Telling a Story through Music.. with Graduate Rudy Mackay

Graduate Profile: Rudy Mackay

Written by: Milou Derksen
Edited by: Gaya Tideman

To set the scene, we are in Hilversum, the media center of the Netherlands, sipping on coffee. It seems to have become quite a regular thing we do with Amsterdam graduate, Rudy Mackay. However this time, we are seated in one of the three studios at “Audiochef”, his professional recording and post production company. It has been exactly a year since Rudy graduated with distinction from the part-time Diploma in Music Production and Sound Engineering at our Amsterdam campus. And this we thought, called for a proper catch up!

Rudy is a true jack-of-all-trades, to say the least about this interesting “Audiochef”. From composer, (radio) producer and multi-instrumentalist to sound designer, editor and recording/mixing engineer he shows depth with an ear for detail and capturing the mood. With just a few visual cues, Rudy knows what music is needed and can instantly compose for documentaries, films and commercials. Besides focusing on music, he has also hosted frequently on the Dutch national radio besides some national tv shows. But it all started with music, from playing in bands his whole life to now playing again in a TV tunes cover band, go figure!

“…believe me when I say that telling a story is everything to me. I love to enhance and support stories through great and immersive sound design, compelling music and an awesome mix.”

Hi Rudy, thanks for having me! You graduated exactly one year ago. What have you been up to?

Well a lot actually! I’m currently working at Audiochef – my own company, which we started 5 years ago. At the moment, we’re mainly receiving work in music production, sound design and audio post production. The other half is in audio post production, mainly for the Dutch national television. We recently worked on a a lot of short films and Dutch feature film titled “Liek achter de Badde” (Lijk achter de Brug). You can find our complete portfolio online.

That’s quite an accomplishment already, congrats! How did you land those jobs?

For me, it’s always someone in my existing network who calls me and says: “I got a great idea for a movie, how about you make the music for it?” That’s at least how it started for us. So we – my colleague Misja and I – began working on the music and post production for a few short films in 2019. Through word of mouth, we received a call from a director that said “Hey look, I heard you guys make music for film. Can we sit?”. Misja didn’t have the time, so I went to meet the guy and ended up having a great conversation. So when the director asked us to do the music for a film with the Dutch actor Frank Lammers, we couldn’t resist. At this point he was looking for a new composer, and since his go-to wasn’t available, he asked us to join on his next short films. This allowed us to build on our professional relationship.

Rudy in his favourite studio at Audiochef: Studio 2.

We landed the featured film by the sheer luck of being in the same building as a video production company. There we stumbled upon a Gronings production that needed music because it was being turned into a feature length film. It didn’t reach a large audience, but it gave us the chance to work on a 2 hour feature length film. So we had 2 months to make 1,5 hours of music, including all the orchestral parts and sound design. Definitely wasn’t just some simple strumming on my guitar.

We also got a chance to do the music for a national tv show, Het Uur van de Waarheid. And the way we got the job is because we always do their audio post production. But we expressed “hey listen, we also make music!” and the next time they asked us, we took the opportunity. That worked out really well! Something other fun stuff was when we got to work on the television show ‘Mag dat?’ with a famous Dutch presenter and also on an International talk show in warm and far away Qatar. The job really takes you places!

You have been working at Audiochef – your own company – for already 5 years now. What made you decide to go to Abbey Road Institute?

I studied journalism and started making music and recording some voice over stuff alongside sound design. It was more of a hobby that grew steadily. Before Audiochef, I worked out of my home the first few years. But soon after, I started getting bigger clients. At that time, I was used to working with clients online, but at one point they actually wanted to be present to work together. And when your personal place is next to the toilet, I thought, this has to be more professional.

That’s how Audiochef began! Most of my engineering would be by ear and not so much by knowledge. I knew my mixes weren’t as good as they could be. I had to find out by trial and error and everything I did took way too much time, I knew something was not right. I decided to come to Abbey Road Institute Amsterdam because I wanted to know what the hell I was doing! I wanted to know how to produce a better sounding mix, make better productions and in turn, make better music. I was constantly making technical blunders when recording instruments. I mean it works, guys in their bedroom making killer hits. But I was constantly making the same mistakes. I didn’t know how to get to that last 20%. At Abbey Road I learned how to record, mix, and in every aspect it was a huge improvement.

So you moved from your previous job to doing music full-time. How did you make the switch?

At the time, I was working with music and sound so much at Abbey Road, that I kinda got sucked into it. That’s when I realised that this is what I want to do. At one point, I was working 3 jobs and studying at Abbey Road all at the same time. I had to make a decision. So I asked myself.. “What gives you the most satisfaction?” And that was without a doubt, music. So I made the switch! I never believed that I could make a living from music. I never had the guts to take that leap, but being surrounded by so many like minded souls at Abbey Road Institute Amsterdam gave me the confidence to go for it. I knew it wasn’t easy, but it was definitely possible. If I hadn’t done it, I would have still been working at the radio station wondering “what if’? The irony now is that I do some radio work as a hobby!

What was your biggest challenge during your startup period?

To be frank, the hardest part of Audiochef’s startup was getting enough clients. I guess that’s the biggest challenge for any startup: getting clients AND keeping them. Keeping their trust, so they keep coming back to you. On a more personal level: the challenge is giving yourself the confidence to stay on the right track, knowing that it will work out. You will always have better and worse months. Building the right people around can be the biggest challenge. But surrounding yourself with the right people/colleagues helps. Also, finding a workflow was a thing for me and my first business partner. It worked out quite soon after, but when you work with people, you have to find a good work flow and keep improving on that. I am very grateful that financially it hasn’t really been a challenge for me. I was lucky enough to have my radio job, which gave me enough income to rent the studio.

How did the course at the institute prepare you for these next steps?

Abbey Road definitely felt like a new beginning for me, on every level! My mixes and recordings got better and I felt like I had finally upgraded myself. I was ready for bigger clients and the much more technical work. Also – it might sound a bit spiritual – the energy of being there for 2 years working with sound alongside the teachers and students was so inspiring. It gave me so much energy, I think everyone was like: “yes let’s do this!”. It made me realise that I wanted to focus more on music.

I don’t know if I can pinpoint it exactly. Of course business wise, you need a confirmation. Now that I have a diploma in audio engineering, my confidence in this field also grows. Before I referred to it as a hobby and now I’m a professional. “I studied Abbey Road for this, this is my job now”. As I mentioned earlier, that confirmation was moving from ‘a hobby’ to getting work, to being a professional, that was the bigger picture. My first time at Abbey Road Institute, I discovered that there was this whole world out there and it is so much fun! Most of us are at home in our bedrooms. And here, it pulls you out of your home into the business world. That’s what was so cool about it!

“It’s insane how inspiring it is to put fifteen musicians of all genres and backgrounds in one class and work on your skills together. I mean, Abbey Road brought me a lot of knowledge, a great network and
practical skills – that’s what I signed up for. But it also gave me a bloody great time,
tons of fun and sort of a second family.”

Rudy during a recording class with fellow graduate Robin Kettelhake, at ARI Amsterdam Studio 1.

We are always curious about personal highlights. What are yours so-far?

To start of with Abbey Road highlights, because one major highlight was going to the legendary Rockfield Studios and spending a full weekend there with recording masterclasses! That was beyond incredible (wat was dat vet zeg)! And on top of that, being given the chance to record and mix the Metropole Academy project, which was an incredible experience. You can read more about that project in another article on this blog: The Metropole Academy project – Recording an Orchestra.

Work related highlights I have quite a few already. I make music for a children’s programme that runs every weekday on national tv. So it’s super cool when I get a lot of videos with kids singing the songs I write. That is the biggest highlight of them all! A special moment was when I was at my best friend’s place for Christmas. He was surprised and excited when he found out it was I who had actually written the song he and his kids would sing every morning.

Recording an orchestra during the Metropole Academy project on their Neve VR Legend 60 channel console

It might sound corny, but when I hear my music on tv or see my name in the theatre at the end during the credits, that gives me goosebumps. Corny, but true! Another highlight was doing the short movie “Koekoek” with Frank Lammers. The director basically gave me all the freedom to create a world in sound and music. It was such a professional product and hearing that made me really happy. Seeing my name in the end during the credits, gave me a sense of pride.

Ok lastly a funny one, once I composed a song that I also made a rap demo vocal for. Now I’m definitely not a rapper and was expecting them to hire a real rapper for the final version. They were like, yeah great cool. But a few weeks later they aired my version, so now i guess I’m a rapper? Haha!

“My girlfriend finds it incredibly funny that I did the music for an Andrelon shampoo commercial because – if you look at my pictures – I’m as bald as can be!”

You mentioned briefly that you want to focus more on music. What would be your next steps?

We’re are currently trying to expand our music production business, because I would like to do more music rather than just post production. I would love to dive more into that!! I have been fortunate enough to land some great jobs making music for just about anything actually, from commercials to films. Lately, I’ve also been doing mixing and mastering for a couple of bands, which is great. It really reminds me of how much I love to work on music.

I’ve played in bands for as long as I can remember and have done a lot of recordings, but mainly as the musician. After Abbey Road, I also haven’t done much artist recordings, mainly because I don’t really have the space for a bigger setup. Some small artists can record vocals, guitar and piano here and that’s easier to do. I’ve had the chance to mix some bands but I get caught up in the post production and music/composition for video instead. It’s funny how I love working with people to create the best vibe but just haven’t had the time to do so. So yeah, I definitely want to get into this field more.

Based on your experience, what advice would you give to existing students?

Don’t wait for people to knock at your door asking you to be the next big producer, go for it, do it yourself! Explore all possibilities in music and pick one or two hone in on, master that. Saying no is important too! It’s a very general thing to say, but envision where you want to be and make decisions towards that goal. Sometimes cool things cross your path, but doesn’t bring you to your goal. Have the guts to say no!

My advise on a practical level would be to expand your network of people, it can never be big enough! And to choose your colleagues wisely. We rarely get a call from someone who just happened to find us on the internet, it’s all about building your network. And it’s something you can expand yourself. A simple tip on how to expand might be to go to network meetings, watch live bands perform, maybe even write a message to your favourite local band and ask to record or mix them. Make a list of 10 businesses you would like to work for and ask if you can meet for a chat over coffee. Another simple way to network can be on Facebook groups. I joined one with musicians and they noticed that they have a meetup every month. If it’s still scary, I always remind myself that everyone has a bit of social anxiety. What works, is if you have someone that is in the same field as you and you can do this together! The two of you can walk up to people and start a conversation. That’s usually my “weapon of choice”. It’s always nicer to work together. You don’t have to figure everything out on your own.

That’s great stuff Rudy, thanks so much for sharing your story!