Thu, 02 Feb 2023 16:38:25 GMT
When we take a microscope to the brand names duotone audio has worked on, one might expect the company to be to the size of one of the big players in the music and sound production space. We are imagining huge real estate. Offices spread over six floors. Corporate expenses. But this is the story of an underdog; one whose client list boasts Rolex, Nike, Gucci, Prada, Apple, Dell & IBM (if one was to type the whole list their fingertips would soon grow callused.)
Yet you’d be hard pushed to find two nicer guys when it comes to the makers behind the magic.
A composer and veteran of the industry, Pete Nashel’s thick American accent coupled with a smile that seems to grow ever-wider, makes you lean in and listen harder to what he has to say. Originally heading out to New York as a young, wide-eyed musician, production wasn’t always his plan. It was only after doing a session where he helped make a jingle for a commercial production house, that the lightbulb moment happened. Pete needed to be in the studio. He needed to be writing. He needed to be creating. “The technology really cast a spell on me.”
As the only remaining (original) cast member of the company founded in the mid-90’s, Pete admits the years have watched duotone morph over and over again. It’s been a living body, moving with the ebbs and flows of an ever-changing industry; one of the many reasons it has withstood the test of time.
Enter Ross, who similarly to Pete, has music running through every part of his body (maybe even in his DNA.) Son to a creative director, he was raised by the industry, surrounded by soundwaves booming within his musical childhood home. Often being asked for music advice by his father about creative briefs whilst he sat practising his instruments, the marriage between sound and image was ingrained in Ross from the beginning.
‘Maybe my dad was actually trying to sneak me some sort of practical, real life application of my passion? He wins this round.’
So when did the pair crash into one another? After being introduced by their sales rep, Anya Zander (owner of Hustle) at Cannes eight years ago, they shared a Taxi back to the airport, and as Pete puts it, ‘That's where the real love affair began.’
And that was only just the beginning.
When duotone was asked about the kind of clientele it decides to work with, as well as the people it employs, Pete answered with some roundabout wisdom. “Ross can attest to the fact that lots of things pop into my head.” Ross chuckles. Here’s the analogy:
“It’s like going out for food. If you go to the corner market and get yourself a bag of chips, they’re already made, you’re just picking it up. On the other end of the spectrum, if you go to a top end restaurant, sometimes they don’t even have a menu. The chef is just there to show you what they do best. You sit back and let them take the lead as you wait for the experience to unfold.” And it’s the same when it comes to the clientele duotone chooses to work with - clients who allow and welcome creative freedom. It’s the same too, with who they employ; they’re a team built up of Michelin star chefs.
Recognising the boutique-nature of their company, which consists of 14 people, Ross explains why this actually works to their advantage.
“The smallness allows for consistency. It allows for sincere and authentic work on every single project. There is a tight team where everyone has their fingerprint on everything rather than there being a workflow that involves a rolodex of hands, that leaves more to chance, and folks with varied results. It’s putting creativity first, quality over quantity. We are living it and doing that and it informs the work on both sides. If you call us up, you’re going to get a creative partner. We might be small, but we play big, because we think big and we try big. We put our hearts and minds into every job.”
It’s rare to come across the founder of a 30 year-old company who is still doing the job they set out to do rather than just taking a salary. As an active composer, Pete is constantly writing and creating music; working on everything from Academy Award-winning feature films (such as ‘I, Tonya’), to documentaries (with the likes of Academy Award-winning documentarian Alex Gibney).
But it doesn’t stop there. He’s been involved in television shows too and they’re pretty fantastic. To whet your palette we have Hulu’s ‘Mike’ - yes, you’ve guessed it, that’s Craig Gillespies’ absolutely bonkers depiction of the life of Mike Tyson; starring big-dogs like Travante Rhodes and Harvey Keitel. And for dessert there’s ABC’s new breakout, ‘Alaska Daily’- home to Hilary Swank’s golden globe performance. It’s enough to fill your sound production boots; or leave you shaking in them.
One of his latest ad projects consisted of scoring the music for six longform mock trailers starring Jessica Alba and Zac Efron. Each of the spots in the campaign mimics a familiar movie trailer style and the music does the same, helping them feel like true big Hollywood trailers. With over 10 cues and a 50 piece orchestra it was a fun crossover for Pete to flex his film scoring chops for ad-land.
Ross meanwhile reminisces of his favourite project where he and long time creative partner Jordan Lieb (the two also doubled as indie folk band Civil Brother) wrote & performed a rearrangement of Coldplay's 'Fix You' for a PSA titled 'The Worlds Biggest Asshole'. It even required a thumbs up from Coldplay’s frontman Chris Martin that Ross still blushes over.
Both projects garnered countless awards from Cannes Lions to LIA awards and were absolute dream productions to be a part of. The exact type of creative work that duotone has become so well known for.
duotone goes out of its way to partner with impeccable talent. There is a huge amount of effort that is put into the community it is building. According to Pete, it’s a family. And that isn’t just limited to its in-house composers but with all of its collaborators and clients. Their musicians, singers, their agency, director and editor partners. At the heart of everything they do is the core belief that music can not only elevate but completely transform a project. “And it can even be quite a bit of fun along the way.” Ross adds.
When asked about their creative philosophy, the guys had a fair bit to say. For Pete, he believes that the industry now is creating culture, rather than merely parroting it. Geckos are made in the form of iconic characters and slogans which end up transcending the original product they were intended for.
It’s refreshing to speak to people who haven’t lost the love for, nor glimmer in the eye that comes from truly loving their job. These guys come overflowing with electric energy, and it’s straight-up infectious. “True creators in sound become obsessive listeners”, says Pete. Maybe that’s why at 10:30pm on a Tuesday Night it isn’t unusual for them both to be sitting at home on their respective sofas texting about the music in Baz Lurmans’ Elvis.
“Life isn’t always happening for us, but music is always happening for us, so we need to let it all in'' adds Ross in a characteristic moment of poetic analysis. "Our philosophy is to pay attention, to love what you do, respect the craft, respect each other, and trust your instincts. In the end, music is a feeling. A fleeting moment we have to capture an authentic emotion, or something real that makes you feel. Whatever that feeling is."
For the duotoners, creative inspiration doesn’t exist in isolation, coming from a single source, but rather lives everywhere. Their uniqueness comes from their ability to recognise this and implement it into everything they touch.