California-based Big Fish Audio are one of the most reputable and long-standing sample library development companies in the world today having been established since 1986. Their sample collections span all manner of musical styles meeting the needs of producers and musicians all over the world. The Big Fish team are also responsible for Vir2 Instruments – the premium virtual instrument brand that has gone down a storm throughout the past twelve months. As Big Fish approach their 25th anniversary, we caught up with some of the guys to reflect on all things sample-related including the most surprising events to come out of Big Fish and what they’ve got planned for their quarter-of-a-century celebrations.
Tom Meadows - President
Byron Devers - VP of Sales and Marketing
David Das - VP of Instrument Development
Steven Bolar - VP of Production and A&R
BFA has been established for almost a quarter of a century but for those of our web visitors who are not so familiar with the company, please introduce yourselves.
Byron: I joined the team in 2000. Yes, that´s 10 NAMMs ago. My background is in the Film and Television industry but with a handful of gold records on my uncles wall no one was too surprised by my defection to the music world. I am the VP of Sales and Marketing. Although I am part of the A&R team, I primarily take over after the products are made.
Tom: I run the place.
David: I´ve been on staff with Big Fish Audio and Vir2 Instruments for five years now and work primarily in instrument development, production, and marketing. As an active composer and producer, I love creating products that I myself use in the studio. Sound design is fascinating to me -- both when approaching traditional instruments to bring them into the sampled world realistically, and when creating new instruments and sounds that haven´t been heard before, yet making them function well in a musical context.
Steven: I´ve been on staff at Big Fish Audio since 2002. I manage our in-house staff of producers and engineers as well as heading up the A&R team. When I started at the company I noticed right away the high level of excellence and quality that Big Fish Audio put into all their products and since then I´ve done all I can to maintain that and continue to develop the most modern and up to date loop and sample libraries in the world.
What´s the story behind the creation of BFA?
Byron: Big Fish Audio has been creating sample libraries since 1986 when we released the first commercially available sample library under the Prosonus brand name. In 1993 we created the Big Fish Audio branding since a majority of our product line had shifted to Loop libraries and we felt that the Latin word Prosonus needed to be reserved more for the Instrument side of our business. The Prosonus eventually evolved into Vir2 Instruments. It was about that time David Das joined our team and a fresh new era of amazing VIs has begun.
Tom: Big Fish Audio came out of the old saying "big fish in a small pond." After going to NAMM, AES and NAB and seeing the same vendors, reps and end users I realized that the MI market is a concentrated community. When I was in school I met producer Nile Rodgers and he explained the use of loops from old records in making many of his disco hits. I was fascinated and ran out and bought an Akai S1000. Right out of college I got a great job selling orchestral sample libraries for the Synclavier. My friend Chris Lang and I produced “Drum Loops Volume 1 by Prosonus” and we sold quite a few of them. My boss was convinced and turned the whole operation over to me so he could focus all his time on his music. Since then, Big Fish Audio released hundreds of loop libraries and distribute many more.
I have always used our loops to make my own music and enjoy hearing our loops in movies, TV and many top-charting records. Last year I got a kick out of hearing a construction kit from “Notorious: Hip Hop and R&B” in Slumdog Millionaire. I’ve had some of the greatest hip hop, RnB, rock, house and even jazz producers reach out to me just to say thanks for the inspiration and for keeping it royalty-free and not requiring crediting or disclosure. (We all have our secret weapons.)
Of the hundreds of libraries that you´ve released over the years, which stick out the most in your minds and why?
Tom: Electri6ity, Off the Hook Series, First Call Horns and Mojo, Epic Drums, Club Bangers download paks and the Prosonus Orchestral Collection. The Prosonus Orchestral Collection was the world’s first commercially available orchestral library. This library was sold in two parts, strings in one volume and brass, woodwinds, percussion and misc in another volume. Each was packaged on a 12″ Winchester platter and sold for a bundled price of $10,000.
Byron: MOJO: Horn Section because of its tremendous ability to fill a void in the sample library industry and Electri6ity because of the groundbreaking advancements. Also the Off the Hook series because it has continued to consistently deliver the highest quality sounds in the world´s most popular genre of sampled music.
Steven: We´ve created a lot of very successful libraries over the years but I like to look at some that may not be as well known. Didgeridoo, Funky Gumbo: Music From New Orleans, and Roots of the Pacific; these products represent to me the vast amount of quality products that we have put out over the years that aren´t your mainstream typical libraries that you may expect from a sample company. They may not sell as much as our top selling hip hop libraries but we are really proud to offer such a wide selection of products.
David: Vir2 Instruments´ VI.ONE was a really key product for users who needed a workstation library in software, meaning, an equivalent to the old days of buying a Roland, Yamaha, or Korg keyboard that came prestocked with hundreds of patches spanning the whole range of categories -- drums, basses, guitars, pianos, synths, orchestra, etc. A lot of users have come back to us thanking us for giving them such a comprehensive all-in-one library.
From a technical standpoint, Mojo: Horn Section was a huge technical achievement in squeezing a massive amount of horn playing and articulations into a very easy-to-use package and still give users as much control as possible over the details of how the horns sound.
Most recently, Electri6ity has been a new benchmark in terms of complexity. Reverse-engineering the electric guitar from the physical to the playing, to the sonic aspects took years of work, but the results have been impressive and it´s been really exciting to see users "get it" and start to make some incredible music with Electri6ity.
Big Fish Audio are renowned for creating sample collections spanning all manner of genres – how do you decide which genres you´ll be covering next?
Tom: For years I played the role of “A&R” but others do that now. I still sit in on all the A&R meetings and I highly appreciate everyone who submits material to Big Fish Audio. We get some great material and we get some that are not quite ready yet. But I can always tell that a lot of hard work has gone into the submissions.
Steven: It´s important for a company like ours to stay on top of the current trends in music as well as looking at what other needs our customers have. Big Fish Audio sells to not only professional music producers, musicians, and composers but the hobbyist, the part-time musicians, and people new to the industry. We have a lot of customers from all over the world with a lot of different needs and we are always working hard to fill those needs with top quality professional products. Big Fish Audio has a large group of producers and musicians to call on when a need for a specific product comes up. For example, if we are looking to create a library of Middle Eastern percussion we aren´t going to use the same producer who created our latest rock title, we are going straight to the source, a producer with training and top quality ability in that musical genre. The players for that project are going to be top quality players with years and years of experience. The recording quality must be top notch and the editing must be flawless. Basically, we are looking to create content for current trends in music as well as creating a complete catalogue that will fill a varied mix of musical genres for the many needs of our customers.
Steven: Loop libraries are definitely a labour of love (or insanity, I´m not sure which). There are many many hours of editing files, naming files, formatting files, organizing files, checking files, rechecking files; the list goes on from there.
David: Probably the conception and specifications of developing a new virtual instrument. A lot of thought goes into how to design and implement a new instrument. Once that pre-production work is done, the actual recording, editing, mapping, scripting, and implementation is fairly straightforward.
What´s been the most surprising event to come out of BFA products?
Tom: In 2004, during the Indian Ocean tsunami crisis I was watching the TV and there was a tsunami survivor on the news. This guy was happy to be alive after his town was wiped out. I was quite surprised to see him wearing a Big Fish Audio t-shirt.
Steven: I´m not sure what´s been the most surprising but I think it´s always fun to be listening to the radio or watching TV and hearing something from one of our products.
You must have experienced so many changes in the industry over the years, from both technological and commercial points of view, which of these changes have had the most impact on BFA?
Tom: The biggest technologic change to affect our business was the shift to using computers for sample playback. Reason, Acid, Garageband and the advent of VIs dramatically opened up the market for us.
Steven: The sample library industry basically grew up alongside the rise of home studios and the internet. The constantly changing landscape of recording software and audio formats has forced us to continue to evolve how we create our products. Also, the internet has allowed us to deliver the majority of our products via a download as opposed to sending out physical discs to our customers.
You´re also responsible for the Vir2 Instruments brand, which has enjoyed a particularly successful 12 months with the release of MOJO Horn Section, World Impact Global Percussion, Electri6ity and most recently Violence... what are the most enjoyable aspects about creating virtual instruments compared to the sample libraries produced for BFA?
David: Virtual instruments require a different approach than loops and construction kits, where the aim is to capture stylistic playing and genre styles so that users can quickly access them. With virtual instruments, we concentrate more on how to deconstruct the target instrument so that the musician will be able to easily reassemble the instrument when played from a keyboard. Both are of value to the customer, but the approach and the workflow of using the products is different.
Byron: Releasing a Vir2 product is fun since we can put more focus on each VI that comes out. Also, the global appeal of the instruments makes them interesting and fun to market.
What do each of you like to do in your spare time?
Byron: I love spending time whether at home or away with my family and two young boys. And I´m also a big sports fan... NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball tennis and golf... love it!
David: I´m not familiar with this concept of "spare time." I´m an active composer for film and TV, and I produce records!
Steven: I love working on recording my own music. You can also find many of us at the golf course quite often. Nothing like the crisp clean morning air of an early 9 holes of golf before work in the morning.
Tom: Golf. In fact we usually play on Thursday mornings at Vista Velencia. If you´re in LA you should join us.
What type/s of music and bands do you most enjoy listening to?
Byron: That´s tough because my tastes in music continue to evolve and I hear so much great music on a daily basis! But I most enjoy R&B, Jazz, Reggae, Gospel and Country.
If you hadn´t become involved in the MI industry, what do you think you´d be doing right now?
Tom: Rock Star
Byron: Teaching or coaching basketball
David: I´ve never been able to conceive of myself doing anything other than music, and working on virtual instruments is just one arm of music-making.
Steven: Perhaps I might have been a police officer or maybe I would be Byron´s assistant coach for his basketball team.
What can we look forward to from Big Fish Audio for the remainder of 2010?
Steven: Our collection of content continues to get better and better in my opinion. We´ve just released the Xtended Series and we have many more titles to come in this new line. There are a couple of rock-oriented libraries that I am really excited about. A couple of libraries from Funk/Soul are on our radar including one that is very "epic", and of course, new hip hop libraries! You got to give the people what the people want!
David: Since releasing Electri6ity, we´ve been inundated with requests for an acoustic version of Electri6ity, so that´s in the planning stages. We also have several other virtual instrument surprises that are already in production and will be announced soon.
Finally, will you be doing anything to celebrate your 25th anniversary next year?
Tom: Thanks for the reminder. Life moves so fast these milestones sneak up on you. Airfare is cheap from LA to Hawaii so a company team building event might be fun. Or maybe we´ll re-release Electri6ity for the Synclavier. :) We´ll also have some great anniversary deals for our users.