Red Room Audio is a developer of passionately crafted virtual instruments for songwriters, composers and sound designers. Based in Los Angeles with staff and contributors around the globe, their mission to create inspiring tools that make it easy for you to turn your musical ideas into art.
To celebrate Red Room Audio products arriving at Time+Space, we thought we’d have a chat with founder Dickie Chapin to find out a bit more about Red Room Audio and the man himself...
Tell us more about your musical origin story - how did you get into the world of music?
I’ve been playing music all my life, starting with piano at age 6. Throughout high school and college, I was a percussionist/drummer in an orchestra, marching band and jazz ensembles as well as an enthusiastic member of the concert choir.
After college, I moved to Chicago and was in various post-punk, goth-glam bands as both drummer and singer, as well as principal songwriter. I started collecting recording equipment and discovered sampling and virtual instruments, which opened a whole new world. I began composing for various projects and clients and moved to LA to pursue a composing career.
While here I started doing graphics for various sample developers in return for products, which eventually turned into regular freelance work. I took a permanent position with Impact Soundworks in 2013 and, after helping to develop several instruments of my own design there, started Red Room Audio in 2017.
Which instrument/s do you play yourself?
Keyboards, drums, guitar, bass, vocals and various other oddities.
How did the Palette series come about?
I learned to love orchestral and cinematic music from listening to the work of John Williams in all my favourite childhood films. When I started doing graphics for other sample devs, I picked up various tricks of the trade and began to develop my own virtual instruments.
Building a large-scale orchestral library became my dream project, and in 2017 I was able to pool my resources and learned skills to make it a reality with Palette.
We’ve got to ask, why is the room red?!
Ha, finally someone asks this crucial question! In college, my close friends and I used to break into one of the campus buildings at night and hang out in a particularly cosy little room next to a small chapel. It had a fireplace, a piano, rich leather furniture, ornately-framed antique art and a deep red carpet.
It became known as the “red room” and was the source of countless conversations and memories. Years later, I coincidentally painted my current studio walls red without making the connection, and it wasn’t until I saw my walk-thru videos for Palette that I realised what I’d done. A happy accident, indeed.
You have a much smaller team than many other plugin developers. What effect would you say this has on your approach to development?
I think most new developers start with a small team until they can afford to expand. I’m very fortunate to have met some amazing people in my years of working with other developers, so I was able to hire some of the best. I’m not sure the size of our staff has any effect on our development approach, but it’s nice to be in close daily contact with projects and my friends who are helping to create them.
There are a lot of plugin developers producing orchestral plugins - what sets yours apart from the rest?
The flagship of the Palette line, “Palette – Symphonic Sketchpad,” is a one-stop solution for scoring and sketching. We wanted to put everything you need for cinematic scoring into one product – strings, brass, woodwinds, choir, percussion, piano, harp and even a large selection of hybrid trailer tools. It’s also an ensembles library - the meat-and-potatoes patches are three full strings, brass and woodwinds instruments.
Other libraries have these types of patches which I’ve always found to be great tools for fast, easy writing. However, they’re always treated as “bonus” patches and constructed artificially via script by layering samples, which I felt wasn’t always as realistic and as lively as I’d hoped. So we decided to record every note of every ensemble with ALL the players participating at the same time. To illustrate, for the strings patch we got all the basses in the hall and started by recording articulations for their lowest note.
Then we moved up to the next note and so on. When we reached the bottom range of the celli, they came in and joined the basses, recording together. Same for the viola and violins. When a section reached their highest note, they dropped out of the recording.
So each note and articulation is recorded with the full ensemble, watching the conductor and communicating as they would in a real performance scenario. Of course, we did the same with brass and woodwinds. To my knowledge, this approach hadn’t been attempted, and I feel it yields a more realistic sound.
We also decided to offer chamber-sized ensembles so composers can choose the most appropriate scale for their piece. These chamber patches are entirely new recordings using the same unique approach, and I think they add quite a bit of value to the library.
We wanted to record so much content for Palette that we decided to break it up into multiple libraries, each with a particular focus. Palette “Brush Packs” are the result. While the flagship library, “Palette – Symphonic Sketchpad” provides all the basic tools needed for sketching, the brush packs tackle more specific “decorative” elements of scoring like melodic legato leads, aleatoric fx and runs & arpeggios.
This modular approach allows people to buy exactly the tools they need without overspending on things they don’t. Used together, the Palette line is a complete orchestral scoring solution, and I personally love using it.
What’s the feedback for the Palette series been like so far?
Feedback has been outstanding. Many composers have reached out to commend us on our “live” recording approach. Other happy customers have complimented Palette on its features, content and value. We wanted to price it so that everyone can use it and I’m always happy to hear we’ve succeeded in creating a product that’s not only useful and inspiring but also affordable.
What do you enjoy most about developing your own libraries?
I love designing them – creating the concept, features and artwork. As a graphic designer, I get excited about the visuals and branding. I also love working with talented musicians and production teams during the recording process. It’s a blast to be involved in creative processes and also to sit back and watch talented people do their thing.
Outside of ‘work’, what do you like to get up to in your spare time?
In my younger days I used to spend every waking moment writing and recording but now I live with three girls (my wife and two little ones), and we’re fortunate to have a close-knit extended family nearby, so most of my time outside work is spent with them.
And some slightly more off-the-hook questions:
What would be your desert island discs?
ABBA “Gold,” Smashing Pumpkins “Siamese Dream,” The Cure “Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me,” Jellyfish “Spilt Milk,” Depeche Mode “Violator,” and Weird Al Yankovic “In 3D.”
If you could only choose one key to write in for the rest of your life which one would it be?
A minor, without question.
If you had a concert featuring all of the greatest musicians of all time, who would be headlining?
Queen (with Freddie).