Thinking in Sound: Mike Perri
Mike Perri started as an intern with Amber Music and worked his way up to become senior producer and music supervisor, titles he has held for over a decade. In addition to his experience with Amber, Mike began working as a professional musician at the age of 18, working as a studio and live drummer for many artists and producers in New York City and Hudson Valley. He was also a founding member of indie rock band The Racer, performing multiple times at SXSW, Summerfest in Milwaukee, WI, and at nearly every noteworthy venue throughout the Northeast.
LBB> When you’re working on a new brief or project, what’s your typical starting point? How do you break it down and how do you like to generate your ideas or response?
Mike> Generally, when I receive a brief from an agency for a music search, my initial reaction is to follow my instincts and try a few “wildcard” ideas against the film. Then, pending the results of those thought experiments, I will revisit the brief and determine how far off I am from what I think they actually want. My goal is to provide some options that feel 100% on point for their brief as well as some options that are a bit more unexpected, but still fit.
LBB> Music and sound are in some ways the most collaborative and interactive forms of creativity - what are your thoughts on this? Do you prefer to work solo or with a gang - and what are some of your most memorable professional collaborations?
Mike> Michelle and I work as a team. I’ll do the heavy lifting; the wrangling of tracks and laying back to picture. Michelle will float ideas my way and I’ll pursue them, as she has a great way of thinking outside the box. Then we will take a step back and have a look at what we’ve got and make sure the project includes all killer and no filler.
LBB> What’s the most satisfying part of your job and why?
Mike> For me, it’s incredibly satisfying to be watching tv with my family or friends and see a commercial I worked on pop on the TV so I can point it out to them. The overwhelming majority of people I deal with in my personal life have nothing to do with this industry, so they’re never going to see the long-form, award winning “reel worthy” spots I work on. But, when that Bounty or Mercedes spot comes on, I can give them more context into how I spend my days.
LBB> As the advertising industry changes, how do you think the role of music and sound is changing with it?
Mike> I think social media has forced us to be more creative in the way we do things. Everybody has a voice, and so many use it to comment on EVERYTHING from the important to the mundane. The last thing I want to see is some negative comment on a YouTube video of one of our spots. I’d rather see a couple dozen people asking “Who wrote this?” or “Where can I buy this track?”. Those looks matter, and definitely inspire us to write the best possible tracks.
LBB> Who are your musical or audio heroes and why?
Mike> Growing up, I was always infatuated with the work of Danny Elfman and Alan Silvestri. I appreciate their ability to act as a character in the films that feature their scores.
LBB> When you’re working on something that isn’t directly sound design or music - are you the sort of person who needs music and noise in the background or is that completely distracting to you? What are your thoughts on ‘background’ sound and music as you work?
Mike> Personally, I find background music to be distracting while I work. The amount of time spent doing my job that DOESN’T require me to listen to music is so small that it’s actually helpful for me to take a break and get some silence or maybe at most a podcast.
LBB> I guess the quality of the listening experience and the context that audiences listen to music/sound in has changed over the years. There’s the switch from analogue to digital and now we seem to be divided between bad-ass surround-sound immersive experiences and on-the-go, low quality sound (often the audio is competing with a million other distractions) - how does that factor into how you approach your work?
Mike> It really doesn’t factor into my work at all. My job is to find the best piece of music to fit the emotion of what I’m working on. It’s up to the mixing house and producer to make sure it’s heard properly.
LBB> On a typical day, what does your ‘listening diet’ look like?
Mike> I’ll roll out of bed and listen to whatever my kids are listening to while I get them ready for their days. On the way to dropping them off at their various activities, it’s usually podcast/sports radio time. Then, when I’m alone in the car, I tend to throw on playlists with some of my favorite songs and crank them as loud as humanly possible. During business hours, I’m either listening to tracks for work or listening to podcasts while taking care of the more tedious side of the business. Night time is when I either try to find something new to get into or lay back into some old classics.
LBB> Do you have a collection of music/sounds and what shape does it take (are you a vinyl nerd, do you have hard drives full of random bird sounds, are you a hyper-organised spotify-er…)?
Mike> I’m generally organized on Spotify, but most new sounds come from conversations with friends. My neighbor owns a tattoo shop in town that I spend a lot of time at and there’s always something worth listening to playing there, so I’ll make playlists based on what I’m digging then dig further for similar sounds.
LBB> Outside of the music and sound world, what sort of art or topics really excite you and do you ever relate that back to music (e.g. history buffs who love music that can help you travel through time, gamers who love interactive sound design… I mean it really could be anything!!)
Mike> I spend most of my free time coaching baseball and I’m a big proponent of using music to hype people up. Most little league games you go to are quiet and can be kind of boring, but come to mine and you’ll hear all kinds of jams, from Beastie Boys to Faith No More to Run The Jewels, getting the crowd and players hyped. This season, I got my team into The Ramones and any time we had runners on, you’d hear thirteen 8 year olds screaming “HEY HO LET’S GO!”.
LBB> As we age, our ears change physically and our tastes evolve too, and life changes mean we don’t get to engage in our passions in the same intensity as in our youth - how has your relationship with sound and music changed over the years?
Mike> My personal tastes in music haven’t really mellowed with age, I still prefer more aggressive and exciting music to music that is more thoughtful and artistic (for lack of a better term). I have definitely hit the point where new sounds don’t excite me as much as tried and true favorites. Sometimes, it feels like homework to try and find something new to listen to or to try and digest the up-and-coming sound. But, we have to do it to stay relevant.