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Tommy Jones of Videohammer Studios on Ditching Corporate Life for Video Production

by Finn McKenty
video & film

Tommy Jones in action. Photo courtesy Videohammer Studios.

Who is Tommy Jones, what do you do, and what projects might people know you from?

Well, I’m Tommy Jones and I produce video content for artists. I started out solely as a producer, producing content for artists such as Lamb of God, Every Time I Die, John Legend, All That Remains, as well as several others while working for High Roller Studios. In 2008, I got “behind the camera” — it’s then that I started shooting and editing under my own moniker simply called “the studio.” I guess it was then when I set out to be the Robert Rodriquez of metal video. I produce, shoot, and edit my own stuff. I came from an environment where one project is handed off to another person and to another. I find a serious disconnect with that. When I’m shooting, I’m editing in my head. There is something to be said about fresh eyes, but I’m shooting a specific angel or movement because I know what I want to do to it in post. I like to take it all the way through, I feel it has a more personalized touch. Mid-2013 I partnered up with the guys at Audiohammer Studios and changed the name to Videohammer Studios to complement… and here we are.

Videohammer Studios Demo Reel from Tommy Jones on Vimeo.

I’m guessing that you will agree with me that making a living in the music industry is far from easy, and that getting to where you are has been a long, hard road. What made you choose music as a career, rather than making corporate videos or whatever, and what kept you going during the tough times?

Far from easy. Any band will also tell you that, and in this modern world of entitlement where people just think music should be free, and if it’s not “screw you I’m gonna steal it”, that just makes it that much harder. It’s a domino effect and most people don’t get what’s involved in the background and how much money is required to create, manufacture, market, and distribute that album, which you just stole with the click of a button. Touchy subject with me — I could go on forever. But the point I’m trying to stress is that the already hard road got that much harder when everyone started wearing patches over their eyes.

Before “making it” in the professional music industry, I was recording and marketing artists on a local level. I wasn’t doing video at that point in my life, strictly audio and graphic design. To pay the bills, I worked in a very corporate environment within the design and print industry. That was my career. I was involved in research and development working with clients such as Johnson and Johnson, Hallmark, AARP, and AAA. Corporate as it got, tens of millions of dollars spent and made. Over the span of about 8 years, I had lost my job two times due to either the company being sold to our largest competitor in an effort to eliminate competition, or development being cut because a sales force didn’t pull through in selling a product that I spent a million dollars developing. You can’t do it all. I couldn’t develop, and sell it. Next they would be asking that I also ran the press and did the bindery!

After two times of feeling like my destiny was in someone else’s control, I tattooed my hands. I figured that would keep me out of that corporate environment were I felt like I was just a number. Circle/square kind of thing going on as well. Sure I was making great money at a young age and I excelled in that world, but money isn’t everything and something was missing. So I did that in an effort to remove myself from that situation to go out and make something happen in what my passion was, music, which took a long time. I don’t recommend anyone go out and do that [laughs]). Below the sleeve is called the “unemployment line” for a reason [laughs].

As far as the hard times, and yes there has been a fair share of that. I couldn’t have continued without the support of my family, especially early on when I went out on my own. I can’t stress that enough. Without them, I do not know what I would be doing.

You recently relocated to Orlando to join the Audiohammer family. Can you tell us how that came together? The life of an editor can be pretty isolated at times, so it must be cool be around Eyal/Christina, Mark, Jason and all the bands coming through– now that you’re all settled, tell us how it’s working out.

In 2007, I produced a DVD for the band All That Remains. Jason was the mixer for the project. That was the first time we had met, and it was over a conference call, Jason’s first ever (laughing). Since that time, Jason had been asking me to come down to Audiohammer. It just so happened that while I was at Audiohammer on an assignment for two months with Death Angel, that the opportunity posed itself for me to move. Once Jason heard that, he brought it up again and showed me where he would build my studio and room within Audiohammer. The timing worked, and I pulled the trigger to relocate to Florida.

Editing does require isolation and focus. I actually think I had more isolation at my previous place in that aspect. I could go days and days without human interaction or contact. Here at Audiohammer, there are others around all the time. So I’m less isolated, but around much more creativity and others like me. With having bands coming through recording all the time, there’s built-in advertising for what I do. Three guys making records at the same time, with bands starting new album cycles. So you can see where that has some built in exposure to build with bands while they are here.

Since I have been down here, it’s been awesome. I’ve done work with Mark and Whatechapel for Toontrak, Eyal Levi for CreativeLIVE and Gear Gods, and have some cool things in the works with Jason and Job For A Cowboy. That’s all stuff that I would not have gotten without living here over the past 2 months, and it’s all within the family. I love working with these guys in a studio environment, and I see them everyday, so it’s comfortable.

What are you go-to pieces of gear? Cameras, mics, and any little accessories that are indispensable for you? From the Panasonic profile, it sounds like you mostly shoot with camcorders rather than DSLRs?

For cameras, Panasonic. I’ve been using Panasonic cameras since before I was even shooting. When I was strictly producing, we were shooting on DVX 100s to mini dv. Once I got behind the camera and started shooting, I began shooting HD on P2 cards with the HVX 200. After many years of using that camera, I moved to the HPX 250. I’ve also been known to use flip cams and GoPros and even Canon 7ds. But for the most part, Panasonic cams are my go-to.

For hardware, I’m a huge fan of Kessler Crane. I use Kessler jibs, sliders, and tripods. I really dig their stuff; it’s built solidly, and assembles easily and quickly. That’s important when time is of the essence, and you’re trusting your camera mounted on a piece of gear for a specific shot.

Mics, I’m a fan of sennheiser shotguns and audio technica lavs for interview or run and gun stuff.

For post production and editing, 100% Mac.

Tommy Jones in action. Photo courtesy Videohammer Studios.

Tommy Jones in action. Photo courtesy Videohammer Studios.

You do a lot of live performance shoots. What are the unique challenges of that as compared to interviews, music videos, and other projects? How do you handle the audio for those projects?

There are a lot of challenges in live situations and it depends on the scope of the project. I have shot literally about a thousand live performances. Some live shooting I do is for documentary purposes, so I’m not overly concerned with audio. It’s either going to get dropped out and replaced with the album audio, or only for visual, or camera audio…even that has it’s place. Then of course there are the big “Live in wherever” projects. That’s a different story altogether. If I am bringing in many cameras and it’s specifically for a product that will be marketed as such, there are location fees, multiple cameras, crew, cranes, lots of hardware rigs, audio, lighting, etc. Instead of the band hitting the stage and documenting every night on a tour, it has to look and sound like a stand-alone product. That gets even more challenging when you are doing large multi-camera, multi-track shoots in a foreign country. I have done shoots like that in the Philippines, Australia, and a few in Germany. With that, some unique challenges are time zones, exchange rates, and the obvious language barriers. You are also, in most cases, walking into a location that you are not familiar with or can not easily visit. Then of course if you are doing this at a festival, well that’s another special set of uniqueness on its own.

When it comes to live audio tracking, for example the recent live Testament DVD/Bluray, or Alestorm DVD, I leave that up to the masters of that trade…the FOH and my audio engineer for the specific shoot. There’s a balance there that needs to be figured out between the show and the recording, and I trust them to make the right calls in that area. You can’t spread yourself too thin, especially on a shoot like that with about ten cameras, two cranes, forty-eight channels of audio and a sold out venue. You have to have good people in place that you can trust. That’s important.

Kataklysm – “At the Edge of the World” (Live) from Tommy Jones on Vimeo.

What are three projects in your portfolio that you’re most proud of, and why?

I have to say I am proud of every project and shoot, but if I had to pick three currently available releases that I would be most proud of, these would be them:

Testament, “Dark Roots of Thrash.” Alex and Eric were the reason I picked up a guitar way back in the day. That’s who I wanted to play like. They are definitely one of my longest running favorite metal bands. I had been telling Nuclear Blast for years I wanted to work with Testament, so when the project was awarded to me, that was like a goal that I set and met. I’m also really happy with the way it looks and sounds, from being the producer to being a huge fan.
Kataklysm, “Iron Will: 20 Years Determined.” I challenge you to find a more thorough music documentary. It’s very detailed. That project took me around the world. It’s also packaged with a killer special anniversary live show that I produced in Germany at Summer Breeze 2011. It’s a very thorough package, about seven hours of video content that I produced and edited on my own. I’m proud of that one and the story and content is relative to anyone in a band or with a dream, whether you are a fan of the band or not.
Alestorm, “Live at the End of the World.” It was filmed in Australia, enough said. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to visit, so with this project I toured the entire continent. I can’t say I was a fan of the band before doing the project, but after the first night, which was a multi-cam shoot in Melbourne, we all clicked. That night was one of the most fun live shooting experiences of my life, and I told the vocalist that the second I got back stage, where I was then greeted with a huge sweaty hug. The rest of the tour was a blast, and I’m pretty proud of not only pulling off such a big shoot half way around the world, but with the amount of fun I had with those guys. Sometimes the fun gets lost, but it’s impossible for that to happen with those guys, and I would jump at the opportunity to work with them again.

Suffocation – “As Grace Descends” from Tommy Jones on Vimeo.

Tell us what you have coming up, and where we can find you on the internet. And plug anything else you feel like!

Coming up, I have a music video, soon to be released for Deicide, which I am just finished up with. I remember listening to “Legion” as a kid. It’s always awesome when you get to work with bands you grew up listening to. I’ve been lucky enough to have that happen with quite a few projects.

I also have another project that will be released next year for Death Angel. I’ve done a lot with those guys over the years, we are all really close. I did a live music video for them, some tour diaries, commercials and recently a DVD for the making of their latest album “The Dream Calls For Blood,” which was recorded here at Audiohammer. Well before and during all that, we have been documenting and going through archive footage from over the past 30 years for an upcoming DVD project called “A Thrashumentary.” It has gone through several iterations over the years, originally a live project. Once that is released, it will definitely become one of my proudest. I worked on it for a very long time and it has interviews with so many artists from Sepultura, Testament, Exodus, Suffocation, Carcass, Lamb of God and so many others. It is very “behind-the-music” style.

I’ve also got some other things in the works that are not yet confirmed, but definitely some exciting things in the works!
Here’s how to connect with me on the internet:
Videohammerstudios.com
Facebook.com/videohammerstudios
Vimeo.com/channels/VHS
Twitter.com/videohammer

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Finn McKenty

Finn is the producer of CreativeLive’s audio channel.

You can email him at finn [dot] mckenty [at] creativelive [dot] com

@finn_mckenty