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Sounds Like Butter

Butter Music and Sound provided the music for Ragu's “Parent’s Bedroom,” a commercial that recently went viral following its debut during the Olympics.

At New York music and sound house Butter, executive producer Ian Jeffreys (left) and creative director/composer Andrew Sherman work with virtual orchestras and far-flung colleagues.

New York, NY—A commercial spot for Ragu, “Parent’s Bedroom,” recently went viral following its debut during the Olympics after various commentators questioned its appropriateness for television. The spot was all in a day’s work for Butter, a commercial music and sound design facility located in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood.

“Business is booming in New York,” reports executive producer Ian Jeffreys, who co-wrote the spot’s sly country-flavored song with creative director Judson Crane. “We’re in the process of hiring another composer to come on staff because we want to be prepared.”

Originally part of Fluid, an editorial company started in 1998 by three partners, including creative director/composer Andrew Sherman, the music company rebranded itself a few years ago. “One of our best streams of work is going to come from other editors with projects. I want to make it clear to editors that we are absolutely a separate company and that there’s not a conflict there,” says Jeffreys.

While some music houses are little more than a guy with a phone and a Rolodex of freelance composers, Butter prides itself on its roster of in-house talent. But in today’s wired world, “in-house” does not necessarily mean that everyone works in the facility’s main composition room, mix room (named Mr. Bronx), or two smaller sound design and music rooms. “Judson started a family a few years back and decided with his wife that it made the most sense for them to move to Savannah, GA, where her family lives. We figured out how to make it work remotely,” explains Jeffreys. Next to relocate was Son Lux, providing Butter with a composer on the West Coast (the company also has an executive producer based out of Smashbox Studios in L.A.). Composer Dave Quatrini is based in Paris.

“Everyone has Skype, so you can see your co-workers every day, even if they’re in a different time zone, and talk just as if we’re in the same room or the same facility. It’s made collaboration a lot easier and much more exciting,” says Jeffreys.

Business has been so good that Fluid has expanded, and, he says, “We feel like it might be time to expand physically on the music side as well.”

All of Butter’s rooms feature Avid Pro Tools|HDX setups. “Being on the bleeding edge of technology is something that I’ve been doing for almost 30 years,” says Sherman, who came out of the music recording world and still maintains a multitrack studio across the river in Williamsburg.

“I started on Performer 1.0 on Macintosh Classic,” he recalls. “My first switch was to StudioVision by Opcode. That was probably the best sequencer program I’ve ever used.”

As a longtime former record producer, Sherman favors classic analog outboard gear in his room, typically in pairs for stereo use. “I’m kind of a Neve head,” he says, noting his Vintech X73 and Rupert Neve Designs Portico II units. There are also SSL, UA and API channels available. Continuing the vintage theme is a pair of Genelec 1030 monitors. “Other than that,” he says, “my oldest piece of gear is probably the XV5080, a rack-mount Roland synth that I still use the brush drum kit from.”

Available microphones include AKG 414, Royer SF24 stereo ribbon and Avenson STO-2 omni models, plus two Sennheiser shotguns. “People used to use them on shoots a lot; they became ubiquitous in recording studios because people were doing ADR and Foley and needed to recreate the sound of the shoot. I did voiceovers myself for a few years; I was the voice of Sprint,” says Sherman.

The worlds of commercial music and record production are somewhat different, he notes. At Butter, he says, “There’s less a demand for multichannel, massive track recording. You have to be able to move quickly and produce, for instance, a convincing orchestral demo in under 24 hours.”

Butter’s modest live room, spacious enough for 10 string players, was originally built at a time when New York still had plenty of large orchestral recording spaces for hire. These days, the orchestra is more likely to be virtual.

Sherman uses Vienna Ensemble to host his Native Instruments and Spectrasonics collections, as well as L.A. Scoring Strings, Hollywood Brass and ProjectSAM software. “And there’s Fable Sound’s Broadway Big Band library that I use a lot; that’s the most convincing set of Broadway sounds that I’ve ever heard,” he reports.

“I went to Berklee College,” he says, “and one of the most valuable classes I ever took was, you had to pick a classical piece and make synthesizers sound like the orchestra playing it. The goal of the class was for you to fail, because you couldn’t [do it]. But it was in the trying that you learned the most. That’s one of the things that I carry with me.”

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