Alex Derby, now assistant audio engineer at Scimitar Sound, has worked on some of Ireland’s most popular television shows, alongside the country’s top advertising agencies - but he wouldn’t describe his background as “one surrounded by audio engineers or musicians” by any means. However, as long as he can remember, his ears were always piqued by the sounds of the music he grew up listening to as a child. “My earliest memory,” says Alex, “of any sort of interest in audio was (as my mam often reminds me) jumping around excitedly to the theme tune of Noddy and Thomas the Tank Engine.” Although unsure if that gave a clue for any future career or musical inclination as much as it did his undying love for both Noddy and Thomas, this was soon followed by many memories of singing along on road trips to artists like Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, The Eagles and more.
A memory he carries with him still is the first time he heard Daft Punk, at the age of seven or eight. “It was my first true, visceral experience of music and audio, and has made me a fan to this day. I was, and still am, enthralled by the intricacy of the sonic palette they crafted, the ethereal nature of their sound design paired with their pure musical ability and raw power to get everyone in the building on their feet, is something that few artists have equalled in my mind.”
Understandably, Alex later pursued a bachelor’s degree in audio and music technology, graduating in 2021 from Pulse College. Although in the beginning he had set his expectations on working in the music industry, during the last few years of college Alex signed up for modules in post production audio for film, which really turned his head towards the post industry. Alex says, “I loved the assignments during those modules and the craft of carefully building a soundscape, before sitting back and watching it come to life. It’s a great pairing of my love for visual media and audio.” Although he engaged in the typical student experience of working through various retail and sales jobs while at university, soon after graduation he collided with Scimitar Sound where he started as an intern, later being offered his current position in February 2022.
“I am proud of the fact that I’ve been here to watch the studio grow alongside my own abilities,” says Alex. “I have loved seeing it come to life from its very beginning. Initially I started at Scimitar as somewhat of a handyman, as is the rite of passage of the intern, by helping out to paint the walls of what is now our primary studio.” Starting as pretty much a total newbie, he recognises the importance of the steps he took towards joining the Scimitar team, where he got all the lessons he needed to become part of the industry - even if that meant making mistakes and asking a million questions - a low price to pay for the reward.
“I’ve watched my craft improve through constant trial and error, experimentation, dedication and a willingness to learn, and I intend to maintain that attitude throughout my career.”
At Scimitar, Alex’s first major project was overseeing audio delivery on the most recent season of ‘Dancing with the Stars’. He was responsible for the music edits for the dancers throughout the production, as well as the editing and mixing of VTs, for the live broadcast. “I will never forget what it felt to be a vital part of such a well oiled machine,” he says. “I jumped right into the deep end and got a feel for the scale of a production of this nature and the skill and headspace required to keep up with the world of broadcast.” In a high pressure environment with such a quick turnaround, the stress levels were running high, but Alex explains that he truly loved what the situation demanded of him, as it provided him the opportunity to put his dedication and commitment to quality into action.
Being part of such a “well oiled machine” is something that Alex particularly loves when it comes to teamwork on projects, and that probably comes as a massive perk of the job for the self-described “people person.” He says, “It was amazing to have interactions with creative and passionate people from all walks of life on this project, so being able to do what I love and be so people centric at the same time was a great experience. I liked being at the centre of delivering what the team needed to put on a great show.”
As an invaluable piece of the post-production puzzle, being tasked with creativity non-stop is what gets Alex so excited, especially as somebody who loves a challenge. “The nature of sound design and audio engineering in tandem with visual media is that it brings that extra dimension to what the viewer is experiencing,” explains Alex. “It’s unique in its nature and that feeling of watching your work come together to create something special is something I strive for in every opportunity I get.”
Creative collaboration isn’t the only thing that excites the sound engineer though, as he always has his eye on the prospect of working on more feature length productions in the film industry. His love for films extends long into his past and, as he explains, “Any engineer or sound designer would jump at the chance to flex their creative abilities on any sort of a blockbuster project, so it would be something I’d love to have under my belt at some stage.”
Besides movies, Alex would love to work on video games, another one of his passions. “One person I studied in college was a Danish composer and game audio specialist named Martin Stig Andersen,” he explains. “His work on Playdead’s ‘INSIDE’ is something I will never get over. The immersion he created with his musical compositions and sound design is second to none. During the production process he used microphone transducers attached to human skulls and bones, he would play his compositions and sound designs through a set of monitors and capture how the bones conducted the audio via vibration, as well as small radio microphones swallowed by professional sword-swallowers to capture how the cavity of the human body captured sound from the inside.”
Even in his downtime, Alex makes music of his own. “I have a huge vault of unfinished tracks and audio pieces that I’d like to make time to hone and finish, and the more I network and connect with the amazing creative community around me, the more it inspires me to put something together to release some day as a finished project or collection of works.” In recent days, he has had some ideas brewing to create an audio/visual experience at some stage with some very talented people he has met, “However, they’re all just ideas at the moment,” he says.
“I would say that a combination of creativity and connecting with like minded people to create something great is where the magic happens for me,” explains Alex. “And that is what drives and motivates me most.”