Category Archives: Music

Tips for music sourcing and usage

By Yannick Ireland

1. Music Genre vs. Video Theme
Although there are no restrictions, nor an exact science when choosing a music genre for your video content, there are some reliable genres of music for certain video themes.

For example, you may have a classic cinematic scene of lovers meeting for the first time. These visuals could be well complemented by a more orchestral, classical production, as generally there is a lot of emotive expression in this sort of music.

Another example would be sports video paired with electronic music. The high-adrenaline nature of electronic genres are a match made in heaven for extreme sports content. However, I would like to echo my first sentiment about there being no restriction —you may well choose to use something so unconventional that it creates a shock reaction, which may indeed be the desired effect.

But if you want subconscious acceptance from your viewers that the music really suits your imagery and that they were meant to be together, do some research of successfully similar content and from there you will be able to analyze the genre and attempt to replicate the successful marriage yourself.

2. Instruments for Feelings
Now let’s go a little deeper with the first tip and single out the instruments themselves. Two tracks of the same genre may have completely different instrumentation within their construction, and this could be relevant to your production.

If a filmmaker is working on something cinematic, then pieces of music with an instrumental solo could be invaluable for the feeling you are trying to convey. There have been scholarly articles on this subject with a more psychological investigation for the reasoning behind how certain emotions are triggered by certain instruments… but let’s keep it simple for now. For instance, music box sounds, xylophones and bells have always invoked the feeling of youth or enforced a child-like context in a production, especially as single instruments.

But remember, just because you have decided on a genre for your theme does not mean any good quality track will do. Listen to its makeup and content. Does it fulfill your intention?

3. Keep it Simple
A relatively easy, yet extremely important tip: don’t get an overly congested or epic-sounding track. Going orchestral and epic is fine for a similarly grand moment in your film, but when pairing any audio to video there is always a great danger of drawing the viewer away from the production itself due to overly intrusive music or audio.

Music is supposed to aid and complement your production, not draw you away from it. So even if the track sounds amazing and full at first listen, be aware of its potential to ultimately be detrimental overall.

4. Does the Track Change With Your Content?
Video productions generally change throughout their linear journey, and maybe your music should too. The obvious example of this would be the audio and video both reaching a crescendo together at the production’s conclusion.

In music, there is not always the formula of starting at “A” and finishing at “B,” because modern electronic and instrumental productions have very different middle eights or bridges. The fact that the music may switch up somewhere within the middle may be ideal for your video’s timeline, so perhaps you want to break the mold and change the vibe or content somewhere in the middle of the project. Certain tracks could help you do that seamlessly.

I would like just to suggest you think past the ideal genre and instrumentation, and that you really think about how the track is executed and if it is the best option for your production. The right music can enhance a video project more than anticipated and filmmakers should really get the most out of their audio.

5. Get a Second Opinion
Even working under certain guidelines and being prompted to think a certain way when sourcing music, it is always worth getting a second opinion to see if your experiences with the music are shared. Odds are that with a little extra time, you will find something much better than you may have done choosing something that sounded “good enough.” But never devalue a quick opinion check with your peers.

So, What’s Next?
Now that you know what to consider when browsing music and what potential
attributes to look for (and what to avoid), the next question is, “Where do you get your audio?”

So let’s say you have an ideal, familiar track in your head that would perfectly suit your production. The problem is maybe that’s a famous artist’s track that would cost thousands of dollars to license. So that’s a non-starter. But don’t you fret. Fortunately, there are now affordable and quality alternatives thanks to royalty free music libraries — essentially stock music.

Video editors, filmmakers and content creators of all kinds can visit these libraries to not only buy the track they need, but also get an automated license provided to them immediately with the purchase. There is no contacting artists or record labels, no complications on royalty split or composition and recording terms – it’s simple and consolidated.

The good news is there are plenty of these libraries around, but do your due diligence – and make sure the audio is high-quality and the pricing structure is simple.

High-quality music is incredibly important for all creative video productions. Now it is abundantly available and, not at extreme costs.


Yannick Ireland (@ArtisoundYan) is a musician, music producer and founder of Artisound, which is based in London.

Ren Klyce: Mixing the score for Star Wars: The Last Jedi

By Jennifer Walden

There are space battles and epic music, foreign planets with unique and lively biomes, blasters, lightsabers, a universe at war and a force that connects it all. Over the course of eight “Episodes” and through numerous spin-off series and games, fans of Star Wars have become well acquainted with its characteristic sound.

Creating the world, sonically, is certainly a feat, but bringing those sounds together is a challenge of equal measure. Shaping the soundtrack involves sacrifice and egoless judgment calls that include making tough decisions in service of the story.

Ren Klyce

Skywalker Sound’s Ren Klyce was co-supervising sound editor, sound designer and a re-recording mixer on Star Wars: The Last Jedi. He not only helped to create the film’s sounds but he also had a hand in shaping the final soundtrack. As re-recording mixer of the music, Klyce got a new perspective on the film’s story.

He’s earned two Oscar nominations for his work on the Rian Johnson-directed The Last Jedi — one for sound editing and another for sound mixing. We reached out to Klyce to ask about his role as a re-recording mixer, what it was like to work with John Williams’ Oscar-nominated score, and what it took for the team to craft The Last Jedi’s soundtrack.

You had all the Skywalker-created effects, the score and all the dialog coming together for the final mix. How did you bring clarity to what could have been be a chaotic soundtrack?
Mostly, it’s by forcing ourselves to potentially get rid of a lot of our hard work for the sake of the story. Getting rid of one’s work can be difficult for anyone, but it’s the necessary step in many instances. When you initially premix sound for a film, there are so many elements and often times we have everything prepared just in case they’re asked for. In the case of Star Wars, we didn’t know what director Rian Johnson might want and not want. So we had everything at the ready in either case.

On Star Wars, we ended up doing a blaze pass where we played everything from the beginning to the end of a reel all at once. We could clearly see that it was a colossal mess in one scene, but not so bad in another. It was like getting a 20-minute Cliff Notes of where we were going to need to spend some time.

Then it comes down to having really skilled mixers like David Parker (dialog) and Michael Semanick (sound effects), whose skill-sets include understanding storytelling. They understand what their role is about — which is making decisions as to what should stay, what should go, what should be loud or quiet, or what should be turned off completely. With sound effects, Michael is very good at this. He can quickly see the forest for the trees. He’ll say, “Let’s get rid of this. These elements can go, or the background sounds aren’t needed here.” And that’s how we started shaping the mix.

After doing the blaze pass, we will then go through and listen to just the music by itself. John Williams tells his story through music and by underscoring particular scenes. A lot of the process is learning what all the bits and pieces are and then weighing them up against each other. We might decide that the music in a particular scene tells the story best.

That is how we would start and then we worked together as a team to continue shaping the mix into a rough piece. Rian would then come in and give his thoughts to add more sound here or less music there, thus shaping the soundtrack.

After creating all of those effects, did you wish you were the one to mix them? Or, are you happy mixing music?
For me personally, it’s a really great experience to listen to and be responsible for the music because I’ve learned so much about the power of the music and what’s important. If it were the other way around, I might be a little more overly focused on the sound effects. I feel like we have a good dynamic. Michael Semanick has such great instincts. In fact, Rian described Michael as being an incredible storyteller, and he really is.

Mixing the music for me is a wonderful way to get a better scope of the entire soundtrack. By not touching the sound effects on the stage, those faders aren’t so precious. Instead, the movie itself and the soundtrack takes precedence instead of the bits and pieces that make it up.

What was the trickiest scene to mix in terms of music?
I think that would have to be the ski speeder sequence on the salt planet of Crait. That was very difficult because there was a lot of dodging and burning in the mix. In other words, Rian wanted to have loud music and then the music would have to dive down to expose a dialogue line, and then jump right back up again for more excitement and then dive down to make way for another dialogue line. Then boom, some sound effects would come in and the Millennium Falcon would zoom by. Then the Star Wars theme would take over and then it had to come down for the dialogue. So we worked that sequence quite a bit.

Our picture editor Bob Ducsay really guided us through the shape of that sequence. What was so great about having the picture editor present was that he was so intimate with the rhythm of the dialogue and his picture cutting. He knew where all of the story points were supposed to be, what motivated a look to the left and so on. Bob would say something like, “When we see Rose here, we really need to make sure we hear her musical theme, but then when we cut away, we need to hear the action.”

Were you working with John Williams’ music stems? Did you feel bad about pulling things out of his score? How do you dissect the score?
Working with John is obviously an incredible experience, and on this film I was lucky enough to work with Shawn Murphy as well, who is really one of my heroes and I’ve known him for years. He is the one who records the orchestra for John Williams and balances everything. Not only does he record the orchestra, but Shawn is a true collaborator with John as well. It’s incredible the way they communicate.

John is really mixing his own soundtrack when he’s up there on the podium conducting, and he’s making initial choices as to which instruments are louder than others — how loud the woodwinds play, how loud the brass plays, how loud the percussion is and how loud the strings are. He’s really shaping it. Between Williams and Murphy, they work on intonation, tuning and performance. They go through and record and then do pickups for this measure and that measure to make sure that everything is as good as it can be.

I actually got to witness John Williams do this incredible thing — which was during the recording of the score for the Crait scene. There was this one section where the brass was playing and John (who knows every single person’s name in that orchestra) called out to three people by name and said something like, “Mark, on bar 63, from beat two to beat six, can you not play please. I just want a little more clarity with two instruments instead of three. Thank you.” So they backed up and did a pick-up on that bar and that gentleman dropped out for those few beats. It was amazing.

In the end, it really is John who is creating that mix. Then, editorially, there would be moments where we had to change things. Ramiro Belgardt, another trusted confidant of John Williams, was our music editor. Once the music is recorded and premixed, it was up to Ramiro to keep it as close to what John intended throughout all of the picture changes.

A scene would be tightened or opened up, and the music isn’t going to be re-performed. That would be impossible to do, so it has to be edited or stretched or looped or truncated. Ramiro had the difficult job of making the music seem exactly how it was on the day it was performed. But in truth, if you look at his Pro Tools session, you’ll see all of these splices and edits that he did to make everything function properly.

Does a particular scene stick out?
There was one scene where Rey ignites the lightsaber for the very first time on Jedi Island, and there we did change the balance within the music. She’s on the cliff by the ocean and Luke is watching her as she’s swinging the lightsaber. Right when she ignites the lightsaber, her theme comes in, which is this beautiful piano melody. The problem was when they mixed the piano they didn’t have a really loud lightsaber sound going with it. We were really struggling because we couldn’t get that piano melody to speak right there. I asked Ramiro if there was any way to get that piano separately because I would love it if we could hear that theme come in just as strong as that lightsaber. Those are the types of little tiny things that we would do, but those are few and far between. For the most part, the score is how John and Shawn intended the mix to be.

It was also wonderful having Ramiro there as John’s spokesperson. He knew all of the subtle little sacred moments that Williams had written in the score. He pointed them out and I was able to push those and feature those.

Was Rian observing the sessions?
Rian attended every single scoring session and knew the music intricately. He was really excited for the music and wanted it to breathe. Rian’s knowledge of the music helped guide us.

Where did they perform and record the score?
This was recorded at the Barbra Streisand Scoring Stage on the Sony Pictures Studios lot in Culver City, California.

Are there any Easter eggs in terms of the score?
During the casino sequence there’s a beautiful piece of music that plays throughout, which is something like an homage that John Williams wrote, going back to the Cantina song that he wrote for the original Star Wars.

So, the Easter egg comes as the Fathiers are wreaking havoc in the casino and we cut to the inside of a confectionery shop. There’s an abrupt edit where all the music stops and you hear this sort of lounge piano that’s playing, like a piece of source music. That lounge piano is actually John Williams playing “The Long Goodbye,” which is the score that he wrote for the film The Long Goodbye. Rian is a huge fan of that score and he somehow managed to get John Williams to put that into the Star Wars film. It’s a wonderful little Easter egg.

John Williams is, in so many ways, the closest thing we have to Beethoven or Brahms in our time. When you’re in his presence — he’s 85 years old now — it’s humbling. He still writes all of his manuscripts by hand.

On that day that John sat down and played “The Long Goodbye” piano piece, Rian was so excited that he pulled out his iPhone and filmed the whole thing. John said, “Only for you, Rian, do I do this.” It was a very special moment.

The other part of the Easter egg is that John’s brother Donald Williams is a timpanist in the orchestra. So what’s cool is you hear John playing the piano and the very next sound is the timpani, played by his brother. So you have these two brothers and they do a miniature solo next to each other. So those are some of the fun little details.

John Williams earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Music Score for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
It’s an incredible score. One of the fortunate things that occurred on this film was that Rian and producer Ram Bergman wanted to give John Williams as much time as possible so they started him really early. I think he had a year to compose, which was great. He could take his time and really work diligently through each sequence. When you listen to just the score, you can hear all of the little subtle nuances that John composed.

For example, Rose stuns Finn and she’s dragging him on this little cart and they’re having this conversation. If you listen to just the music through there, the way that John has scored every single little emotional beat in that sequence is amazing. With all the effects and dialogue, you’re not really noticing the musical details. You hear two people arguing and then agreeing. They hate each other and now they like each other. But when you deconstruct it, you hear the music supporting each one of those moments. Williams does things like that throughout the entire film. Every single moment has all these subtle musical details. All the scenes with Snoke in his lair have these ominous, dark musical choir phrases for example. It’s phenomenal.

The moments where the choice was made to remove the score completely, was that a hard sell for the director? Or, was he game to let go of the score in those effects-driven moments?
No, it wasn’t too difficult. There was one scene that we did revert on though. It was on Crait, and Rian wanted to get rid of the whole big music sequence when Leia sees that the First Order is approaching and they have to shut the giant door. There was originally a piece of music, and that was when the crystal foxes were introduced. So we got rid of the music there. Then we watched the film and Rian asked us to put that music back.

A lot of the music edits were crafted in the offline edit, and those were done by music editor Joseph Bonn. Joe would craft those moments ahead of time and test them. So a lot of that was decided before it got to my hands.

But on the stage, we were still experimenting. Ramiro would suggest trying to lose a cue and we’d mute it from the sequence. That was a fun part of collaborating with everyone. It’s a live experiment. I would say that on this film most of the music editorial choices were decided before we got to the final mix. Joe Bonn spent months and months crafting the music guide, which helped immensely.

What is one audio tool that you could not have lived without on the mix? Why?
Without a doubt, it’s our Avid Pro Tools editing software. All the departments —dialog, Foley, effects and music were using Pro Tools. That is absolutely hands-down the one tool that we are addicted to. At this point, not having Pro Tools is like not having a hammer.

But you used a console for the final mix, yes?
Yes. Star Wars: The Last Jedi was not an in-the-box mix. We mixed it on a Neve DFC Gemini console in the traditional manner. It was not a live Pro Tools mix. We mixed it through the DFC console, which had its own EQ, dynamics processing, panning, reverb sends/returns, AUX sends/returns and LFE sends/returns.

The pre-pre-mixing was done in Pro Tools. Then, looking at the sound effects for example, that was shaped roughly in the offline edit room, and then that would go to the mix stage. Michael Semanick would pre-mix the effects through the Neve DFC in a traditional premixing format that we would record to 9.1 pre-dubs and objects. A similar process was done with the dialogue. So that was done with the console.


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. Follow her on Twitter @audiojeney

Cinna 4.13

Dynasty composer Paul Leonard-Morgan

By Randi Altman

Scottish-born composer Paul Leonard-Morgan, who owns a BAFTA award and Emmy nomination, has a resume that is as eclectic as it is long. He has worked on television (Limitless), films (The Numbers Station) and games (Dawn of War III). He has also produced music for artists such as No Doubt (Push and Shove).

In addition to the Wormwood miniseries for Netflix, one of Leonard-Morgan’s most recent projects is the soundtrack for The CW’s reboot of the show Dynasty. We recently reached out to him to talk about the show, the way he works and what’s next.

L-R: Dynasty showrunner Sallie Patrick, Paul Leonard-Morgan and director Brad Sieberling with various musicians.

The name Dynasty comes with certain expectations and history. Did you use the original as an inspiration or borrow bits from the original as an homage?
I remember watching Dynasty as a child, but other than the main theme I couldn’t begin to tell you what the music was like, other than it was pretty orchestral — Bill Conti is such a phenomenal composer. So right from the outset our showrunner Sallie Patrick and director Brad Sieberling and I wanted to do a title sequence with a modernized version of the iconic theme. People don’t tend to do title sequences these days, so it was very cool of The CW to let us do it.

We got a bunch of players into Capitol Studios and overlaid the orchestra onto my beats and synths. I brought in an old friend and Grammy-winning producer Troy Nokaan to pump up the beats a bit. And, of course, there was Tom (Hooten), principal trumpet player with the LA Philharmonic. For me, this is what the whole series’ ethos is about — tying the old to the new. Recording these players in the iconic Capitol Studios, where people like Sinatra recorded… we got such a vintage vibe going on. But then we added modern beats and synths – that’s what the whole score has become. Adding a cool ‘80s twist to modern sounds and orchestra. But other than the titles, the rest of the score does its own thing.

Can you talk about what the show’s producers wanted for the score? Did you have a lot of input?
We had detailed discussions at the start about what we wanted to achieve. Everything to do with the ‘80s is so trendy now — from fashion to music, but there’s a fine line between adding ’80s elements to give the music a nice edge, and creating an ’80s pastiche, which sounds dated.

I produce a lot of bands, so I started taking some of those beats and then adding in lots of analog synths. And then our scoring sessions added an orchestra. I was really keen to use a string section, as I felt that Dynasty is so iconic, giving it a small section would add that touch of class to it. The beats — the clicks, claps and kicks — are what gives the Fallon character her swagger — the synths give it the pace, and the orchestra gives it the cinematic quality. I was keen to find a sound that would become instantly recognizable as that Dynasty sound.

How would you describe your score? 
Unique!

Can you walk us through your process? How do you begin? What inspires you? 
I start by watching the episode with the director, editor and writer and then have a spotting session. We work out where the music should come in and out, but even that is open to interpretation, as sometimes their vision might be different from mine. They might imagine short musical cues, where I’m envisaging longer, shaped pieces.

For example, there’s a piece in the episode I’ve just finished (110) that lasts the entire part 4. Obviously, it’s not full-on drums the whole time, but doing cues like that give it some real shape and add to the visuals filmic qualities. After the spotting sessions, I go away and start writing. After a while, you get a feel for what’s working and what’s not — when to leave the dialogue alone and when to try and help it. We’re all pretty keen on not making the music too emotionally leading in this series. We want to let the acting do that, instead of sign-posting every happy/sad moment. When everyone’s happy, we’ll start orchestrating the music, get the parts ready, and then go off to Capitol, or another studio, to record the real players.

The schedule is pretty crazy — I have a week to score each episode. So while we’re recording the real players, the dub is in its final day. As we finish mixing each cue, we then start sending them over the Internet to the dub stage, where they quickly lay them in and balance the levels with dialogue and FX. They’re lucky that I don’t get the chance to go and sit in the dub much, as we’re literally mixing to the last second!

What tools do you use to create a score?
I use MOTU’s Digital Performer to write, produce and pre-mix, then everything gets transferred to Avid ProTools for the main recording session and final mix. Obviously, I have a million samples and lots of original analog synths.

You work in many different parts of the music world — TV, films and games. Do you have a preference? How are those hats different, or are they not very different at all?
It sounds like a cop-out, but I really don’t have a preference. I like working in different fields, as I always feel that brings a freshness and different take to the next project, consciously and sub-consciously. For example, I was scoring a series of plays for The National Theatre in London a few years ago — at the same time I was scoring the film Walking With Dinosaurs in LA and the game Battlefield Hardline — and that theatre score was so different from many things I’d done before. But it led to me working with the incredible filmmaker Errol Morris for his film The B Side, and subsequently his new Netflix series Wormwood.

Dynasty came more from my work with bands. I like working in different genres, as it keeps pushing me out of my comfort zone, which I feel is really important as an artist.

You are building a new studio. Can you talk about that?
It’s been a process! Two weeks to go! Before I moved to LA with my family, I had just completed building my studio in Glasgow, Scotland. Then we moved over here, as I was living on planes between the UK and the US. This was about three years ago. I’ve been renting a studio, but finally the time came to buy a house and it’s got a huge guesthouse in the backyard (2,000 square feet), so I decided to get it properly treated.

We pulled down most of the inside and spent the last six months soundproofing and giving it the proper acoustic treatments, etc. But it’s insane, as I’ve hardly been out of my studio in Santa Monica while the build process has been going on, so the contractors have been FaceTiming me to show me how the progress is going, Trying to make decisions after a week of 20-hour days is hard.

I was keen to move to a place that had birds and nature. Coming from Scotland I like my space, which is not the easiest thing to find in LA. I insisted on having tons of windows in the studios for daylight to pour in — something that is great for me, but awful acoustically, so the acoustic guys spent weeks designing it so the glass wouldn’t affect the sound! But it’s looking fantastic, and I’ll have the ability to record up to 20 players in there. The irony is, having moved to what I thought was a pretty quiet neighborhood, I have a mega-famous hip-hop artist right next to me. His soundproofing had better be as good as mine!

What’s next for you project-wise?
Other than the rest of the season on Dynasty (we’re not even halfway there yet!), I’m working on a game score for the next year and a half, and have a new film starting in the New Year. I’ll also be working with my team on The Grand Tour, Amazon’s big series. Errol Morris’ Wormwood was recently released on Netflix — that’s been a life highlight for me!


Behind the Title: Butter Music and Sound’s Chip Herter

NAME: Chip Herter

COMPANY: NYC’s Butter Music+Sound/Haystack Music

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Butter creates custom music compositions for advertising/film/TV. Haystack Music is the internal music catalog from Butter, featuring works from our composers, emerging artists and indie labels.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Director of Creative Sync Services

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
The role was designed to be a catch-all for all things creative music licensing. This includes music supervision (curating music for projects from the music industry at large, by way of record labels and publishers) and creative direction from our own Haystack Music library.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Rights management is an understated aspect of the role. The ability to immediately know who key players are in the ownership of a song, so that we can estimate costs for using a song on behalf of our clients and license a track with ease.

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE?
The best tool in my toolbox is the team that supports me every day.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I have a keen interest in putting the spotlight on new and emerging music. Be it a new piece written by one of our composers or an emerging act that I want to introduce to a larger audience.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Losing work to anyone else. It is a natural part of the job, but I can’t help getting personally invested in every project I work on. So the loss feels real, but in turn I always learn something from it.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Morning, for sure. Coffee and music? Yes, please!

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Most likely working for a PR agency. I love to write, and I am good at it (so I’m told).

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I was a late bloomer. I was 26 when I took my first internship as a music producer at Crispin Porter+Bogusky. From my first day on the job, I knew this was my higher calling. Anyone who geeks-out to the language in a music license like me is destined to do this for a living.

Lexus Innovations

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We recently worked on a campaign for Lexus with Team One USA called Innovations that was particularly great and the response to the music was very positive. Recently, we also worked on projects for Levi’s, Nescafé, Starbucks and Keurig… coffee likes us, I guess!

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I was fortunate to work with Wieden+Kennedy on their Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad in 2015. I placed a song from the band Hundred Waters, who have gone on to do remarkable things since. The spot carried a very positive message about anti-bullying, and it was great to work on something with such social awareness.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
WiFi, Bluetooth and Spotify.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I don’t take for granted that my favorite pastime — going to concerts — is a fringe benefit of the job. When I am not listening to music, I am almost always listening to a podcast or a standup comedian. I also enjoy acting like a child with my two-year-old son as much as I can. I learn a lot from him about not taking myself too seriously.


Raising money and awareness for childhood cancer via doc short

Pablove One Another is a documentary short film produced by Riverstreet and directed by the company’s co-founders Tracy Pion and Michael Blum. The film explores Pablove’s Shutterbug program for children undergoing cancer treatment and its connection to the cancer research work that Pablove funds.

Blum and Pion spoke with us about the project, including the release of its title track “Spark” and the importance of giving back.

How did you become involved in the project?
Pion: We have known Pablove’s founders Jo Ann Thrailkill and Jeff Castelaz, for almost 11 years. Our sons were dear friends and classmates in preschool. When Jeff and Jo Ann lost their son Pablo to cancer eight years ago they set out to start a foundation named Pablove in his honor. We’ve been committed to helping Pablove whenever we can along the way by doing PSAs and other short films and TV spots in order to help raise awareness for the organization’s mission, including the Shutterbugs program and research funding.

Michael Blum, Mady and Tracy Pion.

What was the initial goal of the documentary?
Blum: The goal was always about awareness and fundraising. It first debuted at the annual Pablove Foundation gala fundraiser and helped raise over $500,000 in an hour. It continues to live online and hopefully it inspires people to connect with Pablove and support its amazing programs.

Beyond the amazing cause, why was this project a good fit for Riverstreet?
Pion: At the core of what we do — campaigns, commercials, interstitials, network specials — is emotionally-driven storytelling. We do development, scripting, design, animation, live-action production, editorial and completion for a variety of brands and networks and when possible we try to apply this advertising and production expertise to philanthropic causes. Our collaboration with Pablove came out of a deeply personal connection, but above and beyond that, we think that our industry has an obligation to use our resources to help raise awareness. Why not use our power of persuasion for the betterment of others?

How did you decide on the approach and the interweaving of stories?
Blum: The film tells the Pablove story from three experiences: a young girl who is being treated for cancer who is part of Pablove’s Shutterbug photography program; an instructor with Shutterbugs who is a cancer survivor; and a researcher whose innovation is supported in part by Pablove’s grants. We thought it was important to tell the human impact of the work of the Pablove Foundation through different vantage points to reflect the scope of what they do. We worked with a fundraising expert (Benevon) who advised Pablove and Riverstreet on how to design the film from a high-impact standpoint.

What were some unexpected or unique moments in the production of the film?
Pion: Well, for us it was a couple of things. Firstly, the power of the kids’ photos really caught us, especially those by Mady, who we were featuring. When she pulled out her “Light the End of the Tunnel” image we were doubly struck by the simple power of the image and its obvious meaning for her, and, as filmmakers, we knew we had our ending. We were also grateful of how sensitive our crew was with the Mady and Miles. Everyone was working for hardly any money and yet they didn’t want to be anywhere else. It was a moment of gratitude for the amazing crews that we have gathered together over the years.

What were some of the editing challenges to the above?
Pion: We had several hours of footage, and some very emotional interviews with our subjects, so it was a real but familiar challenge: how to pick the most salient footage and how to weave the threads together and how to capture the emotion.

What was the documentary edited on?
Pion: We use Avid Media Composer on an ISIS server.

How did the song come to be?
Blum: While working on the film, we were looking for a music track that would effectively unite these interweaving stories. We heard a girl singing on our daughter’s phone — a classmate — and thought, wouldn’t it be great to have a young teenager’s voice on a spot that is a for and about children. The Bird & The Bee’s “Spark,” paired with the luminous voice of Gracie Abrams, perfectly carries through the message of the Foundation’s impact on the lives of children through creativity and research funding. Written by Inara George and Greg Kurstin, the music production was handled by composer/producer Rob Cairns, who has worked with Riverstreet on numerous projects.

Pion: At the fundraiser, people were buzzing about the song, trying to Shazam it. We loved the song, and thought it was amazing for the film, but this reaction made us stop and consider, “Is there something more we can do with it to help Pablove?” Fortunately, everyone who worked on it felt the same way, and agreed to release the track with proceeds going to Pablove Foundation.


Deb Oh joins Nylon Studios from Y&R

Music and sound boutique Nylon Studios, which has offices in NYC and Sydney, has added Deb Oh as senior producer. A classically trained musician, Oh has almost a decade of experience in the commercial music space, working as a music supervisor and producer on both the agency and studio sides.

She comes to Nylon from Y&R, where she spent two years working as a music producer for Dell, Xerox, Special Olympics, Activia and Optum, among others. Outside of the studio, Oh has continued to pursue music, regularly writing and performing with her band Deb Oh & The Cavaliers and serving as music supervisor for the iTunes podcast series, “Limetown.”

A lifelong musician, Oh grew up learning classical piano and singing at a very early age. She began writing and performing her own music in high school and kept up her musical endeavors while studying Political Science at NYU. Following graduation, she made the leap to follow her passion for music full time, landing as a client service coordinator at Headroom. She was then promoted to music supervisor. After five years with the audio shop, she made the leap to the agency side to broaden her skillset and glean perspective into the landscape of vendors, labels and publishers in the commercial music industry.

 


‘Demo Love’ and how to avoid its trap

By Jonathan Hecht

“Demo Love” can be a painful trap to fall into. It can happen to any kind of production, but it can easily be avoided.

What is demo love? Let’s say you’ve made a promotional video, and you put a piece of music on it. You’re refining your rough cut, and you keep using the same track. Repeat exposure to this singular musical option has drilled into your brain the belief that your video can’t exist without this song, but beware! You may feel like you’ve crossed the finish line, but if you move on to the final cut before confirming the song’s availability, you risk compromising the integrity of your creative vision.

Aside from your artistic attachment to the music, maybe you’ve editorially joined your imagery so completely to your “hero” track that if you don’t get it, you’ll need to detach mentally and materially. If you’re paying for freelancers or any hired guns, you stand to add time and money.

Demo love often originates innocently when a director scripts a song into the treatment or plays it on set. Or when an editor, working unsupervised, edits footage based on the direction they’ve received and uses a famous song (without thinking about what it would cost) in an effort to make a big or favorable impression.

What can you do to avoid the trap?
Start thinking about music as early as when you’re concepting. The musical inspiration doesn’t need to be perfect; it can be temp, but you want to have a blueprint for the music direction. Pro-tip: prepare a shortlist of options.

Bring a music supervisor in before the rough cut, and let him/her start putting vetted options on the table for you and your editor. Then together you can dial into the directions that cast the right tone for the work, and then mine those directions for the songs that connect the best with the characters and story. You can set yourself up for musical success through this discovery process.

Offer the music supervisor as much information as possible. They’ll need the budget, and it’s a good idea to give them treatments, visual/musical references and input from any and all sides, so they can be well informed about the parameters of the project.

Right now I’m working with a client who wants an iconic song for a branded film and smartly called me before they went to shoot. They said: “We want this specific song. It’s important to the concept. How much will the rights cost?” Because they did that, we were able to navigate toward their desired outcome together from day one. It was as simple as calling me and asking the question.

So, build music supervision into your process and your budget. Don’t risk getting creatively or literally stuck on any track you don’t know you can license. Have an idea of what you want, and seek help from someone who knows the ins and outs. Then you can refine your vision for the music together and unleash an expert on navigating the clearance process.

Jonathan Hecht is the founder of Venn Arts, a music supervision company. His experience comes from both the music and marketing industries with a portfolio that includes work for integrated broadcast/digital campaigns, branded content, VR/AR, feature-length and narrative films and more.


Nylon Studios ups composer Zac Colwell to CD

Music and sound boutique Nylon Studios has promoted composer Zac Colwell to creative director of music at their NYC studio. Colwell joined Nylon in 2015 and will become the studio’s first creative director to meet the increased scope of creative projects out of the music and sound shop in the US market.

Colwell is a multi-instrumentalist who has toured the world with numerous groups, including Big Data, Sondre Lerche, Kishi Bashi and others. He has composed original tracks for such top brands as Aetna, M.A.C, Zac Posen, Honey Nut Cheerios and Unicef. As creative director, Colwell will oversee all creative output from the NYC studio, encompassing original compositions, sound design, spatial audio, mix and music licensing. Nylon also has a studio in Sydney.

“Not only is [Zac] an incredibly talented musician, but he also has a deep understanding of how music can enhance pictures to communicate to their most effective and engaging degree,” notes global executive producer Hamish Macdonald.

Colwell, an Austin native, grew up in a musical family, playing drums, piano, guitar, saxophone and flute. A classically-trained jazz composer, he continues to perform and compose outside of Nylon. In addition to his commercial compositions, he is the drummer and producer of Chappo, sings his own songs with Fancy Colors, produces artists of all different genres, and most recently toured with Bleachers.


Tom Vale joins FirstCom Music focusing on TV, film licensing

FirstCom Music, a provider of music for film, broadcast and new media, has named Tom Vale as its film & TV licensing manager. Vale joins the FirstCom Music team Frog Music Licensing, a company he started in 2010 with the goal of connecting the singer-songwriter talent found in Austin, where he was based, with placement opportunities in TV, film, advertising and gaming worldwide.

Vale has facilitated music placements in an extensive line-up of television programs, including Nashville (ABC), Empire (Fox), Breaking Bad (AMC), The Walking Dead (AMC), The Good Wife (CBS), Ray Donovan (Showtime), Togetherness (HBO), The Following (Fox), Twisted (ABC), Californication (Showtime), Parenthood (NBC), Sons of Anarchy (FX), Lucifer (Fox), From Dusk Til Dawn (El Rey), Satisfaction (USA), Casual (Hulu), Private Practice (ABC), Hart of Dixie (CW), Royal Pains (USA), Degrassi Next Generation (Teen Nick), The Listener, Heartland, and in the films Everything Must Go, Hold Your Peace, The Expatriate, Snitch, The Loft and more. He’s also placed music on national ad campaigns for Goodyear Tires, Nabisco, Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, PGA Golf and others.

“I launched Frog ML after working as an assistant to music supervisor Thomas Golubic at SuperMusicVision (Six Feet Under) and after many years working in the music library and studios at LA’s KCRW and as a music journalist for Alarm, Under the Radar, Sentimentalist and others,” says Vale. “Now, my music career has brought me to one of the top production music houses in the industry.”

Music house Wolf at the Door opens in Venice

Wolf at the Door has opened in Venice, California, providing original music, music supervision and sound design for the ad industry and, occasionally, films. Founders Alex Kemp and Jimmy Haun have been making music for some time: Kemp was composer at Chicago-based Catfish Music and Spank, and was the former creative director of Hum in Santa Monica. Haun spent over 10 years as the senior composer at Elias, in addition to being a session musician.

Between the two of them they’ve been signed to four major labels, written music for 11 Super Bowl spots, and have composed music for top agencies, including W+K, Goodby, Chiat Day, Team One and Arnold, working with directors like David Fincher, Lance Acord, Stacy Wall and Gore Verbinski.

In addition to making music, Kemp linked up with his longtime friend Scott Brown, a former creative director at agencies including Chiat Day, 72and Sunny and Deutsch, to start a surf shop and brand featuring hand-crafted surf boards — Lone Wolfs Objets d’Surf.

With the Wolf at the Door recording studio and production office existing directly behind the Lone Wolfs retail store, Kemp and his partners bounce between different creative projects daily: writing music for spots, designing handmade Lone Wolfs surfboards, recording bands in the studio, laying out their own magazine, or producing their own original branded content.

Episodes of their original surf talk show/Web series Everything’s Not Working have featured guest pro surfers, including Dion Agius, Nabil Samadani and Eden Saul.

Wolf at the Door recently worked on an Experian commercial directed by the Malloy Brothers for the Martin Agency, as well as a Century Link spot directed by Malcom Venville for Arnold Worldwide. Kemp worked closely with Venville on the casting and arrangement for the spot, and traveled to Denver to record the duet of singer Kelvin Jones’ “Call You Home” with Karissa Lee, a young singer Kemp found specifically for the project.

“Our approach to music is always driven by who the brand is and what ideas the music needs to support,” says Kemp. “The music provides the emotional context.” Paying attention to messaging is something that goes hand in hand with carving out their own brand and making their own content. “The whole model seemed ready for a reset. And personally speaking, I like to live and work at a place where being inspired dictates the actions we take, rather than the other way around.”

Main Image L-R:  Jimmy Haun and Alex Kemp.