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Russ Landau, The Music behind the hit series Survivor

This is the big “if” in worldwide commercial television these days, as producers and directors try to squeeze, poke, prod, and twist “reality-based” series shoots. After all, there are no real scripts, no real actors. Often you end up with large chunks of raw footage that for all intents and purposes is merely a stunningly lit, beautifully photographed travelogue — or worse still, vacation movie. Yawn.

With the exception of situation comedies and variety shows, it’s common knowledge that post-production is what makes or breaks almost any television series. Video/Film Editors and Music Directors are the unheralded heroes of Hollywood. Today this is truer than ever.

Russ Landau happens to be one of these heroes. Along with fellow composer David Vanacore, Russ magically creates and sustains desired moods for the worldwide television phenomenon Survivor. If the characters and conflicts are a bit subdued or wishy-washy, they make the situations appear to be deep physiological traumas, firestorms.

Mr. Landau also penned the title theme for Survivor, “Ancient Voices.”

When Russ is composing and recording, he relies on his Mackie Digital 8•Bus console. What he likes most about the D8B is its ability to route everything digitally in and out of the machine. “I’m saving time, literally cutting time in half, in the mixing and final processing. I really needed a mixing board where I could bring in my synths and various digital audio gear—and still have analog inputs. I also wanted to improve my finished sound quality. I did some research on the D8B—talking to other composers and producers—and I decided on the Mackie console right around the time I started doing the music for Survivor,” Russ says.

“I use all of the D8B’s on-board effects. Seriously, I use no outboard effects at all because the effects from the D8B, combined with the ProTool plug-ins, are so good. Plus, I don’t waste processing power on my Mac to get great reverb. I’m waiting anxiously for my Drawmer D8B plug-in for dynamics, as anything they produce you know is going to be great.”

The Snapshot feature on the D8B is the one that gets used most often in Landau’s Topanga Canyon (California) studio. “When I’m doing a MIDI automated set-up within Logic, I set up a snapshot of a cue on the D8B as a basic template. I have the reverbs, EQ, and delays controlled through MIDI automation. With the D8B I can jump back and forth between all of the cue points I’m doing in a day. Also, I use Snapshots when I’m doing soundtrack work, as I can automate my mixes and use them to remember my settings for all of my cue points in that application.”

As with any television scoring project, quick turnaround is important. “Saving time is what it’s all about. Everything I do needs to be done quickly and accurately. Because I can set the EQ, compression, reverb, and delay settings instantly—it saves me about a half an hour on each cue. If I’m doing six cues a day and printing them as I go, that saves 3 hours a day. Therefore, I have 3 more hours every day to play with my kids.”

Russ also takes time out every now and then to informally rally with two friends at a local java joint, The Water Lily. Denis Hannigan, the Emmy Award, Cable Ace, and International Monitor Award-winning composer was recently honored at the 2001 ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards for “Most Performed Underscore” – acknowledging his contributions to many of today’s most popular children’s TV series, including Disney’s Recess and Nickelodeon’s Rug Rats and Catdog. Denis’ work has also been featured in the full-length Disney hit, Recess: School's Out. His television credits include Beakman's World and Adventures In Wonderland. And David Frank is one of the hottest songwriters and producers in pop/dance music these days. One of the pioneers of modern R&B and Hip Hop with his electronic 80s pop-duo The System, he is highly regarded for his keyboard programming as well as his ability to write top-ten hits for artists like Dream (“He Loves U Not”), Christina Aguilera (“Genie In A Bottle”) and 98 Degrees (“The Hardest Thing”).

They’ve named their little group The Topanga Coffee Club. One hot topic that always comes up is the Mackie Digital 8•Bus, since each owns one. “It’s really great to sit down and banter with friends who have the same equipment and do very similar things for a living,” Landau says. “A lot of times, we have coffee and laughs and we figure out problems— we’re kind of like our own tech support— and if we can’t figure it out, one of us calls Mackie Digital Tech Support. They’re incredibly helpful. Our gatherings are a really nice way of exchanging ideas. You’re with friends, people you trust. It’s great!”.


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