Dana James Presson – Composer, producer, sound designer
Posted on: Tuesday 12th of May 2020
The founder of Orlando industrial/rock collective K.P. Riot Brigade reveals his broadcast background and explains his recent role composing the score for Australian supernatural action/horror movie Bite Club.
How did you get your start in this industry?
I got my start in the mid-1990s, writing show opener themes, programmed advertisements and instrumental bits for commercial terrestrial radio and internet radio programs. Most notably, I did a show for KOMP 92.3, the rock station in Las Vegas, and for KNAC in Los Angeles, after it went to the dot-com format. A short while later, a good friend of mine, Raymond Herrera, who was at Fear Factory and later founded Evolution Productions, would show me the ropes, bringing me backstage at shows to talk about gain development and other things about audio. He was instrumental in my success. I also studied electronic music composition at the University of South Florida under Paul Reller, who had produced albums for Tiny Tim and GG Allin. Paul helped fine tune a lot of the processes that I would later on use in music compositions and for film.
What’s been one of your favourite projects?
As far as my favourite projects, I formed the K.P. Riot Brigade super group in 2012. I’ve been friends with a lot of guys in the industrial metal scene for years, and we discussed it for a long time. Raymond introduced me to a lot of people, and I brought Riggs, the founding guitarist for Rob Zombie, in on it. And Sin Quirin and several other members of Ministry came on-board as did Jared Louche from Chemlab. I pulled them all together and we made this record and put it out; definitely one of my favorite projects.
What are your main strengths and what do you enjoy about your work?
I think what stands out to me the most is that people come to me to fix problems. That has kind of escalated into more work and more roles. Usually, a director will come talk to me and ask me what I think. So, it starts out as a consulting role, and then I’ll take a look at it, jump in my studio and send something back. I have gained a reputation for fixing productions that are having some issues. If a team is unsure about some of the work, I’m the person to bring in to solve those problems for them.
What is your workflow like?
I am incredibly fortunate in that I can literally watch something, have ideas just flow out and then go right to it. I think that’s one thing that the director for Bite Club really liked about my workflow. They had a team that was working on this film for nine months and there had been several setbacks because they just weren’t delivering what the director wanted. I sat down and worked around the clock for about three and a half weeks and delivered the entire film.
Once I get engrossed in the work that I’m doing, it comes very naturally. I try to develop character motifs and really feel the scene. When I see something, I hear it and I know immediately how I want the sounds to go. I write and track everything at the same time. I usually don’t sit down and write it out and go back and tweak. I write and record everything in the moment. Granted, you have to go back and layer, but it’s all in the moment. For instance, while I was working on a particularly massive fight scene in Bite Club, I was hearing the hits in my head. I was tweaking those as I was going, constantly layering. It just evolves, and it keeps going on the fly.
Which plug-ins do you use and what do you like about them?
I rely heavily on NUGEN ISL True Peak limiter, Halo Upmix and VisLM loudness meter. The development team has clearly spent a lot of time developing their software and presets to make sure that anyone working in post-production, or on musical compositions, can send deliverables out. They really know what they are doing and have it down to a science.
I always use the ISL True Peak limiter as the last plug-in in my master chain. I know that it’s going to be compliant and precise; I can put it on and not have to worry. I feel the same way about NUGEN’s VisLM loudness meter. Using VisLM for real-time mix monitoring is extremely helpful – especially with dialogue – in ensuring that you can immediately see notifications. You’re able to get a really good balance and make sure everything is within compliance and at an appropriate level, which is great.
There’s no other application that comes close to delivering the clarity and precision that Halo Upmix provides. Other software has these strange phase and reverb artifacts that would spread across the L-C-R channels. With Halo Upmix, those artifacts are non-existent. It perfectly matches the original source material and I am now able to deliver orchestral instruments exactly as I had intended, which is fantastic. It’s just amazing. I mean NUGEN definitely knows surround.
Tell us about Bite Club?
Bite Club is set in present Brisbane, Australia. Adron, a young werewolf, goes in search of his missing brother in a world where supernatural beings hide in the shadows. In this world, supernaturals are hunted by the Eradication Task Force led by, Targus, a ruthless human enforcer on a mission to possess the power of supernaturals for his own nefarious plan. Adron’s search leads him to the secret underground, “Bite Club,” where he is unwittingly thrown into a war between humans and supernaturals.
Which audio tools were most useful for Bite Club?
I love Halo Upmix; it’s one of the most useful tools for post-production. While writing the score for Bite Club, I knew that I wanted to specifically use French horns in a very particular way to encompass the 5.1 surround field and deliver an explosive impact with the theatrical presentation. So, from basically the onset of the opening credits, Halo Upmix gave me the confidence to dial-in the desired cinematic effect that I set out to achieve, while also supporting the director’s artistic vision.