production in our own studio. Sometimes we have to pre-mix there, as there’s sometimes a deal for the recording and the mix, but [even then] we always take the Pro Tools session with us, and then most of the time do the mix again [in the Netherlands].”
Schimmer hasn’t always been an Avid customer. When he started SMP, he was using a 16-track Akai disc recorder, and upgraded – rather unsuccessfully – to a Mackie recorder with analogue cards not long after. “It was during a movie I was doing – I think this was in 2000 or 2001 – and there was something wrong with the cards. So, I had an analogue bank in there and all kinds of sparks coming out of it!
“I took it back to the store and they said: ‘Why are you messing around? You have to have Pro Tools.’ Back then, Avid only had the D Control, so I think I started using it with Pro Tools 6 or 7. I took one week’s holiday and they gave me the manual, because I didn’t know Pro Tools, so I was reading the manual on the beach and at night! Then I got back and I kind of knew the basic things – and that was my first [Avid] production. And I never left it.”
In addition to having the first two S6s in the country, SMP was also the first to demo the new desk at IBC2013 (“There was champagne involved,” Schimmer recalls). “S6 is different, but the learning curve hasn’t been too steep,” Schimmer says. “There’re more buttons in the space but it’s really nice. At first, it slows you down a little bit as you have to learn, but now it’s really speeding things up.
“We really wanted S6 because we were in the process of moving here and we didn’t want to bring the old hardware and controllers in, so we kind of pushed Avid a little bit to get those first two consoles. And they haven’t been a disappointment.”