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Written by Tom

I’m now in the Organic Music Library

Hey ya’ll!

A new production library features some of my harder edged, hard rock production tracks for sports and action footage.

Head over to www.organicmusiclibrary.com to see what they’ve got!

More New Production Music…

….is available from shockwave-sound.com! There are 20 tracks up there as of right now, and all are exclusive to that site. Be sure to check them out if you’re looking for some music for your production!

I’m Still Alive. I Swear.

Sorry for the lack of updates to this blog, but I’m still here, and composing and producing more than ever. Most of my current work can be heard at the GraphicAudio page, which features new compositions, and sound design clips. There are quite a few examples of what’s been keeping me busy! Check ‘em out!

Of course, I’m still available to work on your project, so don’t hesitate to contact me! In the meantime, stay safe!

– t

Where’s Your Music?

I’ve taken my music down from AudioJungle so it can be purchased elsewhere. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. Thanks!
– t

GraphicAudio

 

GA LogoI’ve been kind of quiet on “the nerd” (remember when people used to say that about computers?) for a while, and that’s because I’ve begun a new job as a sound designer with GraphicAudio. Needless to say, it has been a pretty significant change from my previous job, going from one which is basically devoid of creativity to one which is almost completely dependent on it. Add the fact that I was thrown pretty much in the deep end, and you might understand how crazy things have been for me lately.

For those unfamiliar with GraphicAudio, we provide “a unique audio entertainment experience that features a full cast of actors, sound effects and cinematic music.” I don’t want to do the company an injustice, so go check out how many titles are available in a variety of genres, and listen to some samples. These aren’t your ordinary audio

My experience so far has been great…I’ve already been involved in quite a few projects in various capacities. You can hear theme songs I’ve composed, and web clips of the books I’ve designed at the GraphicAudio page I’ve added to this site. It can be found here. There is never a dull moment, so expect the page to be updated frequently.

How To Make Your YouTube Videos Sound Professional

 

In a prior entry I spoke of how to record audio for video in the best way possible mainly so you can provide the cleanest specimen to an audio post-producer. Post-production is an imperative and inexpensive way of raising the production value of your video to a professional level, and one that often gets overlooked by amateurs.

Your video looks good, and while the sound is understandable and reasonably loud, your speaker doesn’t sound like the pros do on TV or in professionally produced YouTube videos. That’s because there are certain elements of post-production concerning the voice that every form of professionally broadcast media performs as a part of the audio mastering process.

Mastering audio is a necessary process involving various types of compression and equalization. Compression, sometimes utilized while initially recording the audio, is basically smoothing out the loud and soft moments of your recording in an attempt to control noticeable drops and spikes in volume. Forms of compression can also be used to increase the overall volume of the recording, which is especially helpful when a mic is poorly placed or non-existent.

Equalization is a way of modifying certain frequencies in your recording to enhance volume and clarity, and also to remove unwanted noise. Equalization shouldn’t be considered a “cure all” by any means, but it is usually the savior of poor recordings, turning something virtually unlistenable into something functional.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, it is best not to attempt to try and fix audio issues by using preset on-board effects (especially before recording). This usually results in an ultra-compressed recording which makes you sound robotic, and it only gets worse when you upload it to YouTube. Contact an audio professional for assistance, and you’ll save time, and be much happier with the final product. The small amount of money you spend will reap dividends down the road.

The next entry will deal with taking your production a step further with background music!

How To Make Your YouTube Videos Sound Good

Picture from Mic Ad #1: Mic Placement = WRONG! (unless he has another head)

I don’t need to tell you how great a medium YouTube is for promoting your business, website, or endeavor. While making your video stand out amongst the 72 hours of footage uploaded to YouTube every minute may not require a professional studio, raising your own production values will certainly help. This is especially important if these videos are a primary method of delivering your message, or are featured prominently on your website.

Recently, I worked with a client who produced promotional videos for his business which contained great content, but were hampered by poor quality audio. He appreciated the tips I shared with him, so I’ll list them here. Remember that this advice is all based around the axiom of “garbage in, garbage out.” It’s much easier to avoid mistakes before recording than dealing with them afterwards.

1. Use a mic. Using a lapel (lavalier) mic should be top priority when it comes to getting good audio. The volume of your voice needs to be nice and loud, but must never distort. To attain this, the mic needs to be properly placed; close to your mouth, but not too high, and not too low. Clip the mic where the third or fourth button on a button-down shirt would be. Make sure it has the foam (pop filter) on it, and if you’re concerned with aesthetics, run the cord through your shirt, but don’t move the mic. If your local news station is OK with the mic being visible, why shouldn’t you be?

Picture from Mic Ad #2: Mic Placement = WRONG! Unless her adam’s apple is doing the talking.

2. Record in as silent an environment as possible. I’m not talking about an Anechoic chamber here, I’m talking about a room free from common household noise, like doors opening or closing, people faintly talking, cars driving by, etc. Some seemingly external noises like “hiss” can be dealt with after the fact, but any sort of external noise severely limits professional post-production, and really makes your videos come across as amateurish. Also, it would help if the room you’re recording in is carpeted, and preferably windowless. Glass, mirrors, and hard wood floors amplify (and color) all noises, not just your voice, so avoid these environments when possible.

 

3. Be careful what power source you’re plugged into. Wonder why you’re recordings have a constant hum that you didn’t hear in the room? It’s most likely some kind of ground loop, and it could be caused by many things. First of all, check to see if your camera and/or computer is plugged into the same circuit as an air conditioner, refrigerator, or large appliance. If it is, move it until you stop hearing the noise, even if that means running an extension cord from another room. Secondly, if you’re using an external camera or laptop to record your videos, try to use it on its battery as opposed to plugging it in. Sometimes the internal workings of the recording device can be heard, and those usually are related to charging.

With these three tips in mind, you should have no problem getting a great sounding recording that can be made to sound professional through post-production. More on that in my next blog! Any questions? Leave a comment or e-mail me!

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em?

When I heard that Justin Timberlake was slotted to be the composer and head music supervisor of the forthcoming film “The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Film scoring has been moving away from the classically trained John Williams types for years now. Hans Zimmer, who has apparently set the current template for film scoring with his Wagneresque brass heavy “Inception” score, was a former pop musician, as was Danny Elfman to only name two of many. Of course, there is Trent Reznor’s critically acclaimed scores for The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, not to mention composing the theme to the upcoming game Call of Duty: Black Ops 2Then there’s my favorite, Jonny Greenwood, guitarist for Radiohead, who scored 2007’s “Best Picture” There Will Be Blood, one of my favorite modern scores, and more recently, the Japanese film Norwegian Wood.

Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

However, it’s hard to imagine Timberlake invoking Pendrecki and Coates like Greenwood did, or producing some brooding ambient soundscapes ala Reznor. As talented an individual as he is, I was pleasantly surprised to see he had writing credits on all of the tracks on his debut LP. It’s hard to imagine what direction he’ll go musically, and I suppose we’ll just have to wait to hear the final product (and hopefully not on pop radio).

Popular artists getting into film scoring used to make me nervous in a certain way. Let’s face it, the film composer market is overly saturated, especially when you take into account how few composers get a shot at scoring movies people will actually see. Ultimately, however, popular artists are not creating more competition for film scoring. All they are doing is slightly increasing the small number of composers who are asked to score popular films. Now, instead of one of maybe eight composers picked to score every big budget film, the group widens to 10 or 12.

This leads to bigger questions about the the integrity of the film score and so forth, but I’m sure someone more qualified has an opinion on that. As an aspiring composer though, it should make you reassess your approach to getting “discovered”.

A Q&A with Dunk Murphy of Sunken Foal

Back in 2008, I stumbled on an LP called Fallen Arches by an artist named Sunken Foal while searching through Planet Mu’s excellent catalog. I was immediately fascinated by the album’s organic instrumentation combined with glitchy percussion and decidedly progressive song structures that made for an outstanding and important LP. After a little investigation, I learned the man behind the project was Dunk Murphy, an accomplished Irish producer and musician, who also has released music as part of the groups Ambulance and Natural History Museum, among others. There were only two EPs (Fermented Condiments on Mu Records and Mother of God on Acroplane Recordings) from Sunken Foal since the debut, so it’s little wonder that I was highly anticipating his newest release, Friday Syndrome Volume 1, which is available as a free download at his website, www.counstersunk.org. Dunk was kind enough to answer a few questions from me via e-mail about his music, label, and artistic approach:

First of all, as a composer and producer myself, I love the way you went about producing the material on Friday Syndrome Volume 1. What was the catalyst behind the method, and did it result in any new or exciting revelations for you?

DM: Every tune is always different – I spent a little less effort at the time of inception with this collection of tunes – my stuff in the past has been far more “composed” working with lots of chord progressions and harmonies on guitars and pianos etc. – this time out I gave myself a few hours each Friday evening to compose some short rhythmic tracks and send them on to some friends as soon as they were done – the idea was to take advantage of that thirst for studio work I get every Friday evening when I know everyone else is getting ready to go out and socialise (knowing that I should to be getting ready too but at the same time getting all annoyed that I hadn’t worked hard enough that week) 

 

On your website, it seems that the recording itself is free for download, and what you’re actually selling is merchandise to promote the record. What made you take this approach?

DM: I tried my best in the past to make a living purely from music whether it be composing for film, performing or releasing music – it all seems to be in this huge state of flux as a business now and I’m starting to think that this state of flux will continue and no one ubiquitous medium for music distribution will be settled upon – so in the meantime I wasn’t really bothered investing in one of the new distribution methods as I wanted to get the music out ASAP – it seemed to me that there was a lot of negativity from one side from people complaining about the kids pirating music, and then a lot of negativity from another side where people are attacking established record companies for selling music through the same old methods – I was thinking it could be nice for the artist to come up with a slightly different way of collecting revenue for their works and accept that it is not “business as usual”

 

There also doesn’t appear to be a label involved. Is there any specific reason why you’re self releasing this recording, are there any added benefits, and do you foresee releasing music on labels ever again?

DM: Yeah, I’d love to release music on other labels again – my last album came out on planet-mu – I think that they prefer a different side to what I do so I thought releasing this myself might be a little challenge – I’m viewing countersunk as a label and there is music to come out from other artists through the site at a later date – I’m still not sure if we’ll venture into vinyl yet – it’s all still a bit new – by self releasing, perhaps the benefits are that you get to engage with the audience in a more immediate fashion

 

How important do you find a physical object à la a CD or LP these days, and do you see yourself releasing Friday Syndrome Volume 1 this way in the future?

DM: The physical object to me is really important: hence the generative prints that we have on sale to support the release – it occurred to me that with vinyl, 250 individual sleeves could not be printed with unique artwork without a huge amount of work so the idea of the 50cm x 70cm prints came and I decided to go with it – there are a couple more volumes to the “Friday Syndrome” project to come so there might be a ‘best of’ vinyl release if there is call for it

 

I think your work is extremely textured and diverse, therefore potentially lending itself to film music. Have you ever considered doing music for film, and if an advertiser approached you about using one of your songs in a large campaign, would do it?

DM: I’ve done loads of that shit!! – ads have paid the bills indeed in the past but they take a lot of work and you really have to be dedicated – not just in terms of composition but you have to think in a business minded way – films are even more work and you really have to be involved with the team at hand – the “Friday Syndrome” stuff started out of a period where I was finishing off a couple of art film sound pieces – One of them was called “Rialto Twirlers” by director Anne Marie Barry  – I was all ‘droney-textured’ out and I needed to write some beats … sort of as a method of self therapy : )

 

The “business minded” approach you speak of seems to be a difficult trait to take on for artists such as myself, especially in today’s fluctuating and seemingly oversaturated market. Do you have any advice for composers struggling to adapt this mindset who are looking to get their music in productions such as advertising or films?

DM: Shed any kind of pride or dignity that you might still be holding on to – be prepared to “believe” in things that you otherwise wouldn’t : ) whore yourself with all your might

 

Sunken Foal’s Friday Syndrome Volume 1 is now available for free download on countersunk. Share the link, and while you’re there, buy something and support the artist.

 

Opportunities Behind the Music

I read a fairly interesting New York Times article on the “vocal producer to the stars” Kuk Harrell, who is behind some of today’s most successful pop stars. The article went on to describe his varied history in the industry, his demeanor, and exactly how he became what he is today. The most interesting part of the article, however, was about highly specialized producers, and how sounds are generated, encouraged, copied, cut, and then pasted in today’s modern recording studio.

Depending on your background, this article might be a revelation to you in many respects. I really wasn’t aware that people thought that today’s vocalists just went in to the studio and belted out a full rendition of a song, but this is apparently so. Technology gives recordists and producers the power to cut and paste the tiniest of segments from a plethora of takes into what you hear on the master. This can have a sterilizing effect on the recording, depending on the music (and you’re opinion), but it also provides a world of possibilities at the click of a mouse. It also makes recordings like this one seem even more incredible, given they all had one shot to get the whole thing right. Pretty unbelievable.

It’s very interesting to me to think of highly specialized producers in the studio getting just the right sound out of the performers, their music, or their instruments. As an artist, my recording studio experiences relied on the musicians having their material ready to go, and the engineer using his or her expertise and knowledge of their gear and studio to get the best sounds out of the instruments. In this way, I can see these types of producers being a good and bad thing. The concept takes away a lot of the artistry from the engineer, and makes the job almost purely technical, but it also provides a lot of new and exciting opportunities for individuals with very specific talents and/or training that may have been marginalized previously. So road dogs, and creative visionaries, take note. There may be a (lucrative) place for you in the studio.

All Judgements Considered

There has very recently been a series of reactionary editorials bandying about in cyberspace regarding the fair compensation of artists in today’s technological landscape. This NPR editorial begat this NPR editorial, which was met with this response by a mainstream artist, that led to this reponse by a reasonably successful indie artist. Unsurprisingly, they all had different viewpoints on the way music is changing, and the way these changes apparently aren’t being adapted to by some musicians who once were able to somehow make a living off of record sales. If you choose to indulge in these articles, please set aside a fair amount of time, especially for Lowery’s editorial, which, despite him stating otherwise, comes off as wholly condescending, judgmental, and ridiculously unrealistic. 

Now I fit in kind of on the lower end of the age spectrum here, and that’s important. I’d say about a decade separates me from Emily White and Travis Morrison, who is roughly a decade younger than David Lowery. I was old enough to see the transition from cassettes to CDs, and to live through most of my childhood without much worthwhile internet access. I certainly did make cassette dubs of other people’s records, and I recorded the hell out of college radio, an act I hold in the highest of importance regarding my understanding of music. I remember when burning CDs was a brand new venture, one that I had trouble believing was possible. I remember Napster. I was also heavily involved with my college’s radio station for every year of my undergraduate studies, and took advantage of promos and library access with reckless abandon.

I am also a musician that has played in many bands, and has had many records released by said bands on extremely small indie labels. As such, I can barely relate to Travis Morrison’s success with his band The Dismemberment Plan. Lowery’s bands might as well be Def Leopard. Whatever that guy is complaining about in regards to music is outside of my realm of understanding, even if his first band was supposedly a purveyor of “DIY ethics” (probably before signing to a major label).

The main thrust of my argument is that the all-important record label, something Lowery seems strangely bent on defending, is becoming increasingly less important. In fact, I’d say that outside of making really sexy looking limited-run LPs for niche audiences who enjoy such things, they’re borderline irrelevant now. I also bet that record labels are more of a hindrance to a lot of important older music that nobody will ever legally get to hear because the label-owned recording has gone out of print, and/or is mired in red tape.

That brings me to the main point that isn’t addressed by any of the aforementioned articles. I think it would better serve music as a whole to try and use today’s technology to empower both the artist and music fan, and not make them both feel like they’re indebted to an antiquated business model or faceless company. Is there an alternative to buying a physical copy (which people don’t generally seem to want anymore), legally streaming the music (which apparently doesn’t compensate artists fairly), or downloading it legally (which not enough people seem to do)? One alternative is to completely cut the label out of the equation. Distribution channels are no longer monopolized by big labels, and if you need a loan, go to the bank, or better yet, start a kickstarter account. While you’re at it, start a PayPal account, too and/or a site like bandcamp so people can buy directly from you (and in a variety of file types to boot). As usual, it’s up to the band to figure out ways to get exposure, but, these days, putting yourself in a situation where you need to move 10,000 “units” before seeing a profit is absolutely ludicrous. It’s sad that Lowery won’t get a chance to issue his band’s older recordings this way unless he keeps waiting, or buys the masters from the label for exorbitant amounts, but that’s the legacy of the record label in 2012. I suppose he could set up a personal donation page if he doesn’t mind Virgin not getting a cut.

Ukulele Overload

When I first started seriously composing stock audio on AudioJungle last summer, many of the highest selling songs on the site featured the ukulele. Fast forward a year, and this really hasn’t changed. What once seemed like a trend has become something different…and I’m not sure what. Even this current national advertisement features a song from AudioJungle that’s over 2 years old, and has been sold over 1600 times (!). To say that the ukulele is played out and overused is an understatement, particularly in advertising. The fact it persists as the musical focal point of so many of today’s commercials either speaks to the public’s insatiable love for the runty instrument, or of a severe lack of creativity in advertising.

I found a great New York Times article on the ukulele’s popularity from over a year ago, and even then the article spoke of the instrument’s over-saturation in advertising. It also pointed out the possible origin for this craze: Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole’s cringe-inducing version of “Over the Rainbow”, a song I heard at virtually every wedding I did sound for while living in California (so we’re talking 50+, maybe?). The article goes on to tout the ukulele as the instrument for the non-musician, and while I’m not sure I’d go there, I will say that at this point it’s kitsch. Period.

While people may love the uke because of the warm feelings it helps generate, there is more than one way to skin a cat. A different approach will likely yield the same results, and will alleviate the risk of people tuning out at the first strum. So, please, if you have to use a ukulele, please do so in moderation.

 

Compromise and Leverage

Compromise plays a role in everyone’s life. Whether it’s with fairly small scale day to day things, or large life altering decisions, compromise has a way of shaping and changing things in a substantial way. With artists, it’s an even bigger deal. And as it becomes increasingly possible as a musician to gain widespread exposure on a grassroots level via today’s burgeoning technology, the option of “selling out” has become less tempting. The reliance the musician once had on the all-powerful record label is falling by the wayside, and with that goes their willingness to compromise their music, and with that comes leverage. The musical artist, increasingly empowered, holds the cards. You need them more than they need you. The Best Cinematic and Motivational Royalty Free Audio

This seems like a strange game marketing agencies seem to like to play. In a previous blog post it was discussed that licensing music has become far more prevalent in advertising than hiring a composer, at least according to one industry source. However, with things moving in the direction they currently are in the “music industry”, I can only imagine it’s going to become increasingly difficult to wrangle a song away from an artist for an ad campaign. As a composer and producer of music, I see this as an opportunity to showcase what original music can do for a production. Music that’s created to support original visuals and highlight their emotional content, not songs created for their own sake, to sell records, or to pack clubs. There is a fundamental difference here which just reinforces my feeling that the true power of music is rarely utilized in association with visual media. That’s why in the rare instances you see it, you know.

Why “MIDI” Isn’t a Bad Thing

Public understanding of the term “MIDI” hasn’t progressed as far as the technology has in the last few years, and that’s a blessing and a curse. I, for one, got heavily into composing when I realized how realistic-sounding some of these new programs were, and the illusion of having used real instruments is a very important element of my work. At the same time, though, I think a little further information on what exactly you’re hearing only makes the total package that much more spectacular. 

What most excited me about advances in MIDI technology was the ability to finally be able to get realistic sounds out of orchestral samples. Most modern libraries contain samples that are performed by some of today’s top musicians at some of the finest studios, stages, and halls in the world. The amount of recorded detail is remarkable, and the fact you can alter things like mic placement is truly astounding. Throw in some high quality reverb, and you have a set of sounds that, when used correctly, will make even the most seasoned aficionado think they’re listening to a real orchestra. While these sample libraries do come at a hefty price, the things they enable a composer to do are well worth the cost.

It doesn’t stop with orchestral samples, of course. You’d be hard pressed not to find a high quality sample library either built around or including a specific set of instruments that’s professionally recorded, and exhaustively performed to include every realism-adding detail. With this in mind, it continually pays as a composer to look outside the box, and find the smaller companies that are on the cutting edge.

So, the next time you hear “MIDI” hopefully your mind won’t go directly to Nintendo theme songs or ringtones. You’d be surprised how much music you hear, specifically on television, is MIDI derived, and the technology is only getting better. However, it is important to remember that these sounds are just tools. The art is found in knowing how to use them.

Here is a Stink Bug, common to Maryland, on my M-Audio Axiom 25

Here is a Stink Bug, common to Maryland, on my M-Audio Axiom 25

 

Of Shazam and Credibility

I read a very interesting interview (which I found thanks to John Presley at musiccomposerblog.com) with Ryan Fitch, an accomplished music supervisor at a seemingly large advertising agency. In addition to giving some great links and advice, he also spoke a lot about the appeal of using licensed music almost to how I’d hear an A&R rep talk about their job. In his experience, because there is just so much music that’s already created and therefore able to be licensed, the situation that requires something original from a composer doesn’t present itself nearly as much as it used to. Sigh.

The Best Cinematic and Motivational Royalty Free Audio

Most interesting to me was a recent campaign he was involved with in which he professes to have spent hours trying to shoehorn a licensed track into a commercial, and could only successfully do so after cleverly disguising an odd time signature with sound design. After watching the commercial, I was really confused about why the track in question absolutely had to be “the one”. The music itself is a pretty nondescript repetition of a single phrase with minimal vocals, slightly modified towards the end. The song apparently didn’t naturally work, and had to be modified considerably, thus taking the time that licensed music was supposed to save. In other words, this was an easily replicable piece a qualified composer would have no problem scoring to the existing footage in a few hours. Why they didn’t go this route didn’t make sense to me. There must be something else at work here. That’s when I saw the Shazam logo.

I figured there was no better way to understand their angle than by “Shazamming” the commercial and seeing the results for myself.  After dow

nloading the app (and skipping Shazam’s many attempts to get up in my bidness), I played the commercial. To my surprise, the only thing I discovered about the song itself  was the artist and title. No link to listen to it, no link to buy it, no link to the artist’s website. Nada. There was, however, a contest I could enter in addition to other links I could follow to product related social marketing.

Get Royalty Free Music from ProgressNotesLet me state that I do not see any issue at all here with the way the music was used in this advertisement. Consent was obviously given, and I’m sure everything was above board. I do, however, understand why some artists seem to be apprehensive about licensing their music to advertising campaigns. In addition to the all-important credibility the song adds to the product, the sound of of the music itself is now tied to the product in a way that almost supersedes that simple association licensed music usually provides. The notes the artist wrote on their guitar, in this particular case, now directly link to a product they didn’t create. That’s pretty heavy.

The interview reinforced, but also shed some new light on, my view regarding why ad agencies so actively license music as opposed to having something original tailored specifically for their campaign. It’s not just credibility they’re after, but an additional way of presenting the consumer with their product. This opens up new avenues while also creating new dilemmas for the artist, some of which I’ve witnessed first hand. Ultimately, it’s good to see the power of music taken seriously, and hopefully that aspect won’t change in a constantly changing industry.

 

What I’ve Been Up To: Scoring “Playing It Straight”

Earlier this month, I composed a score to the short student film Playing It Straight, which was directed by Michael Kenney. The film itself deals with sexual identity and societal norms in a comedic and dramatic way, with a nod to the iconic ’80s films of John Hughes. In that respect, the music I had to compose for the film was extremely stylized, and ran the gamut of overtly sentimental, to excessively dramatic, to cartoonish, making for a lot of diversity in my compositions.

Below is the final cut of the film “Playing It Straight” (Run time is 21:53, but the film doesn’t actually start until 1:28). If you’d like to get in touch with Michael, let me know and I’ll forward you his information. Enjoy!

 

Here’s an orchestral piece I scored for the film that I particularly enjoy that didn’t end up making it in the final cut for one reason or another.

Opaque by ProgressNotes

Films I Scored: ‘Lars’


Poster for the award-winning short film LARSLars
, a short film I scored in 2010, was a unique situation for me in many ways. First of all, I got the gig through good ol’ fashioned networking, as the film’s writer and director Manuela Rossi was a colleague of the guy who directed a prior short film I scored (Boxing Will). It is also the only film I’ve ever scored where the music I provided was accepted exactly as is, with no rewrites or reworking needed. Even as someone new to the film scoring game, I knew this was a rare scenario. Lastly, it was the only film I’ve scored so far where I’ve confined the arrangements to one specific set of instruments, in this case that of a string quartet (with the exception of the solo piano theme and outro reprise).

I think I decided on the string quartet instrumentation because the film, to me, is extremely claustrophobic. The subject matter and locales seem very stifling and rigid. The versatility of the string quartet was great in that the instruments can provide such a wide range of timbres and dynamics, be it a quiet sense of helplessness, to a violently rhythmic ostinato, while adding a classic feel. A large musical inspiration for me was Schubert’s Winterreise, which I felt was congruent with the feel of the film,  and was also somewhat culturally relevant. Lars

Another great thing about Lars was that Manuela really stuck with the film, and got it in a lot of festivals, including the 2011 Cannes Film Festival in France. I’m sure everyone involved with the film appreciates her hard work, and wishes her luck in the future! She is currently back in Europe, working in the film industry, and has an excellent blog, too!

Last, but not least, you can view the film in its entirety here (English subtitles, 18:12 run time). Selections from my score can be heard here. Please let me know what you think!

 

Audio Branding: What Does Your Company Sound Like?

Let me guess…you spent a lot of money on a snazzy logo for your brand. You hired a great designer to make your website. You invested a good chunk of cash in gear to produce your commercials, podcasts and/or web videos. Maybe you’ve even made some branded clothing. But what does your brand sound like?

Audio branding is not a new technique by any means. We’ve all been subjected to this type of marketing for years. Theme music for a particular television program or network is a given. But even simpler than that is their brand’s audio logo or indent. To me, the most obvious is the NBC Chimes, which have quite a history. Despite their hip new ad campaigns, the main thing that sticks with me after a State Farm commercial is their tried-and-true 4 second audio logo (apparently derived from a theme song of year’s past). Too musical for you? Try HBO’s audio logo.

Just because your brand isn’t quite ready for primetime television ads doesn’t mean you shouldn’t explore audio branding. The Audio Branding Academy asserts that  ” the emerging of new media…expands the opportunities for audio branding”.  This includes everything from podcasts , YouTube videos, iPhone and Android apps, to independent video games. As this article from the Music Composer BLOG explains, “brands are just beginning to understand the benefits of a marketing strategy that includes strategy-driven audio“, and these include big names that advertise on television.

How often does your logo appear in some form of non-static visual media? If your website or company produces a lot of video content, and/or your logo is featured at the beginning of mobile phone apps or games, an audio logo is a necessity. The successful incorporation of sound in defining your brand is not just for huge companies anymore, and it’s a lot easier than you’d think. Just ask your friendly neighborhood composer.

What are some of your favorite audio logos, indents, or themes? Which ones bring you to a certain time or place whenever you hear them?

Do You Reddit?

My friend Ken over at ThoughtLeadr introduced me to Reddit over the holidays, and I’ve been hooked ever since. What I once thought was just a haven for extremely techy individuals has turned out to be a great resource for information and social interaction on a variety of topics. I’m still learning the ropes, but chances are you’ll find a community as passionate about your interests as you are, whatever they may be.

While I haven’t had too much success finding fellow composers in a similar situation as myself, there are no shortage of musicians of varying ages and backgrounds who share their music, knowledge, and questions in the WeAreTheMusicMakers community. Whether you want to stay on top of great new music and artists, lend your expertise or services to musicians in need, or get some honest feedback on your latest project, WATMM is an excellent place to do so. You’ll likely be surprised at the authenticity of the responses you’ll get!

So check out Reddit. It’s not all about link sharing. You can find me there (predictably) under the handle “ProgressNotes”.

Fellow Redditors, what are some other great communities you’d recommend?

Character

I’m not going to pretend that there are not a gazillion other music composers and producers out there, and a lot of them might be more formally educated than myself. Many of them might have more state of the art gear, and even more might have a greater amount of accolades than I have. However, I’m also not going to pretend like that necessarily holds much weight in the grand scheme of things. It’s all about what your ears tell you. As much as I’d like to, I can’t define certain signature artistic elements that show up in my work, so instead I prefer to accept them as flourishes of “character”.

Character is a completely subjective concept that means vastly different things to different people. As far as music goes, I look at it as what an artist brings to something that not everyone else can, does, or wants to. Now, musically this could be something as extreme as John Cage’s “4:33″, to a fantastic reinvention of a song we’re all familiar with. It all depends on the artist, and their character is a main way in which we distinguish one from the other.

Character is something we inherently have, but sometimes needs to be provoked or awakened by experiences and events. However, it is the intangible things that shape us artistically, that seem to come from within, that give us all a truly unique voice. If you’re lucky enough to have found yours, let the world hear it. If not, keep searching.

Don’t Sweat the Sign Up – An Overview of the Envato Marketplace

As you may have noticed, nearly all of my royalty free music is available for purchase via AudioJungle, which is part of the Envato Marketplace. Despite the fact that they have a little more downtime than I’d like, as an author I find the site attractive, the music of high quality, and the community very helpful. Since purchasing my music requires you to sign up for an account with Envato, I wanted to highlight some of the best parts of a diverse marketplace that includes something for everyone.

The Envato Marketplace consists of 9 different sites which all sell a different range of royalty free products. Aside from AudioJungle, I have experience with ThemeForest and PhotoDune. ThemeForest sells HTML and CMS templates, providing an easy way to revamp your website without having to hire a designer or spend hours coding HTML. Want an example of a template available from ThemeForest? You’re looking at one! The amount of excellent content at ThemeForest is amazing, and the customer service you get from the designers themselves is an added bonus that really makes the service an outstanding bargain. Examples of products from PhotoDune are also on display on this site. Most obvious are the large, high quality photos displayed on the home page advertising my music. While PhotoDune is a new site, the images are plentiful and professional, and will surely provide options for those in the market for stock photographs.

Happy with your website or blog, and not in need of any stock music or photography? Try VideoHive for After Effects project files, video, and motion graphics. GraphicRiver provides Powerpoint themes, and Photoshop templates to spruce up your resume or business cards, for example. 3DOcean sells all things 3D for advanced modeling, and CodeCanyon provides HTML script for everything from plug ins to players to forms for your website. Looking for eBooks or “How To” guides? TutsPlus is for you.

So, please don’t sweat the sign up. Envato is a wonderful marketplace with a wide variety of quality items, and I’m sure you’ll be glad you took the extra few seconds to make an account when checking out.

Free Royalty Free Music: How Serious Are You About Your Project?

Get Royalty Free Music from ProgressNotes

According to Google, over 120,000 people search for “free royalty free music” A MONTH. I know, I know, everyone wants something for free, and when forced to decide between what’s free and what isn’t, they’ll normally choose the free one in many cases. While that’s perfectly understandable at times, I, however, do not understand the allure of free royalty free music for use in productions. As discussed in a prior blog entry, the value that music brings to your production, large or small, should not be overlooked or squandered. Music is unfortunately often pushed off until the end of a production when the budget is all but exhausted, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be selective in what you choose. Take a step back and reexamine the situation.

To get the most out of music, your first consideration should be quality. You’re going to want the best music and the best production you can get within your means. Compare the free royalty free music you download to material found on AudioJungle, RevoStock, or other sites. Don’t be afraid to use your ears to determine what sounds better. Which songs are louder, fuller, more produced? Which pieces have more character or authenticity? Another consideration should be whether or not you’re OK with hundreds of thousands of other productions potentially using the exact same song you are, likely the case with most free royalty free music. Lastly, you need to determine if you can even use free royalty free music, as what I’ve found can only be used for personal or educational non-commercial productions.

So, that’s why I ask, “how serious are you about your project?” Music plays varying roles in different productions, and not everyone has the budget to hire a composer, so it’s important to consider your options to find what is best for you without cutting corners or accepting mediocrity. The response you get from your audience thanks to a great score or piece of royalty free music might be worth the relatively small amount you spent on it.

Where I Live, Why It Matters, and Why It Doesn’t

I noticed that on my website I don’t have any information about my physical location. I remember I tried to squeeze that in on an “about” page on my last website, but location plays such a small part in what I do that it wasn’t that important to me to proudly proclaim where I call home (even though, at the time, I was somewhat close to L.A.).

Be that as it may, my studio is in Silver Spring, Maryland, which is just outside of Washington, DC. Silver Spring is home to the Discovery Channel, many great Ethiopian restaurants, and an AFI Theatre for starters, and has been a pretty cool place since I’ve been here the past year.

However, thanks to modern technology, location hasn’t played a sizable role in my audio work thus far. I never met physically with the producers of many films I scored prior to actually scoring them, and phone calls and e-mails sufficed as far as communication went. Over great distances I have been able to successfully collaborate with many people on many great projects. This isn’t to say that physical interaction isn’t important. In fact, it’s preferable when possible. However, it’s not necessarily imperative in many situations I tend to find myself in.

The major component here is trust. When working with someone over a long distance, you have to be confident they are holding up their end of the bargain. This is one reason why composers who want to score big Hollywood films are expected to be there. The studio wants to keep tabs on you, and understandably so. On smaller scale or independent productions, this usually isn’t an issue.  With so many people out there eager to succeed, its important to take every opportunity available to you in earnest, wherever they may be, and make the producer glad they took the chance on you.

My point is, don’t always look at distance as a negative. The person perfect for your production might not always be the closest. I embrace the opportunity to work with people all over the world, but if you happen to be in the DC area, that’ll work, too!

Why “Background Music” Isn’t a Bad Thing

As an artist, I never want to think that what I do can simply be relegated to the background, but with music, that is often its place. Music provides atmosphere, and often serves to enhance visual mediums like film or presentations. Music keeps you company on your commute to work, and even while you’re at your desk, but often its role is secondary to driving, walking, or working. This concept is commonplace. I’m sure Vivaldi wasn’t composing “The Four Seasons” for doctor’s offices, or Sade for hotel lobbies, but that’s where you’ll find their music playing more often than not.

The fact that this “background music” stands on its own is generally moot. Instead of asking where John Williams would be without Star Wars, ask where Star Wars would be without John Williams. To varying degrees, the music and visual aspect are mutually beneficial. Sometimes one wouldn’t be what it is without the other. The right visual can bring out emotional content in the music that even the composer may not have felt, much as the right music can turn the accompanying visual into something incredibly memorable and poignant. So, please consider some of my music for the background of your production. I have full confidence you’ll be happy you did.

My Take on Royalty-Free Audio

When I was putting together this new site, organizing all of my royalty-free music in my portfolio was a little overwhelming. The fact that the majority of these tracks were composed and produced within the last few months alone makes it even more surprising. While my catalog is by no means as large as some of the most successful authors at AudioJungle, there is still a lot there, and all of it I’m proud of. I’ve discussed the pros and cons of this in a prior blog entry, but now that I’m a few months in, I have had a little time to reflect on the influence it has had on my composition and production…As we all know, sometimes it’s tough to stay focused on where you want to be and how you’ll get there when the circumstances of where you are take so much of your time and energy.

Currently, the most important thing for me is to stay motivated. As we all know, sometimes it’s tough to stay focused on where you want to be and how you’ll get there when the circumstances of where you are take so much of your time and energy. Composing and producing royalty free audio has given me an outlet I can take advantage of today, and a way to share and diversify my portfolio with people all over the world. The fact that a growing number of people are using works I created as part of their own productions is amazing to me. It also allows me to showcase my ability to do different types of music, from electronic, to orchestral, to acoustic. Sure, I may do some things better than others, but it’s all a learning process, and there is no better way to learn than by doing. It is my hope that someday soon my commissioned works will outnumber my royalty-free work, but until that happens, keep an eye on my AudioJungle portfolio!

– t

Welcome to the New Website!

Hello everyone! At long last, the new website is live and ready for you to enjoy. The improvements over my old website are too numerous to mention, although I am sad to see her go. She was a project of mine, after all, and served me well for, frankly, too long. The site you are looking at right now features (or soon will) everything about me, including my portfolio and services offered. As you will see, there are some minor changes that will be continually taking place. There are quite a few place-holding photos, the wording of things will change, my old blogs are not here, and not all my work is yet featured. However, there is more than enough here to get you started.

At this point, I’d like to point out that this website was made possible by Filip Jaszczuk over at ThemeForest. He did a great job, and provides excellent customer service. Additionally, many of the photos you see on this site were purchased from fellow Envato content authors, as well.

So, now that you’ve had a chance to look around, what do you think? Please leave a comment with any feedback. It would be much appreciated, and thanks for spending some time at ProgressNotes!

– t

Ahh….marketing.

Marketing is still something I view as a “necessary evil” to be a successful (ie self-employed) audio producer. I’m slowly learning that self-promotion is not just necessary, it’s imperative, and it certainly doesn’t have to be evil. Heather Fenoughty via the good folks at SCORECast Online recently published a handy list of promotional endeavors for film music composers, although these suggestions would work for any small business looking for marketing avenues.

Stuff on the list I’m especially interested in trying:
- hitting up local production companies
- collaborating with other artists (particularly those with visual media) for dual promotion
- “content marketing” ie writing in this here blog more often
- optimizing my site for search engines….this was something I kind of glossed over in web design class…
- Twitter! I think I’m the only person on the planet who isn’t fluent with this method of communication yet

Anyway, the article is great, and I implore you all to give it a look, and definitely check out SCORECast, too. I love their podcasts even though they are more infrequent than I’d like…

RevoStock!

You might not have noticed, but you are looking at the blog of a newly garnered RevoStock composer! Slowly but surely I’m attempting to branch out to other stock audio vendors, and RevoStock has recently welcomed me into the fold. I’m still trying to feel out what the site is all about, but it seems the music is more geared towards acoustic instrumentation in a variety of genres, making for a slightly different approach than how I compose with AudioJungle in mind. I haven’t uploaded anything yet, but be sure to check in to my facebook and twitter feeds for news as to when I do!

Times are a Changin’

As the most observant of you might have been able to tell, I’ve been concentrating on royalty free/stock audio of various types for the last couple of months. I’m still in the learning stages, for sure, but it has been a lot of fun and fulfilling as a producer/composer. I’ve been able to expand my portfolio to 22 pieces, as of today, and my goal is to keep the number growing by the week. Unfortunately, it’s the end of summer, so along with breaking out the jeans (finally) comes an increasingly busy work schedule with the “day job”. I’m hoping I can fight the good fight with the same reckless abandon I’ve been approaching this with since mid-July. It is something I’m interested in seeing how I handle.

License Music from ProgressNotes at AudioJungle.net!

Call it “spring cleaning in July” if you must, but I’ve blown the digital dust off of some of my past compositions and featured them on AudioJungle for your licensing pleasure. I feel these pieces deserve better than being hidden on my hard drive for a rainy day, and may work perfectly now for the person in search of something unique to add to their video, film, podcast, etc. The list of exclusively available pieces is ever growing as I root through the archives, and they are available for a very, very reasonable price.

Now this whole thing is a bit of a double edged sword. While I feel like the amount of compensation I’m getting for the licensing of my works doesn’t nearly equate to what they’re worth with regard to how much time I spent on them, it is promoting both the use of original music in independently produced media (ie not illegally used popular music), and myself as a composer, producer, and artist. Missing from all of this is composing specifically to a visual, which is something I very much enjoy and prefer, but I’m hopeful that these pieces on AudioJungle will get people interested in having me do just that for their future projects.

The pieces I am putting up for sale now are mostly orchestral in nature, and I plan to stick to that format as I feel like there is always a lack of quality produced, authentic sounding orchestral music on these types of sites. Heck, I hear obviously MIDI derived scores on television all of the time, when a little more money spent on quality samples combined with a little more time spent addressing the sounds might have fooled even the most ardent of listeners. I’ve done my best to provide pieces I feel fit this criteria that also feature some character often missing in much of the sterile, synthesized material on comparable sites. While this might not garner me any “hits”, I’m hoping it will enrich people’s projects in a way that sets them apart from the rest.

Until next time…
- t

Check out my portfolio here. 
Interested in licensing my music? Click here.

April Untitled

Hello, everyone! I’m still here, and still composing and producing in spite of outside circumstances.

Please enjoy my latest little project.

The music was arranged and produced on Ableton Live, and contains a number of VSTs including Native Instruments’ “Pro-53″ and “Battery”, as well as “mini-drumZ” by DSK to name a few. Like most of my compositions, it all started on the electric piano. The video was found in the Prelinger Archives, which contains a wealth of public domain footage, and then edited down and rearranged after the song was basically complete.

I very much enjoyed doing this, and it is my goal to do more of these in a similar fashion, but not necessarily with similar music. I would love to collaborate with any animators/illustrators/visual artists who would like to make or already have content in need of a soundtrack. Feel free to contact me. In the meantime, enjoy and share. Until next time….

xo,
- t