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Producer · Engineer · FOH
Tommy Bailey

Tommy Bailey

Sound Engineer, Sound Designer
Tommy Bailey

Engineer and sound designer Tommy Bailey has been part of Dan Fontana’s Ty Fy Studios team since 2013, bringing to life some of the most complex productions on the planet with Disney, on land and at sea, along with other major clients. He takes an Aston Origin with him wherever he goes, and now uses Aston Starlights ‘on everything he can.’ Read on for an insight into how Tommy eventually got his dream gig…

Walt Disney Entertainment, Walt Disney Imagineering, Lucasfilm, Disney Cruise Line, ABC, ESPN
What an engineer really does

“Music has always spoken to me. Growing up, anything I did involved listening to music. Somewhere around the 6th or 7th grade, a few friends and I grabbed up a RadioShack mic and some cheap software of the time, I think it was Cool Edit Pro, and took our attempt at making our own music. We were at it for a couple of years, progressively getting better. Later down the road a buddy of mine and I joined a hip hop competition and ended up winning. One of the prizes was some real studio time at Big Shot Studios in Altamonte Springs.

So we went there to record for the day and that’s where I met Mike Sroka, the recording engineer. I still have a picture of him and I sitting at the console. I was totally infatuated with his side of the glass. Of course all that time I had spent on our music, I was roughly engineering, I just didn’t really know it. That moment though, was my first look at what an engineer really is, and what an engineer really does. From that point on I just knew I wanted to be an engineer.

I went back and took less involvement in being part of the music and more in the production and engineering side of things. I recorded and mixed local artists and as I got more into it, I began to upgrade equipment. A dedicated computer, a higher end audio interface and a better microphone. I think it was an MXL, but it was a huge leap for me at the time.”

The dream gig

“I became pretty serious about it, making a little money here and there as a freelance engineer, but I still wouldn’t say I really knew what I was doing. Not enough to refer to myself as a professional. I was learning though and that was part of the fun, experimenting and improving my skills. During that time, Full Sail [Arts/Media University] started sending me information in the mail. I looked into attending but it was way too expensive. While I figured out my next move, I just wanted to keep money coming in. So, I did some basic jobs here and there. I was even cutting grass at one point. One day, I woke up with this mentality that I would get into Full Sail no matter what it took. I was tired of waiting for the next thing, I had to go get it. I contacted them and told them my situation. They assisted with finding a co-signer and within a month of waking up that morning, my girlfriend (now my wife) and I were packing our bags and heading for Winter Park.

Growing up in Florida, I was always at Disney. I was so familiar with their attractions, shows, etc. but I never knew that what we do now was a part of that. I feel like as a guest you take it for granted, you don’t really think about the back-end process, or what’s behind the curtain. Approaching graduation most of my friends were geared towards LA and New York. While that sounded exciting I seemed to be the only one interested on going to Disney to pursue something. I didn’t really know what I was signing up for, but I interviewed for the internship with the Disney Music Department and landed it. I graduated from Full Sail on a Friday and started the internship that following Monday. No downtime, and that’s exactly what I wanted. I was hungry and anxious to get into the industry. You gain a lot of friends while attending school, but they are also your competition. Everybody wants the dream job.”

No risk, no reward

“The internship was supposed to be for three months. I ended up staying for almost six. It was unpaid, and financially I was struggling, but I was getting what I really needed, the knowledge. I soaked up every bit I could. Being in that environment I knew that Dan Fontana was the guy I wanted to work for. So, I did my best to become a part of the team and someone that he could depend on. Unfortunately during that time there wasn’t a studio for me to occupy. Luckily, one of the Avid Icon consoles needed a repair and that is where I met Gerlando Souza.the lead of the tech support team. We hit it off and when I left the internship I went to work for him. I was there about a year and a half. It was like detective work and I really enjoyed it, but I felt like I was settling. There wasn’t enough creativity involved and it definitely didn’t pay enough considering the large amount of student loans I had just taken on.

Out of nowhere, Dan Fontana texted me one day and asked if I wanted come back and engineer for him at the Disney Music Department. I’m thinking ‘holy cow, I’m about to get my dream job’. The thing was, it was only for three months. That was a big hang up for me because I already had something permanent. On top of that, I was no longer living in Orlando. I told him why it was a tough decision for me and he replied; ‘No risk, no reward’. Those words had such a heavy impact on me. That was pretty much it. I thought there’s no way I can’t do this. So, my wife stayed home and I took my parents camper out to Kissimmee. I gave it everything I had. I arrived early, I stayed late, I attended sessions that weren’t even mine and I would pick Dan Scott’s brain – he’s somewhere in the realm of genius. I established relationships with our producers, directors and anyone else involved in our process. When the three months were over, Fontana came to me and said “Studio C is yours if you want it”…and here we are six years later!”

A bigger picture

“What we do is so unique. When I tell people I’m an audio engineer people just assume I have someone in a recording booth and I’m simply moving faders. That might be the average person’s understanding of an engineer and that’s fair in most cases, but there are not many people who do what we do at the Disney Music Department. We’re working on music but as a part of a bigger picture. We’re in the studio with show directors, producers, choreographers and other disciplines. On our plate you’ll find music, SFX and dialogue. Overall, there are many elements involved with our process; video, lighting, pyro, fx and more. The music has to complement and support all of it.

We’re very lucky to do what we do. We get a taste of it all, all the time. When we take on a show we’re taking on all those elements, and not just in the studio. Once we have a show, we bring it to the venue, where it’s going to play back for millions of guests. Every venue is different and presents it’s own sonic challenges. That’s where we shape the sound to fit the space. Depending on the design of the system we could be working in a variety of ways. Mono, stereo, 5.1, 7.1 or a lot of times some unique layout that requires custom routing and sourcing. Outside of being so much fun, the venue mix is an important part of crossing the finish line. There’s no feeling like two o’clock in the morning, and you’ve got your Pro Tools rig connected to Cinderella’s castle at the Magic Kingdom!

There are so many things that need to get done on a show install. Every discipline has tasks to complete, and most of it can only be done when there are no guests in the park, so our windows for work are very small. Where it really gets crazy is on the ships. Generally a ship install is about 4 weeks. This gives us the opportunity to work with the cast and change things accordingly. Something you have to remember is that guests are always on board, and we have to do our work without affecting their experience, which is an entirely other challenge on its own.”

Laser tracking

“I mainly work in the box. Pro Tools is my second home. Although my room has an SSL Duality, it’s mostly used for the front end of the workflow. You can find a plethora of outboard gear and microphones in our studio, but like I mentioned it’s mainly used for capturing the recording. When it comes to traveling, my rig is pretty minimal. Most of our venues now have Dante capabilities. So when I go out to a venue, or sail on the ships, all I need is my computer and a hard drive. When I was an intern we had to roll out the rack gear and break out the cables. These days, it’s plug in the Ethernet cable and go!

The Ty Fy team is pretty familiar with the process of trying new microphones. I think a proper approach is giving a mic it’s fair opportunity to prove itself. Just because a mic doesn’t sound good on one source doesn’t mean it isn’t going to be the perfect mic for something else. That’s part of the fun, discovering which mic sounds good on what. I recorded a drum line recently; marching snares, quints, bass drums and crash cymbals. I put the Aston Starlights to work. I actually used them as the bottom snare mics and didn’t plan on it but ended up leaning on them heavily in the mix. If I had to call out my favorite thing to record, I would say foley. I absolutely love sound design. That being said, I have to give Aston a big pat on the back for those Starlights. They have become my go to for foley. The laser allows me to track different areas of my source, and having the pair allows me to capture things in stereo when needed.”

Weapons of choice

“One of the most unique things I’ve recorded was a whiskey jug. It was for a pirate show. I used a Starlight to record it and the recording is actually in show. We give the impression that the guest is playing it live. The sound you get out of a whiskey jug is hilarious. It has this resonating frequency that the Starlight captured. I boosted it in the mix and it just rings through the venue.

I was actually the first one at Ty Fy to buy an Aston mic. I bought an Origin from Guitar Center. I’d read some good things about it and thought I’d give it a go. I got it back to the studio and we were all curious to hear what it sounded like. I had a voiceover session that afternoon so I threw it up next to the U87 and we were blown away by the quality of it. While proximity is definitely a thing when it comes to the Origin, I was really impressed by how it tamed her sibilance. I’m not sure what Aston has going on behind that grill, but it gave her voice a warm, controlled sound minimizing the back end work. That was a huge winner in our book. Dan Scott was next up with his purchase of a pair of Starlights, and it just took off from there. First impressions mean a lot and Astons gets an A.

I carry an Origin everywhere I go; literally. It’s kind of like an all in one. Already shock mounted, and with the grill functioning as a pop filter, all I have to do is throw it on a stand! I spend so much time traveling, so I need a mic I can trust to take with me on the road. A mic that I can capture some foley with, pick up a voiceover with, or grab a safety vocal with. It’s safe to say that Aston microphones, have become my weapons of choice!”

Out-takes

Q. Who are your favourite artists?

A. Zac Brown Band, Casey Musgraves, AC/DC and Machine Gun Kelly.

Q. If you weren’t working in audio what would you be doing?

A. A tattoo artist. I was an apprentice for a tattoo artist once and I’ve done a lot of my own tattoos. I don’t do it any more. I leave it to the guys who have committed to doing it. I let the plumbers plumb.

Q. What would your fantasy mic be?

A. A high quality, super durable mic that can go anywhere and do anything, with the ability to get wet. I would want to not have to worry about it.

Q. What is the first song that made you cry?

A. Supermarket Flowers by Ed Sheeran.

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