At Dolby, we employ engineers to create technology that allows artists to more perfectly capture their vision and relay it to you. It should be no surprise, then, that some of those Dolby staffers are creators themselves.
Oren Williams is one such “artist-in-residence.” Williams, a drummer and Sr. Manager of Business Development at Dolby’s San Francisco headquarters, took a winding path to his post at Dolby, making stops in the music industry and working as an engineer elsewhere before making a connection that would allow him to make his lifelong love of sound part of his work. Now, he works at Dolby developing sound technologies and ensuring those sound technologies are part of tomorrow’s audio devices.
Williams developed an affinity for sound at a young age, a trait he said probably has its roots in his father’s musical life.
“My dad was a rock ‘n’ roll musician so, obviously, I grew up around music and sound a lot. My dad had early analog synthesizers and that kind of thing, ‘cause he was a keyboard player, so I’m sure that probably plays into it. But I just love sound,” Williams said. “It’s just one of my favorite things. I have it as a way, way, way, way bigger priority than most people I’m around. Which is what’s great about being at Dolby, because that’s not necessarily the case at Dolby; I know a lot of people here who think that way.”
Williams turned that love of sound into his own musical career in Portland, Ore., where he played drums in Worthington, a band that soared to local success in the Pacific Northwest in the late 1990s.
The band didn’t end up becoming the next big thing, and after the group disbanded, some of the bandmates took time off from music. Williams kept working at an engineering job, and kept drumming.
But something didn’t fit, and while working at Tektronix , a Portland, Oregon-area testing and measurement equipment company, Williams started to figure out why.
“Weirdly, in one of these cheesy, corporate, ‘Figure out your career,’ kinds of training sessions at the company … it obviously came out over and over again that I wanted to be working in something that was more related to music or sound,” Williams said, “and one of the women that was in one of the groups I was in said, ‘You have to meet this other guy here at the company because you guys have a lot in common.’”
The “other guy” in question turned out to be Vivek Maddala, a fellow engineer and musician who had just finished touring with 1970s rock outfit Boston. Williams was apprehensive at first, but he followed through anyway.
“I found out that he’d taken a job at Dolby and I went and found him and took him out to lunch,” Williams said. “Nine months later, I got a job here.”
“My band had broken up so I was starting to try to figure out, you know, what am I going to do?” Williams said. “So I came to Dolby. And I was encouraged to put my band experience on my resume. That was incredible to me. That that would be valued like that was just, like… this is home! This is where I belong.”
After arriving in San Francisco, Williams sought out other like-minded musicians and started playing with local bands, joining Baby Carrot when they lost their drummer, and joining Pirate Radio, his current band, when the folks in Baby Carrot started spending more time raising babies of their own.
Williams seems perpetually relaxed, happy to be where he is, happy to be playing the drums, and ready for whatever musical opportunities come his way. So far, he’s recorded three albums with Pirate Radio, a mellow rock band that focuses on Williams’ favorite parts of being a musician.
Williams prefers to position himself behind his drum kit, rather than spen his time tweaking the subtlest elements of a recording’s mix behind a mixing board.
“I want to spend my time actually making the music, playing the music,” Williams said. “I try and stay focused because at this point, as a father of a two-year-old, with a family, I don’t have long afternoons where nothing’s going on.”
Even so, Williams finds the time to rehearse with Pirate Radio, and to squeeze in the occasional fill-in or session gig for musicians in the area. One such opportunity led to him playing San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore Auditorium in front of a sold out crowd.
Sitting in on drums, Williams played in the Talking Heads tribute band that Michael Franti had picked to open his show. But one performer in the group had more experience than the others when it came to playing Talking Heads songs.
“Jerry Harrison from Talking Heads joined us the second year – I’ve played Talking Heads songs with a member of Talking Heads. That’s ridiculous!” Williams said. “Your intentions in life have a weird way of working out sometimes, even when you don’t think you’re actively doing them. I had kept playing drums, so I could play.”
In a way, it’s that same openness to experience and continuity of intention that helped Williams find his way to Dolby for this chapter of his life.
“I found a paper [I wrote] when I was 16 in high school, and realized that it actually had the term ‘noise reduction’ on it,” Williams said. “You know, people talk about intentions that you set in life and how they lead to something. It’s really eerie to look back at something like that and have no memory of it at all and go, ‘Whoa!’ I wrote that when I was 16 years old and I ended up spending [over 14 years] at Dolby.”
You can hear Williams’ drumming on Pirate Radio’s latest album, Plainview. Check out these sample tracks on Dolby’s SoundCloud