Meet the brains behind Mind Exchange Music

Mind Exchange

As productions across the globe come to a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic, most filmmakers have found themselves with a lot of time on their hands. Some have turned to sourdough bread baking and Tiger King, while others have decided to revisit back-burnered personal projects.

Around the country, temporarily shelved footage has been brought to the foreground as paid work slows, and unemployment (ideally) starts trickling in.

Once a project has picture lock, it’s time to polish the sound, score it, and find soundtracks for your film, webisode, teaser, or pilot.

Everyone knows that bad sound can make anything rather unbearable to watch, so quality sound work is vital. Mind Exchange Music, owned by Kelly Askam (Head of Sound) and Donny Walker (Head of Music), is located on Chicago’s north side, and works remotely worldwide. They have created sound, scores, and music for roughly 40 films thus far, and have won many awards for their efforts.

“We go to record orchestras, choirs, bands, podcasts, live recordings, on film sets, for documentaries, etc. Production/Location/Studio & Everything. Studio microphones, production/location & film set sound recording services.”
– Mind Exchange Music. LLC.

Mind Exchange Music – Performance Promo – Featuring the Lake County Symphony Orchestra

It doesn’t hurt that their scoring repertoire contains 200+ real instruments, and highly proficient studio musicians. Their portfolio showcases an impressive array of original work in every style of music and genre, all created within the limits of each project’s budget. If that’s not enough, Mind Exchange Music is able to compose, produce, publish, copyright, and distribute anything produced and created through the brand, which means it’s a one stop shop for literally everything sound and music, right here in Chicago.

Mind Exchange
Mind Exchange

Meet The Minds.

Mind Exchange
Mind Exchange – Kelly Askam, Donny Walker, Zachariah Jarrett

Donny Bio:
Donny Walker is a co-owner of Mind Exchange Music, an award-winning composer, arranger, orchestrator, music producer, multi-instrumentalist, musician, and foley artist. He’s performed and produced over 37 records, custom created 500+ fully mixed and mastered tracks, scored and produced total soundtracks for 4 feature films, 25+ short films, 3 theatre shows, 1 museum exhibit called ‘Art is Instrumental’ with the DuPage Children’s Museum, and he and his team represented original music for the nation of America in iMapp 2019’s worldwide winners round with creative genius George Berlin. His custom curated score for ‘Frank Lloyd Wright’s Emil Bach House Documentary,’ produced for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, won him most distinct original score with the 2019 Videographer Awards (a score he custom created in 12 days), and was in competition with 1500 other films; it can be streamed from WTTW PBS.

Upcoming projects include a live film scoring multimedia show for the 150 Media Stream and the Pritzkers, and a custom curated architectural projection mapping score for ‘Vivid Sydney,’ an Interactive Light Festival in Sydney Australia, also with creative genius George Berlin. Currently, he’s working on a 14 episode live music performance production film series through Mind Exchange Music LLC featuring 26 musicians and additionally he’s especially excited to produce the full soundtrack for Danny Villanueva Jr’s upcoming feature film ‘I Dream of a Psychopomp’. Walker’s scores and sheet music (originals, arrangements, adaptations, and editorials, etc.) have been placed in front of numerous symphonies, many well-known Chicago Arts Organizations, and Educational studies. He has performed on stage with national talent, including Aretha Franklin, HARPO, The O’Jays, The Dells, and many more.

Kelly’s Bio:
Kelly Askam is a sound engineer and co-owner. His childhood passions for music and technology led him to study jazz saxophone performance at DePaul University, where he would graduate in 2008 with a Bachelor of Science in Sound Recording Technology degree under the tutelage of Professor Thomas Miller and Dan Steinman. His career in music started that same year while interning at StudioChicago, where he connected with composer and instrumentalis, Donny Walker, and fellow sound intern Zachariah Jarrett. Thus began a 12-year long partnership of creative productions, with projects ranging from studio albums to children’s concerts featuring the Lake County Symphony Orchestra. Since 2014, he has expanded his music engineering to include all forms of film sound: production sound mixer, supervising sound editor, dialogue editor, sound designer, effects editor, score mixer, and re-recording mixer. He oversees all aspects of audio at Mind Exchange Music, and especially enjoys being on film sets doing production sound, and working with the 5.1 surround sound Pro Tools Ultimate HDX system at MEM. With meticulous attention to detail, the zen of a saint, and a personable knack for building professional relationships, he’s been able to provide quality audio services for over 80 media productions and clients including: Nike, AT&T, Chicago BAR Association, Mark Harris (“Black & Privileged” (Netflix) and “White People Money”), WTTW-PBS, George Berlin Studios, amongst many short films, features, and music projects.

Zachariah’s Bio:
Zachariah Jarrett is a Chicago based audio engineer. Zachariah started his career in 2007 after graduating from The Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences in Tempe, Arizona. He interned at StudioChicago, where he moved on to become studio manager until 2013. At StudioChicago, Zachariah had the pleasure of working with an impressive list of musicians and producers including Thomas Miller, Elliot Scheiner, Anthrax, Steve Rodby, Phil Woods, Frank Parker, Joe Clark, and Ava Cherry to name a few. StudioChicago is where Zachariah met Kelly Askam and Donny Walker, and the seeds of their creative collaboration began. Since 2017, they have continued that collaboration on numerous film projects including filmmaker Mark Harris Netflix releases, Production One Media for Emil Bach House releases on WTTW, where Zachariah has worked as sound designers, sound effects editor, and music mixer. One of the most unique projects was creating sound design and music mixes for George Berlin Studio’s contribution to the 2019 iMapp Festival in Bucharest, Hungary; a multimedia projection mapping presentation on the parliament palace, the world’s heaviest building .

So, who is the brains behind the operation? How did it all begin?

MEM combined answer:
Providing such a comprehensive array of sound and music services within one company is a bit unique, so we don’t have a typical structure: Donny oversees everything related to composing, music production, and publishing. Kelly oversees everything related to sound recording, editing, and mixing. Zachariah is our secret weapon for sound design, music engineering, and consultation. However, for business management and creative direction, that’s generally shared between Donny and Kelly. The dynamic trio as it exists today started back around 2008 when all of us had just finished school and Zach and Kelly’s internship at StudioChicago provided the incubator for such a lasting creative relationship to form.

You have been a business for years, but now have this new location/ studio, can you tell us a little about it? When do you plan on opening to the public? Do you plan on having a Grand Opening event?

MEM combined answer:
We have a versatile film post sound room with a 7’ HD projector screen and 5.1 surround sound Pro Tools Ultimate HDX system for immersive soundtracks, a film scoring lab packed with instruments galore, a great collection of microphones, and an isolation booth that’s been fantastic for solo instruments, vocals, Foley, you name it. We recently added 70 custom built sound absorption panels and diffusers to improve our acoustics, and it’s been game changing in making the interior and exterior noise very quiet. While the space is reserved for personal and client projects, we’ve made sure to make it an inviting, creative space with lots of original artwork, décor, and amenities that immediately help clients feel inspired and confident with their decision to have us help tell their stories. Additionally, we’re constantly recording musicians, and have even held “Indie Industry Nights” with short films, Q&A, food, and socializing that are a great way to showcase people’s projects and foster community.

How many instruments do you play? What came first: music, film, audio?

50 maybe? Have a few hundred but play almost all at different levels because the triangle isn’t the same as a contrabass trombone.

My main instrument is the tenor saxophone, but my general musicianship has helped me dabble in all sorts. Music and technology were always passions growing up; I was in every band and choir possible, was always tinkering with stereos and speakers, and even bootlegging concerts with my MiniDisc and binaural microphones.

You have been a part of this industry for some time, how did you start? Where do you see yourself going?

MEM combined answer:
Our professional progression started in college, then to the music studio, then live stage, then film and theatre scores, then production sound and post sound, to making our own publishing and record label divisions, and now our own concert film series. We want to go as far as we can and are grateful to do so many cool things now. We like the process of perpetually outdoing ourselves each project. We’re absolutely in this for the long haul, because the process is timeless.

I’m sure you’ve got a personal project or two. What are you working on personally?

MEM combined answer:
We’re currently working on 14 episode live music performance production film serie,s and a Latin American research album. Upcoming projects include Danny Villanueva Jr’s horror feature “I Dream of a Psychopomp,” Frank Weinert’s short film, “Huck Finn: A Close Place,” two projects with George Berlin Studios: a live film scoring show for 150 Media Stream, and an architectural projection mapping piece for the Interactive Lights Festival in Sydney, Australia.

How much of your work is dealing with copyrights and licensing, how much is creation and production, and how much is basic overhead and business management?

We have a 500 song, 17-hour collection of 37 records, which is basically everything we’ve done. Everything we make gets filed, plus we make the soundtracks available to the public for licensing, purchase or streaming. Tons of time making and crafting performances, collaborating with clients, juggling many different kinds of projects at a time. So awesome.

It’s difficult to quantify all the work that goes into simultaneously owning a creative industry business, doing the work that comes in the door, and also continuing to pursue skill development and career goals, but overall, it’s extensive. All aspects are very co-dependent and are equally essential to provide our clients a comprehensive set of services that’s competitive in the industry while doing our best to ensure the company is building a foundation to thrive on. When we are brought in from the start, we can better guarantee exceptional sound and music from capture to design to mix to publishing, and everything in between.

Where do you see Mind Exchange Music in 5 years, and in 10 years?

Producing shows, publishing, making movies, music for television, producing for major orchestras, more movie sets, and deep relationships with creative visionaries.

To look forward with any perspective, it’s important to look back with gratitude at the good fortune to work with many talented people on a variety of projects. Without these experiences, it would be difficult to estimate where we might be in 5 or 10 years, but we’re pretty sure it will be even bigger and better. Thank you to all that have supported us through the years!

Mind Exchange Music ‘Spotify’ Content:

Katharin Mraz is a contributing writer for Reel Chicago and Reel 360.

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