Meet: Max Lachmann

March 31, 2020
March 31, 2020 Max Lachmann

Meet: Max Lachmann

Music has been his passion since he was a kid but it was a banana peel that made him end up in the gaming industry. Meet Max Lachmann, a keen entrepreneur and co-founder of Pole Position Production.

Max, you majored in economics at university. How come you spend your days recording tanks and other cool vehicles instead of issuing mortgages to homeowners at a bank?

I have always been very interested and fascinated by strong entrepreneurship, marketing, branding and business strategies. No matter if it’s about promoting a rock n roll band or a pharmacy chain, I find it very creative and adventurous. One of my favorite stories, no clue if it’s true or not, is when Mick Jagger from the Rolling Stones went in his limo to this street riot outside an embassy, had his chauffeur take a picture of him when he threw a stone, and then he went back home and wrote Street Fighting Man. I just love stories like that! Anyways, so this is what made me study Business and Economics back in the day, but I was more into branding than the financing bit, I’ve never been very interested in stocks and stock markets unfortunately, since I realize this is where the money is. I guess you can summarize it by saying that I have always been drawn to doing what’s fun. I picked up the guitar at the age of 9 since it was fun, I went for music studies since it was more fun than the alternatives, and while studying business, even though it sure was fun sometimes, I did music on the side as a song writer and producer, simply because it was more fun. Today I run my own business instead of working for someone else, because I can wake up in the morning with an idea and being able to go for it, and that is also more fun and challenging. It might come across as ignorant to only go for the fun, but I do not take this for granted. I’m grateful every day that I can do what I love doing, and with amazing people around me.

 

And after school you started Pole together with Bernard and Mats?

After my music studies I started out as a trainee at the legendary Polar Studios in Stockholm. Here I got to know mixing engineer Bernard Löhr, who has since been my mentor all through my life, I owe him everything in my career. In 2001, he and another guy were starting up a music production company, and they asked me to join. Eventually the other guy was replaced by Mats. The idea was to write and produce songs, following in the wake of the Swedish music wonder with the guys at Cheiron taking the lead. It was exciting times. We were not hugely successful, but we had fun and we got by from doing it. But as the downloading entered the scene, things changed pretty quickly, and budgets too. It got harder to make a living from it, and I also started questioning my situation. I remember sitting and editing vocals of two Swedish models that some hot shot manager had brought us, and I literally had to move, fix, stretch and tune every syllable to reach a somewhat decent result. At this time I asked myself why I started out doing music in the first place, and found that this was not why. So at this point I started to work with an artist, something that eventually turned out to be the band Ella Rouge, together with Mats. But that’s a different story and journey.

 

BernardMax scaled

Bernard and Max on a recent recording adventure with the Swedish military.

At the same time, around 2006, we slipped on the famous banana peel so to speak. Bernard, who was then racing in the Swedish GT series, was asked by an on track competitor, but also a racing game developer, if we were interested in doing engine sounds for his games. Fun and challenging, so a no brainer! We came from nowhere and had to figure it all out from scratch. First the recording procedure, what microphones to use and how and where to position them to get a decent sound and no wind, what recorders that could handle the vibrations and still were portable enough, how we needed the car to drive, how to make assets and implement them in the game and so on. We really learnt by doing, and it was the best way of learning it. We had no one to ask or look to back then, so we found our own way of doing things.

And then one day, a leap of faith happened. I can still remember the exact place I was when the phone rang. It was Magnus Lindberg, back then Audio Director at Avalanche Studios, who called. He had heard somehow that we did vehicles for games, and asked if we were interested in working on a title for him. It kind of set the foundation for what Pole is today. That one phone call led to that we not only recorded and implemented all vehicles for Just Cause 2, but Mats also got his first gig doing adaptive music and did the full score for the same game. We still to this day have a very close collaboration with Magnus who is one of the most visionary people I know. Another person that has had a massive impact on Pole is Ben Minto, Audio Director at DICE. At an early point when we were dying for more information, knowledge and contacts, he opened doors and introduced us to the amazing game audio society that exists out there, with all the skilled, passionate and helpful people that resides in it. Many of these whom I today consider close friends but have never met, and many that I have been lucky to meet too. I hope that we have managed to incorporate some of Magnus and Bens DNA in Pole, to always be curious on finding improvements and the next way of doing things, and also to always help out and share knowledge with those who are interested.

 

Today you also offer services such as film sound and cinematics. Were these natural steps for you?

We have always been very passionate about sound, no matter if it’s finding the perfect arpeggio synth for a chorus, or if it’s recording the most interesting wind for a scary forest film sequence. I was lucky to grow up in the Star Wars era, and this also made me very interested in films and audio for films. So since we were already positioned as recordists recording vehicles, creating and implementing vehicle game assets, and composing adaptive music for games, it was not far off that we also started to look into doing other sound effect recordings, such as weapons for instance, and trailers and sound design for other types of games and linear media. We have been lucky to get some really talented people on board to help us grow our competence within the company. Besides this we run our Sound Shop with sound effect libraries that has gotten pretty well known by now, and we are looking at making plugins based on some ideas that we have. The first one will be in collaboration with our friends at BOOM and should be out in the near future.

 

Has your role at Pole changed since the beginning?

My role has changed quite a lot as the company has grown. I used to be deeply involved in the creative work and have also spent a lot of time inhouse with clients. And when the day was over, I swapped hat and spent hours replying to emails, making quotes, sorting the economy bits and promoting us to new clients. I guess this is the same situation as very many freelancers have, and it’s not an easy one. You are often quite exhausted after being creative for a full day, and then you need to deal with all the other stuff too, stuff that you can’t really invoice for, but that has to be dealt with. As the company grew, we were lucky to find some really talented, skilled and most of all, super nice, people to help out. Niklas, already a brilliant sound designer, learnt the vehicle work very fast, and came in with a new mindset and ideas to improve our method. He is now training Robin in the same area. Robin has a history in ATV racing and has great ears for engines. In the meantime Niklas has dived head down in learning implementation as well. Eric is helping us out with sound design, but also all linear work. He has a strong background in feature films and commercials, and knows how to tell stories with sound, an ability that I feel many sound designers working with games are lacking. Besides being one of the best sound designers around, Eric is also very skilled at doing foley.

Since a year back we have Linus helping out as a producer and coordinator, his background is as a producer at a game studio, and he is helping out with sourcing locations, vehicles, bookings and all that, and keeping track of our numbers. The coordinating is something that takes a lot of time, so we are very happy to have a dedicated person for that, and that has helped improve our focus and quality a lot. Managing the Sound Shop and the sound effect libraries came to a point where we needed help, and today we have Paul helping out with all the editing, cleaning and metadata. Together with Robin, they pretty much cover all of the work connected with the libraries, besides the pre-render mixes and library artwork that Bernard is responsible for. And finally, we have Mats, my partner in crime for almost everything I’ve done since the 90s, who has the most can do attitude you can find. Sometimes he disappears into his genius fog and is hard to reach, but he always comes out of it with something to surprise you. We have a warning sign saying “Genius at work” on his wall. And the most amazing is, that when it comes to going out in the field to record, all of us unite and help out in what was Poles very first core business.

In total, this incredible team, has left me with a more administrative role. I’m still very connected and involved in most projects, but not that often hands on when it comes to design anymore, even if it happens. I assume it’s more similar to an Audio Director role at a game studio nowadays. But I’m more looking at business development, short and long term goals, promoting and developing the company.

 

 

Since you started out, has the industry changed a lot?

One significant change is that as consoles get more and more powerful, audio has been getting more and more traction and attention from the developers. Memory budgets and processing power expands, and all of a sudden we can have quite an amount of audio playing in the games. This suddenly makes audio a competitive component of a game. So the need for good and qualitative audio and source material has expanded. I would assume that we also have plenty of more indie developers and games targeted towards mobile platforms today, as tools and marketing platforms grow and get more streamlined. And we see the development within audio standards, going from stereo and surround to binaural and AMBEO, as well as new industries and business opportunities. Many industries use VR to test products or to train personnel. Another good example is the Vinnova research project we are doing together with Volvo Cars and RISE, the Sonic Interaction in Intelligent Cars (SIIC). We are looking at how we can establish trust using audio in an autonomous car, and how we can prevent motion sickness using audio. We also see the technology for recording equipment develop. When we started out recording sound effects, we recorded at 48 kHz. Today we have microphones ranging up to 100 kHz, and record in at least 96 kHz, but often even higher since we have clients requesting this. It enables you to play around a lot more with the material when doing sound design and opens up for many creative ideas. Now recently we have also started to record in 32-bit float, which means you don’t really have to worry about clipping your recordings, you can set the levels when you get back in the studio. Considered as magic today, but will probably be pretty standard shortly.

 

Okay, so some quite big changes during the last years. Where do you see Pole in five years’ time?

For the first time ever in Pole’s company history, we have started discussing long term goals, which is great fun and very exciting. We are hoping to build the House of Pole, a creative hub where we can continue doing what we are already doing, but also to expand into more film, trailers and cinematics, as well as a game studio to make our own games. We also want to expand on the plugin creation, we have some really interesting ideas that we want to investigate further.

 

What’s the best part about working at Pole?

The people are the absolutely best part, the skilled, warm and positive team. And then that we get to do so many different things, there is not one day similar to the other. You never know what exciting requests awaits you in the morning in your inbox. Are we planning another trip to the US to record cars? Or maybe to the jungle to record ambiences? Dropping concrete blocks on pianos from a crane? Or making magic spells and moody music for a game?

 

And finally, the coronavirus, how’s the current situation affecting you?

The situation the world is in at the moment is of course horrible, especially in an emotional aspect. We will have to wait and see what the economical outcome will be, but it sure is worrying. Being used to functioning as a remote unit to many developers around the world, the transition to work from home was not a big thing for us. All our systems and workflows are set up for remote work, parts of our team are working remotely on a daily basis, so in that aspect it’s business as usual. So as long as our ongoing projects are up to speed, so are we. We have had to postpone some recordings that were planned, but looking at the big picture that is not a very big sacrifice. We all need to help out to support each other in a difficult time, and to do what we can to stop the virus.

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