If you work in audio post in a mid-level market, chances are you work on a wide, wide, wide variety of projects. John McClain, the creative owner of Dog & Pony Studios in Las Vegas, knows this. He’s built a business around it. Since opening a little more than ten years ago with mostly voice-over work and mixing commercials, he’s worked on short films, webisodes, custom music, national and local TV spots, radio, specials (Emmy as part of HBO Sports Boxing Series), children’s books, slot machines, casino promos, Grammy-winning comedy albums (George Carlin), cartoon shorts, documentaries…
During the same time he’s moved Dog & Pony out of his tricked-out home to a one-room-turned-two-room facility on Dean Martin Drive, later into its current three-room space on Tompkins. He’s graduated from a Pro Tools LE and Mackie monitors at home to a Nuendo/MC Pro combo on Dean Martin to a brand-new Yamaha/Steinberg Nuage-equipped 5.1 main room on Tompkins. The variety fueled the growth, and the growth has brought more variety, to the point that McClain, with three studios humming, has found the time to concentrate more on sound design and long-form, the reason he got into the business in the first place.
McClain was a military brat and moved around a lot. He cut his professional teeth in Detroit, picking up guitar at age 22 and finding his way to an assistant’s job at Ron Rose Productions soon after, where he “swept floors and made dubs,” then grew into mixing, mentored by Dean Mounts and learning the process, as well as how to behave with clients. He jokes today that he left Detroit with “a reel that Chevy built.”
McClain landed in Las Vegas in 1996 and worked on the build-out, then seven years of engineering, at Studio Center, a voice-over shop. In 2003 he left and opened Dog & Pony at home—simple Pro Tools LE setup with keyboard controller, an ISDN line and a voice booth. He had clients and semi-steady commercial work. Within a couple of years he had switched to Steinberg Nuendo/Avid MC Pro, upgraded his entire setup and grown too big for the house.
In 2006 he began looking for space, and by late 2007 moved into a two-room facility, mostly hand-built and self-financed. It was a nerve-wracking time, he admits today. His wife was pregnant. And he had just spent his savings on a studio, with a lease. He did, however, have a plan.
“We had started getting calls from the UNLV Film School around 2006 to do audio for some short films,” he recalls. “We picked up a couple that were fun to work on. We had also begun to pick up small slot machine jobs, sound effects work. That was the same point in time where I decided to see if we could spread the studio’s wings a little further. But I was a bit scattershot. Around 2007, right before the move, I brought in David Braxton, and he is really amazing at his ability to understand what a slot machine engineer needs, and how the machines work. He was able to pick up and run with the game work. By picking him up, it allowed me to concentrate on the indie film work and the post clients.
“There’s a great quote from the book The Artist’s Way: Leap and the net will appear. That was my mantra at the time,” he laughs.
In 2011, McClain moved Dog & Pony to its current three-studio home. Earlier this year, having picked up more film work and with his best year yet under his belt, he replaced his own Nuendo/MC Pro system with Nuage.
“I would like to attract higher-end business, like the Elliot Smith documentary I just finished,” McClain says of the decision. “Our MC Pros are 10 years old. When Steinberg and Yamaha announced the Nuage, I was blown away by what I could foresee. Then I spent a whole day on it at RSPE in L.A. and I was sold. I felt like I was back on a board with tape rolling and we were just listening and mixing. It all came flooding back. I can turn knobs and move faders—I can feel my old muscles creak. I think when you are doing that you are listening. My eyes are on the board. It’s like my timing is back. I’m not looking for the breath coming up, or worrying about nudging the sound effect three frames up.”
Heaven Adores You (An Elliot Smith Project), currently making the rounds at festivals, came to McClain through a pair of local executive producers whom he had worked with since their thesis film at UNLV. McClain can’t say enough about the quality of the students he’s seen come out of the still-new film department. At the same time he treasures his relationship with the talent behind the Skechers spots he’s done, which led to a highly creative cartoon-short series called Shmitty McFunkle and Stump. Again, variety.
“We’re in the process of mixing a live performance by a band put together by a classically trained opera singer, and the band does standards at a jazz cabaret at the Smith Center,” McClain says. “Every day is a little different, and I love it.”