Tell us a little bit about yourself: Where are you from? What do you study? How did you discover your passion for audio?
All my life I have been meddling around with audio, I think my first contact with it was when I was three years old, and I managed to climb my father’s hi-fi system using faders and pots as grips.
I come from a small industrial town of Shabac in Serbia, but I moved to Belgrade because I wanted to study Audio And Video Technologies at the Advanced School Of Electrical Engineering And Computer Sciences. Since I graduated, I’ve been working as a composer and sound designer for motion picture and games in Belgrade, however I tend to drift from that course into music production from time to time.
I am obsessed with sound and music for visual media as I spend 18 hours a day working on music or sound design for projects that I’m involved with. Pure boredom inspired my passion for audio while I was at high school back home. I wanted to do something creative and useful in my life. I picked up the guitar as my first instrument of choice and started practising on my own. Then I began playing the piano. I also had a band which didn’t work out as well as I hoped, so I decided to combine my love for music and film and started learning orchestration and film scoring. That’s when I got hooked, and I don’t think I will ever unhook from it for the rest of my life.
So you play a number of instruments yourself. Has it helped you in your work as an audio engineer?
I think that it is helpful for every audio engineer to pick up at least one instrument and learn how to play it. You don’t have to be a virtuoso, but it is useful if you want to be a music producer, or a recording or mixing engineer as it can help you understand an instrument and make it sound better. I play guitar, bass, piano, percussion and a bit of cello, but I am not very good at any of those. Getting into composition and sound design has made me look beyond traditional playing styles, so I tend to mess around with instruments and make them sound completely different, applying unusual playing techniques. For my competition entry for example I used an electric guitar with Floyd Rose tremolo and scraped the strings with a screwdriver and a small metal plate just so as to simulate the sounds of the weapons of spaceships.
Tell us about the production of your submission. What is the story behind it? How long did you work on it? Was it your first entry?
This competition entry is actually my graduation project and I wanted to present it to people other than my professors and my mentor at school. I am always inspired by stunning visuals of video games and their story lines, so I wanted to see how a big budget video game would sound if I worked on it. That’s why I chose a cut scene from one of my favourite games - Mass Effect 3. I created this piece of work to present my skills in musical composition and sound design for games and I would absolutely love to work on similar titles professionally in the future.
Also, this wasn’t my first entry. I also competed last year in Budapest at the 132nd AES Conference and won the gold award in the same category. I worked on this year’s entry for quite a long time. The previous one I completed within a week, but this one took me a month to finish with all of the field recording and studio session involved, the editing, and finally mixing the whole thing. I have to admit that I was quite sceptical about making it to the finals, but eventually everything worked out just fine. I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun working on a project like this.?
What were your most significant, funny or inspiring experiences as an audio engineer?
For this competition entry I was allowed to record real military fighter airplanes of the Serbian Airforce, after pulling some strings in the Serbian Armed Forces. If you ask me, nothing is quite as joyful as having three fighter airplanes at your disposal as an audio engineer. Last year, for my competition entry in Budapest, I recorded monkeys and tigers at Belgrade Zoo to simulate the voices and sounds of aliens. It was quite fun to get into a cage with baby tigers and play with them while recording. It’s a complete other story with the monkeys, since they were throwing some nasty things at me…
Accidents happen: What was your biggest mistake in a production and what did you do to redeem the situation?
The biggest mistake I ever made was getting into a cage with those monkeys last year. I am not doing that EVER again!! Also forgetting to save a project from time to time is not a thing I’m particularly proud of…
What’s your advice for engineers who are just starting out?
If you want to be a sound designer or an audio engineer, there are three things I can advise you to do:
First one is: ALWAYS carry a portable recorder with yourself wherever you go. You never know what interesting sounds you will hear around you.
The second one is: Gather your best friends and your family and take a picture of them and post it above your work station in your studio. Once you get into this line of work, that is the only time you will be seeing them. True story.
The third, and most important one is: Search for your own signature sound and style -never use presets. I have heard a lot of young composers and sound designers who strive to sound like “the big guys”. Don’t do that, because if a producer wants a John Williams score or a Russell Greg sound mix, they will hire John Williams and Russell Greg - not copies of them. Also don’t try to get into big budged productions right away. Sure thing, it would be awesome to work with James Cameron or Christopher Nolan (I know I would like to…), but instead develop your chops working on low budget stuff and then try to move your way into the “major league”. Get in touch with student film producers and directors. They are the future of film just like you are the future of audio, and together you can work on improving the quality and the art behind our industry. The big guys aren’t going to be here forever you know.
Tech talk: What are your favourite pieces of equipment?
That’s like choosing just one cookie at the bakery. If I had to pick just one of each, I’d say that my favourite piece of outboard gear is the Lexicon PCM 96 reverb unit mainly because I am so used to the colour Lexicon processors add to my productions.
My microphone of choice is - and always will be – the AKG 414, because it is just a perfect all around microphone for any application.
As far as plugins are concerned, my current favourite is the Duende SSL Buss Compressor licensed by Solid State Logic.
What is your favourite recording or production?
That’s also like choosing a cookie. I am a fan of bold sound design ideas. Recently I was rather amazed by the sound design of the film Oblivion. It is very simple and its dynamics span from very quiet atmospheric sounds with a bit rain and wind, up to the loudest possible action cues with explosions and all that good stuff. As far as music for motion picture goes, I am a huge fan of Trevor Morris’ productions such as his scores for TV series like The Tudors, The Borgias, The Pillars Of The Earth. Films like Immortals and Olympus Has Fallen are just pure perfection in my humble opinion. Best mixed scores I heard so far. I will sign this statement if needed.
What do you like about the AES?
What do I love about AES? Hmmm… The very fact such a society exists! I am extremely proud and happy to be a part of this community. Ever since I joined last year, my exposure to the world of audio has grown and my skills have improved in so many ways. Being a member of such a renowned society and the fact that I was a finalist in the recording competition twice, has a distinct value in this industry and already helped me to get more work. Last year was a milestone year for me thanks to the AES - and I believe that things are about to get even better.
Tell us about your favourite experiences at the 134th AES Convention in Rome!
Well, my most obvious choice are the recording competition and the education forum, but I was also very happy to help the SDA officers at the booth, hang out with my dear friends, the student party, and of course hear Simon Franglin talk about the music production of Avatar and The Amazing Spiderman in person.
What is your favourite frequency?
The 2kHz of screaming brass section playing an epic theme for a film. At least I make them scream at 2k... And also the 100Hz “boom” of Taiko drums.
What do you do when you’re not in the studio or doing anything music related?
That’s an interesting question because there’s not much time for other things, really. I enjoy going to the movies and playing video games. It helps me to get inspired for my own work. I read a lot and assemble fighter airplane models. I do sleep when I have the time for it.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I am not sure if can actually see myself there, but I am striving to get into Hollywood and AAA game industry, either as a composer or a sound designer.
Could you provide us with some closing comments?
Uhuuuum… That’s all from me folks, I guess?
Unfortunately it was not possible to post Nikola's entire submission video for copyright reasons. However, here is a piece of music that he composed and produced as part of his award winning project.
Posted: Friday, July 26, 2013