We’re thrilled to introduce you to Matthew Ernest Filler, our Lead Audio Engineer. Matt joined us in the summer of 2020 as an editor, and very quickly became an integral part of our team and culture. Matt’s the kind of person who not only wants to move the needle, but wants to also: a) analyze the history of the needle, b) question if the needle is even necessary, and c) experiment with something decidedly non-needlelike. In other words, his specific brand of passion is a joy to witness. And as a bonus, we also get to witness him do things like make a mean paccheri with marinara, have complicated interactions with his cat, and drop words like “bummerino.” It’s a wild ride, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Without further ado, let’s get to know more about the marvelous mind of Matt Filler.
You’ve been a part of a number of different music groups over the years. What have you learned from your time creating music collaboratively and how does it play into your work as an audio engineer?
Being in bands has really taught me everything I know about listening to people beyond what they’re saying aloud, making space for different personalities, and knowing when to drive the train and when to take a backseat. This is really helpful when working with a team of any sort — like, let’s make sure everyone’s strengths are being tapped, but let’s also rein things in and keep it all on the rails when we need to. Productions are often big and complicated, so we’re always doing this balancing act of being highly collaborative but not necessarily democratic if that makes sense. Leadership is about facilitating the rhythm of that dance by keeping everyone’s energy centered around the common goal. In a band that’s functioning at its peak level of creativity, everyone is serving the energy of the moment, not the ego of any single member. How does this play into my work as an audio engineer? Seamlessly. As the person tasked with capturing and helping to shape what are hopefully very spirited auditory moments between people, my job is in the service of those moments. It has to be egoless. It’s not really about any one of us but it’s about the thing that we’re all doing together. Great creative work is always a product of a high-functioning collaboration, and in a high-functioning collaboration, the ego takes a back seat — no matter the medium.
You’ve composed music for all manner of mediums—television, films, commercials, podcasts. Is there a medium you prefer to work in? Does your approach differ across these different spaces?
I love them all, although podcasting allows for me to “break the rules” a bit more often because it is still an evolving medium. Whereas with television, commercials, and film there’s an expectation of familiarity. The formula is well-established. Is my approach to each medium different? Yes, absolutely. Television and commercials are very formulaic. There are certain devices and structural elements that producers are looking for. A media composer has to be very mindful of those things. Film is obviously a whole other thing. The scope is much bigger. It’s like painting multiple paintings, but they’re all part of the same series; they’re all connected. We’re using the same tools, working in the same medium, utilizing the same color palette, and painting the same subject but we’re altering for different moods, different environments, different emotions, and so forth. The commonality between all these mediums is that the music should always be designed to serve the larger goal, rather than gratuitously asserting itself into the foreground. It’s like one vital organ of the larger body.
What’s the audio content you’ve been the most excited to tackle at FRQNCY?
All of it! Or rather, whatever is up next! I’m always looking forward. As an audio professional, I’m probably expected to talk about the work that is most sonically immersive or overtly lush. And those projects certainly are super fun! But I genuinely love it all. Even if it’s just two people having an amazing conversation for 30 minutes, it’s my pleasure to cut it together in a way that does justice to the spirit of the moment that was captured on tape. I love executing the subtle moves that go into making something sparkle. After all, nobody listens to a podcast and says “oh, the content was lacking but the mix was great!” It either connects with an audience or it doesn’t. As mixers, we can’t create sub3342stance where there is none, nor should we get stuck trying. We need to listen for the magic, and then center all of our decision-making around that. I take great pride in creating a sonic environment that supports really great energy, regardless of the aesthetic.
Having composed many pieces for major brands, what do you see as the interplay between writing music as a product versus writing music as personal art? How have you maintained a balance between the two?
I know a great number of ad composers who aren’t going to agree with me on this, but I think it’s best to keep the two as separate as possible! When “writing music as personal art” as you say, thinking about your audience is a no-no. You’ll end up trying to make something for everyone, and it will ultimately appeal to nobody. You’re trying to capture your moment of inspiration, and I can’t think of anything less inspiring — or more mood-killing — than caring about what other people may or may not think about it. It’s also no fun. It’s torture! On the flip, writing music for a brand is a job. It comes with a creative brief. You’re supposed to be writing music with the audience in mind and keeping your personal interjections to a minimum. That’s not to say it’s not creative. It’s extremely creative! Do you know how difficult it is to make epic orchestral music for a luxury car spot in the morning followed by a top 40-style reggaeton track for a sports apparel brand later that afternoon, all from your 300-square-foot home studio? It’s a great way to build some serious skills as a composer and a mix engineer. As an artist though, you need to learn to trust yourself. That’s not gonna come via a creative brief from an ad agency. Your art is gonna suffer terribly. Your heart is gonna suffer too.
What do you see as your role in the process of a podcast’s production? Do you find room for creative expression as an engineer and mixer?
My role is to do justice to the vision that was developed by the team of producers, writers, and strategists along with the client. I’m the audio guy. I need to help facilitate a strategy to make it all sound good; from attaining a good quality recording, to finding great music, making cool sound design, and putting together a great mix. What does making it “sound good” mean? It could mean all the things you think it means — fidelity, polish, sparkle, warmth. It could also mean good dialogue pacing, balance, and flow. But what I feel matters the most as a mixer is that you are making decisions that honor the vibe, the content, the environment where it was recorded, and the agreed-upon style. In post-production, our job is to do a whole lotta difficult cool stuff and make it sound like it was easy.
You also have experience with meditation, mindfulness, and zen practice. How did you first discover this passion and how does it relate to your work with audio?
I practice Transcendental Meditation (TM). I decided to give it a try after reading David Lynch’s autobiography, Room To Dream. I was actually in a really good place mentally, and I decided I wanted to add another tool to my repertoire to further explore the energy I was tapped into. Meditation is a lot like all of the other things I love to do — playing music, surfing, hiking. It causes you to focus on the now. If your mind is loud, you notice it. It’s just about making that observation and gently going back to business. There are no judgments or attempts at mind control. There’s just observation. Eventually, things settle down, and you’re a bit closer to just being where you are instead of somewhere you’re not. I’m not sure how to connect that directly to my work in audio. I’d love to say that I definitively do my best work when I’m being consistent in my TM practice, but I’ve honestly done work that I’m very proud of at times in my life that I would consider to be the most turbulent. I am probably a happier person overall, though. So, I guess I’d say that I don’t use mediation for any sort of goal. It just feels like a natural ingredient in daily life.
Which of the Golden Girls do you most identify as?
I wish I were Blanche but I’m probably Dorothy. Dorothy is the Paul McCartney of Golden Girls. She’s the adult in the room. She’s the most versatile. She holds it together. Blanche is the John Lennon — charming and magnetic. Rose is Ringo! Don’t underestimate her. And Sophia is most definitely George Harrison — the coolest of the bunch. I mostly aspire to be a Sophia. The queen of cool.
FRQNCY Media is the audio production company for Jane Goodall, Diane von Furstenburg, Coca-Cola, and small businesses alike. FRQNCY is a one-in-a-million blend of innovation, passion, and joy. We offer tailored audio production support including integrated services that take (super-skilled) care of content strategy, market research, production, editing, and marketing.