We had the good fortune of connecting with Thai Long Ly and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Thai Long, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
Honestly, I figured if I could make my own hours, I’d never have to wake up early. Some people can bounce right out of bed and tackle the day full speed. I’m the opposite… it takes me a couple of hours to wake up, regardless of how much coffee I pour down my throat and I’m usually ready for breakfast around 2pm. With that said, I enjoy late hours and start to find my groove somewhere around midnight. Being a music producer and audio engineer jives perfectly with my night owl tendencies. Aside from working in a morgue, there was no other option for me than to be in business for myself. When I was 25 I opened a music store and worked my tail off to make it succeed. Even then, I usually didn’t roll in until around 11am and left it up to my manager to open the store in the mornings. Once I left retail for good, I threw away my alarm clock and allow myself to wake whenever I’m ready. So yeah… my aversions for mornings was the impetus for being my own boss!
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m not sure I’m qualified to determine what sets me apart from any other person in this town. This place is crawling with incredibly talented people and the fact that I get a little slice of the sandbox to myself is enough for me. I can only say that my approach to creating music is pure and simple. Whether I’m writing, producing, recording or mixing my main goal is to hit my target. And that target is emotion. Everything we do in music or film is to evoke an emotion. A lyric. A melody. A scene. It’s all just entertainment, and it’s there to make you feel. Something. Anything. And if whatever I’m working on, be it a fight scene in a movie or a love song for the radio, if it leaves you feeling a bit “meh”, then I’m not done. Indifference is doom and the eternal struggle is to effectively grab one’s attention and shake it all around. My work should mess up your hair, kick you in the shin, kiss the back of your neck, throw you against your seat. Or whatever it is I’m trying to convey to you, that’s what it should do. It sounds easy, but it’s frustratingly not. So that’s perhaps the biggest challenge I face in this field and I commend every single creator who has harnessed this ability. As for what I’m proud of? The fact that I’m still working in this town! That and the creative geniuses I’m surrounded by. For example, my work with Scott Bradlee and Postmodern Jukebox is incredibly fun and fulfilling. With its inherent family vibe I look forward to each and every gig and it’s never the same thing twice. The Dionne Warwick Christmas record, Voices of Christmas (2019), that I engineered and co-produced was a total honor. It features a whole host of legendary talents such as Michael Mcdonald, The Oak Ridge Boys, Johnny Mathis, Andra Day, Rickey Skaggs, Dianne Reeves, etc. I encourage you to buy Buy it and spin it at your next Christmas gathering! The upcoming Hadrien Feraud album I’m currently producing and engineering is about as fulfilling as it gets for me. Packed with world class talent, this is a record any true music fan will enjoy. The compositions are well done and the playing is off the charts. We’re close to finishing, so listen for it shortly. I’ve also just finished two great new independent films (mixing, sound design, adr, etc…) that should be ready for public consumption this year. One stars Mickey Rourke and is called Adverse. An entertaining crime drama, of course. The other, set in the Grand Canyon, is called Granite Rapids Moon. A movie any hiker should enjoy.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Good question. I suppose I’d take them up the Angeles Crest Highway 2 into the mountains via motorcycle, where the air is crisp and clean and the windy roads are well paved. It’s a motorsports mecca and I’m a bonafide local on the mountain, having covered tens of thousands of miles up and down. Theres a great roadhouse up there called Newcomb’s Ranch that’s owned and run by good friends… literally my home away from home. There you’ll find bikers and car enthusiasts from all walks of life, as well as hikers, campers and anyone looking to get away from the bustle of LA. Yes, we all know the beaches, but most Angelenos are blind to the fact we have gorgeous mountains just minutes away. There’s a whole community up there and on any given Sunday, you can rub elbows with the likes of Jay Leno – another frequent visitor. As well as a whole host of petrol headed celebs. Then I suppose I’d take them out for some great vegan food, although I’m not vegan. I know that sounds strange, but hear me out! My girlfriend is hardcore vegan and I’m mostly vegetarian as a result of dating her. I say mostly, because I’ll sometimes trip and land on a juicy burger or fall into a bar of sushi. But I’d say 98% vegetarian. With that said, I’ve been introduced to some fantastic vegan joints that have turned this lifelong carnivore into a believer of clean eating. Places like Crossroads Kitchen or Pura Vita, both in WeHo, along with the comfort eats at Next Mex or Doomies in Hollywood are some of my favorites. Afterwards we’d hit a gig at places like the Baked Potato or the Blue Whale, where there’s a 90% chance one of my friends or colleagues will be hitting. These are iconic performance venues that are super cozy and intimate, with vetted bands and performers that are usually really good. Thinking about my answer, what I just described is pretty much my normal routine on any given day off!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I wouldn’t have the career I have now if it weren’t for a handful of amazing people who took time out of their busy lives to instill some knowledge in a greenhorn like me. I could list dozens, but these beautiful beings were the ones who supported and encouraged me when I needed it the most. The golden eared Erik Zobler taught me how listen and what to listen for. Cracks in the pavement that suddenly become the widest of chasms is what you aim for as an audio engineer. The ability to identify minute details and subtle nuances when it comes to audio takes time and knowing what to do with these elements defines your career. Erik, if you’re reading this, I love you, Daddy-O! The wise and giving Gary Chang taught me how to approach composition and how to maintain focus amidst a crowded field. There are more musicians than gigs, and he instilled confidence in me to fight for my share. A true renaissance man, Gary fed me knowledge at an alarming rate and I soaked up every word; always leaving our conversations inspired to be better at my craft. The legendary guitarist of Earth Wind and Fire, Al Mckay, taught me what was funky! He shared with me his approach to songwriting and production, amongst many things, and the lessons learned pay off every single day. He’s ruined me for guitar players and his dissemination of rhythm and pocket is the foundation of my musical being. We worked together several times a week over the course of 2 years, I even had a key to his house, where we’d spend our time creating some incredibly fulfilling music. My bass playing has never been better. And the Thai food! We’d order from the same place every day and we never tired of it! Oh, and touring the world with him as a monitor engineer was one of the great highlights of my life. I had no idea what I was doing but I had a blast! I really could go on and on. I learn something every single day and by consistently working with some of the finest, most talented artists and instrumentalists from around the world, I am pushed hard to be better. Musicians leave a bit of their soul in every single session, and if you’re lucky enough to be in the room as these souls are set free, you can’t help but be affected. For this, I give the biggest shout out to every single artist and musician I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing a creative moment with. And how could I forget… I certainly wouldn’t have the career I have now if it weren’t for the incredible support of Bell Sound Studios. I’d definitely have a career, but it wouldn’t look like this. The owners, John Osiecki and Don Piestrup, have given me an incredible vehicle and laboratory in which to create and hone my skills. John believed in me from the very beginning and his incredible generosity has allowed my work opportunities to become fully realized. Management, including Keefe Kaupanger-Swacker and Beth Quimby, continue with their on going support and I’m ever thankful for this. I’m heading towards my 9th year in the A Room and I am incredibly proud of the work I’ve done there.
This pandemic has certainly cast some very dark shadows on the industry as a whole, but I am still optimistic for what the future will bring!
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Thai Long Ly