Sam Finocchio, Virtual Daydream’s owner, is a producer with many years of experience creating children’s entertainment with credits that include music and sound effects for toys, CD’s, movies, and television. After recording, producing, and composing children’s music for other companies’ projects, Sam decided to team up with the musicians and voice talent with whom he has built long-standing relationships to release fun music that both kids and adults can enjoy. For a more detailed history of Sam’s background, read on.
In The Beginning
Sam’s recording career began in a small town in northern Illinois in 1980, when he received a portable cassette recorder for his sixth birthday. He carried it around with him and recorded everything from skits to sound effects to songs on the radio to basic everyday life. Taping songs from the radio required silence, though, as a radio was not built into the tape recorder, and the recorder needed to be placed near a speaker to get the song onto the cassette. The sound effects Sam recorded were influenced heavily by Ben Burtt’s work on Star Wars and the Disney album, Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House. The skits usually were just a series of jokes told or stories read, though sometimes it was just Sam making nonsensical noises and scat singing. Other items in Sam’s audio arsenal included a Muppet Show drum kit, a Bee Gees rhythm machine, and later a clarinet and a Casio SK-5 sampling keyboard.
He enjoyed listening to a wide range of musical styles, and his record collection included KC and the Sunshine Band, The Village People, the Star Wars Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Mickey Mouse Disco, Irwin the Disco Duck – you know what? This actually doesn’t sound all that diverse. He was really into disco as a young child. That actually explains a lot. On top of this, he preferred listening to LP’s when they played at 45 RPM instead of their usual 33 1/3 RPM. It wasn’t until he was older that he discovered music that was actually written to be played that fast – by bands like Metallica, KMFDM, and Stormtroopers of Death.
Sam’s high school career was quite typical: He left the small town with a nuclear power plant to study at the Illinois Mathematics & Science Academy (IMSA), a residential high school located in Aurora, Illinois, where he would occupy his non-school (or would that be “classless”) time doing such things as exploring multidimensional geometry, listening to music such as the aforementioned Stormtroopers of Death, 2 Live Crew, Lords of Acid, Erasure, and Depeche Mode, and weighing in on friends’ debates on Shostakovich and Bartók vs. Beethoven and PDQ Bach while staying up all night playing Axis and Allies and creating humorous skits that suddenly found a brand new audience: anyone who happened to call his dorm room and reached the answering machine. His outgoing message skits lampooned everything from the Chipmunks to The Godfather to the phone company. And with the help of equipment from IMSA’s Instructional Technology Laboratory (ITL), Sam completed many of his class projects and reports not with pen and paper or computer and printer but with a video camera and cheesy on-screen talent. The ITL also had a variable-speed 4-track cassette recorder and a mixer that Sam occasionally borrowed to create his very first non-stop mix tapes.
College was a time of Sam’s life that involved less and less “going to class” and more audio production once he purchased two turntables and a mixer while attending Georgetown University in Washington, DC. After transferring to the University of Illinois, he continued to make mix tapes as well as spin the turntables at parties (and every so often even attended class). After receiving a guitar as a gift, it seemed that classwork just got in the way of audio production and songwriting, so he took a break from formal studies to take an introductory class on working in a recording studio through a local community college. After that class, he determined that this was the type of work he wanted to do, so he left for the bright lights of Chillicothe, Ohio and took a course at The Recording Workshop, which basically gave him the ability to play in a recording studio from early in the morning to late at night with many talented people who were also interested music production and performance.
After attending The Recording Workshop, finding employment proved a challenge, and after sending out numerous résumés to studios in Chicago and briefly working as an intern at a recording studio in Rockford, Sam moved to St. Louis, MO and found work at a small recording studio who had just lost its main recording engineer and was about to lose its other two engineers. The road from intern to studio manager was extremely speedy and chaotic. Sam was forced to learn to use much of the equipment on the fly during sessions, as well as how to work with a wide range of clients — from hip hop to punk to folk to voiceovers for corporate telephony systems (think “For English, press 1. Para Español, oprima el 2.”). In addition to recording music and voiceovers, Sam would occasionally work on the St. Louis-based music television program, MidCoast Mania, tweaking audio mixes, creating audio for commercials, or even organizing road trips and arranging interviews with bands from around the midwest. Through his work with MidCoast Mania, Sam was able to meet many people in the St. Louis music scene, including a couple members of one band whose day jobs were working for a local toy company.
After doing a little investigating, Sam landed a job in the audio department at that very toy company, where his duties included creating sound effects and music for toys, audio post production for television commercials, and recording and directing voice talent, as well as recording his own voice for a large number of toys and commercials. While working in the toy industry, Sam was able to work with lots of great voice talent, including Rob Paulsen, Maurice LaMarche, Tara Strong, Nancy Cartwright, EG Daily, Joe Alaskey, Dick Tufeld, Clancy Brown, Tom Kenny, Steve Burns, Ahmed Best, Dave Coulier, and more! He was also able to cultivate an in-house pool of voice talent, most of whom started with no experience in voice acting, though after being put through the rigors of regular recording sessions, some continued to land voice jobs after the toy company closed its doors.
After the closure of the toy company, Sam decided to provide audio services to musicians, local small businesses, and toy companies who needed sound design (and who were the new employers of some of Sam’s co-workers who had lost their jobs at the same time). He produced, recorded, mixed, mastered, and designed the cover art for the debut album of The Dead Celebrities, a local band who were soon named “Best Punk Band” by the local alternative newspaper, The Riverfront Times, two years in a row. The album that Sam had worked on, Cleanup on Aisle 3, was nominated for the “Best Recording” category but ended up losing to Nelly’s Country Grammar album (which had a budget of roughly infinity percent more than that of Cleanup on Aisle 3, so no one was particularly surprised when the winner was announced).
Living The Daydream
After working on other musicians’ and companies’ projects, Sam decided to create music and other related products under the Virtual Daydream name, and after watching a Go-Go’s music video on television (I know what you’re thinking – seeing music videos on television in this century is quite rare), decided on Alex the Seal as the moniker for his fictitious musician alter-ego. As Alex the Seal, he creates upbeat kids’ music that also appeals to adults. While Sam acts as producer and writer, he enlists the talents of musicians, writers, and voice talent he has met throughout his lifetime of audio adventures, as well as his wife and his daughter, who both contribute to the production and enjoy listening to the music released by Virtual Daydream. Sam’s adventures have allowed him to call The Netherlands home for a while, and now he and his family live in France, where he still works on his music and his client’s projects and has started to write about himself in the third person, but he and his family still get back to St. Louis to visit relatives and check up on business matters.