Category Archives: Music Creation

Composer and sound mixer Rob Ballingall joins Sonic Union

NYC-based audio studio Sonic Union has added composer/experiential sound designer/mixer Rob Ballingall to its team. He will be working out of both Sonic Union’s Bryant Park and Union Square locations. Ballingall brings with him experience in music and audio post, with an emphasis on the creation of audio for emerging technology projects, including experiential and VR.

Ballingall recently created audio for an experiential in-theatre commercial for Mercedes-Benz Canada, using Dolby Atmos, D-Box and 4DX technologies. In addition, for National Geographic’s One Strange Rock VR experience, directed by Darren Aronofsky, Ballingall created audio for custom VR headsets designed in the style of astronaut helmets, which contained a pinhole projector to display visuals on the inside of the helmet’s visor.

Formerly at Nylon Studios, Ballingall also composed music on brand campaigns for clients such as Ford, Kellogg’s and Walmart, and provided sound design/engineering on projects for AdCouncil and Resistance Radio for Amazon Studios and The Man in the High Castle, which collectively won multiple Cannes Lion, Clio and One Show awards, as well as garnering two Emmy nominations.

Born in London, Ballingall immigrated to the US eight years ago to seek a job as a mixer, assisting numerous Grammy Award-winning engineers at NYC’s Magic Shop recording studio. Having studied music composition and engineering from high school to college in England, he soon found his niche offering compositional and arranging counterpoints to sound design, mix and audio post for the commercial world. Following stints at other studios, including Nylon Studios in NYC, he transitioned to Sonic Union to service agencies, brands and production companies.

Behind the Title: Composer Vlad Berkhemer

NAME: Los Angeles-based Vlad Berkhemer

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Composer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
As a composer, most of my day-to-day activities revolve around reading and dissecting briefs, then translating that into music that’s custom written to picture. All that entails maintaining relationships with music houses and musicians, chatting with producers about direction, receiving and sharing feedback and juggling time zone differences with international relationships.

In addition, there is learning through listening – keeping up to date with soundtracks, trends, and evolving genres.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
The speed in which things have to be written, mixed, mastered and delivered, and revised on the fly. That, and the amount of times you end up going back to the drawing board as directions can drastically change last minute, no matter how close you’ve come to executing someone’s vision up to that point. It can be daunting but also rewarding going from unexpected turns to final approval on something everyone feels excited about.

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE?
Apple’s Logic Pro, a MacBook Pro, an Apollo interface — and anything that makes noise.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Getting to write in a variety of styles, collaborating with a wide range of vocalists and players. Bringing someone’s vision to life and winning the gig (smiles).

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Last minute cut changes.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
The end of the day, right before you send off a mix knowing you’ve got something solid.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I’d still aim to be involved with film in one way or another.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I grew up in a family of classical musicians, and I don’t think I ever imagined a path outside of music.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
It’s a mixed bag: the UK series Borderline is a show I’m proud to be a part of (Season 1 is currently available on Netflix).

A series of Toyota spots really pushed me to explore some genres I don’t get to typically work in.
There was an orchestral spot for Ihop that had a romantic lush orchestral arrangement, which I don’t get to do as often as I’d like, along with a variety of cues for several reality TV shows.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I’ve recently done a co-write with indie artist Jay Som, which was a blast to do.

It was also great to score a Mercedes Benz spot with John Hamm on VO.

Gatorade

I’m particularly proud of a Gatorade project where I was asked to do my own cinematic arrangement of Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire.” It was for a short film about Serena Williams and her few-days-old newborn, which felt special to be a part of. I have a few more co-writes lined up with talented singers without any particular pre-determined direction in mind, which is sometimes a much-needed refresher.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Hard drives, my Martin guitar and my AKG 414.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Hike! Play drums, catch a show at the Comedy Store, not using the nice blender I just got.

DG 7.9, 8.27, 9.26

Music house Human hires Carol Dunn as executive producer

LA-based music house Human Worldwide has hired Carol Dunn as executive producer. Dunn joins Human from post house PS260, where she was executive producer in its West Coast office for two years. She will report to Human’s partner and composer Gareth Williams.

In her new role, Dunn will be responsible for developing Human’s business from their LA office and growing its model to expand its brand, as well as helping market Human to current and potential clients. She will also work hand in hand with its sales team, and has an additional role in helping to create the company music as a creative producer.

At PS260, Dunn worked with many agencies and brands, including Omnicom, WPP, American Greetings, NBA, Hyatt, Kia and Instagram. Prior to that, she was EP/head of sales at Squeak E Clean Productions and Amber Music, where she oversaw and directed their national sales force, marketing and new business efforts. She also had roles at the record labels Capitol Records and Interscope Records, co-producing such soundtracks as Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo + Juliet, Boogie Nights and Office Space.

“I’m excited to bring my career experience from film and TV to Human with the intention of extending our focus beyond advertising,” says Dunn. “I joined Human because it was an opportunity to set my heart’s passion back on my musical career path with a company that has all the tools to change the idea of how a music house functions in our industry. After a rewarding stint in post production, I am overjoyed to be back.”

This news comes off the heels of the company’s expansion with its Sonic Branding department, helmed by senior producer Craig Caniglia, which has created work for brands such as Coca-Cola, IKEA, Visa, GE Appliances and Lowe’s. In addition, Human’s post department Post Human — led by chief engineer Sloan Alexander — recently mixed projects for Adidas, Under Armour, Google, Verizon and Stella Artois.


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.


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.

Killer Tracks launches production music label for promos, trailers and more

Killer Tracks, an online resource offering pre-cleared music, has started a new label, called Icon, featuring music for movie trailers, television promos, advertising, sports, games and other media.

Frederik Wiedmann

The initial release includes 16 albums created and produced by award-winning composers Frederik Wiedmann and Joel Goodman, the founders of independent music producer Icon Trailer Music. The collection runs the gamut from orchestral scores to electronica.

After initially focusing on orchestral trailer music, Wiedmann and Goodman have recently been expanding beyond that niche, creatively and conceptually. “We spend a lot of time researching trends and market demands,” says Wiedmann. “We anticipate where the market is headed and are working with edgier and more contemporary styles.”

Joel Goodman

Whenever possible, Icon records with live orchestras, choirs and musicians. It also produces music with editorial in mind, creating tracks with numerous edit points, creating alternate mixes, and providing stems and musical toolkits. “We deliver lots of components that are useful to picture editors,” Goodman notes.

Wiedmann won an Emmy Award for the animated series All Hail King Julien. His credits also include the series Miles from Tomorrowland (Disney) and Green Lantern: The Animated Series (Cartoon Network), as well as the films Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox, Hostel: Part III, Mirrors II and Hellraiser: Revelations.

Goodman has more than 140 film and television credits, including the acclaimed PBS documentary series American Experience, for which he wrote the main theme. He has also scored more than 30 films for HBO, including Saving Pelican #895, for which he won an Emmy Award.