Local Sound Studio Makes Some Noise
“We’ve been in business now for 26 years,” said Curran. “We started out working in music production. We still focus on a lot of original music and sound design for television, film, radio and new media, but we have evolved into a ‘creative boutique.’”
In addition to working with the larger Detroit advertising firms, Harvest now does business in markets like Kansas City, St. Louis, Nashville, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Dallas/Fort Worth.
“We work with talent around the world,” Curran stated. “We’re doing a voice translation project right now with original talent in China, Germany and Japan, and last month we did one in Indonesia and Malaysia. Probably 80 percent of the people we do business with now we’ve never seen face-to-face, ever. We have salespeople who sell our services and establish those relationships for us.”
As to what Harvest actually does, Curran explained, “Sound design can be described as simply using sound elements or sound effects that we create ourselves or combine with existing ones. We create an environment that didn’t exist before.”
Chevrolet ran a spot over Independence Day for which Harvest produced all of the audio. “We created every little piece of sound, every little nuance, from the sound of the cloth tearing, the truck, the wind blowing, the gravel and the dirt—we created all of that,” said Curran.
While Harvest had focused mainly on commercial work, a few years ago senior editor Joel Newport suggested the company add film work to its portfolio.
“It’s the same type of work, but it is also a phenomenal amount of work,” said Curran. “It’s one thing to work on a 30-second commercial and another to work on a 90-minute feature film.”
In the late 1990s, Harvest started collaborating with Detroit actor, director and producer Bruce Campbell and with Campbell’s friend and fellow Detroiter Sam Raimi, director of the Spiderman films. Harvest also teamed up with actor, director and producer Jeff Daniels and his business partner Bob Brown to produce the sound for the film production of Escanaba in Da Moonlight.
“Jeff could have easily taken the project to L.A., but Jeff and Bob wanted to keep it here so they could have more say in the creative process,” said Curran. “They really believe in the talent we have in Michigan.”
According to Curran, Brown spearheaded the group that worked with the governor and the Legislature to enact Michigan’s film industry tax incentive package. As a result, Ahptic Film & Digital and The Gillespie Group have proposed building City Center Studios in Downtown Lansing, which would also bring business in for Harvest.
“We’re still in a fact-finding stage, and we’re trying to determine the feasibility of what’s going to be needed,” Curran noted. “From a sound standpoint, everything a film production company would need could be done here. We hope to see this facility built and then our role, ideally, would be to operate the sound facility independent of Harvest. It would be a separate, fully operational facility that would be focused on just those studios. We’ll have a mixing room with automatic digital replacement, so when an actor flubs a line or is off the mic, they can come back and watch themselves in the scene and lip sync to recreate the monologue. Then we edit it into the movie.”
As for creating sound effects, Curran said that anyone in the business knows a fight scene is made with watermelon and a rubber hose. “You whack it really hard and get that thump, thump, thump sound of someone getting punched. In Escanaba in da Moonlight, in the scene at the end, Jeff is running across a field of snow and brush; so Joel and I went into Meijer at three in the morning trying to find something to finish this scene. We found the aisle with bird seed and we put our fingers in it and it sounded like someone crunching down in snow. We recorded that and mixed in some other sounds to create the effect.”
When the films come to Harvest, they have absolutely no sound on them. “Mixing a movie is really a complicated process,” said Curran. “Sometimes we’ll have several hundred tracks. It can take weeks to do.”
Another growing market in the audio business is companion CDs. “We just did a wonderful project for Meijer called ‘Serve and Chill,’ and we licensed the music for that,” said Curran. “It’s going to be sold in the wine department. Pottery Barn puts CDs by the cash register with a sign saying, ‘Now Playing,’ and they sell millions of them. Starbucks is now the largest seller of CDs in the world, even more than Best Buy. It’s amazing.”
By July, Harvest had already licensed almost 40 pieces of music for different TV commercials, compilation disks and feature films. “It’s really a wonderful part of the business,” Curran stated.
Harvest currently has 10 employees. Curran expects to add three more if the City Center Studios project comes to fruition.
Curran was on his way to California from Baltimore when he stopped in Michigan to attend his mother’s wedding. His stepfather invited him to stick around for a little while, so Curran started working at a local recording studio. That was where he met Mark Miller, a “young, cocky guy” who could produce a “phenomenal” drum beat. They decided to start a company of their own and officially incorporated Harvest in 1982. “We pretty much spent the first nine years trying to figure out what we were doing,” Curran noted.
Curran and Miller had looked at moving out of Lansing, specifically to Royal Oak, but both previous Mayor David Hollister and current Mayor Virg Bernero have offered the company incentives to stay. Harvest moved to its current Old Town site a year and a half ago.
As for Michigan’s new film tax incentive plan, Curran noted that since Louisiana introduced its own incentive program, it is now one of the largest film production markets after New York and Los Angeles. “In Louisiana, they went from having roughly 1,800 film professionals to over 28,000 since the tax incentive plan,” he said. “Shreveport is not that much bigger than Lansing and last year Shreveport did $185 million in film production. They beat out New Orleans. People are talking about moving back here and it’s really exciting because there is a lot of opportunity for [local vendors] to supply everything from orange cones, safety devices, refreshments and costumes. All of those things are needed within the film industry. Not all of it is brought in from Hollywood; they rely on the resources of the residents. That provides an opportunity for new jobs.”
As for how Curran feels about the sound design industry after all these years, he stated, “I still get lit up about what I do every day. We have so many cool things to work on that we don’t know where to start.”
Harvest Music + Sound Design
Steve Curran, Co-Owner
Mark Miller, Co-Owner