Audio post pros working on show opens, logos or station IDs have their hands full. After all, it is up to them to capture the viewer’s fickle attention, brand an item or make a station ID unique while under strict deadlines that are similar to their counterparts working on television shows.
In fact, it’s not surprising that many of those who are working on audio for broadcast design bring with them television and film experience. The stress of the work, it seems, would be even bigger if they didn’t understand the demands, and limits, of this medium.
Most of these projects are completed and broadcast in stereo... not surround. While interest in surround opens, IDs and logos is beginning to swell, the demand has yet to crest.
So what else is going on in this segment of the industry? Read on.
MARKING A BRAND AUDIBLY
Historically, networks and television shows have opened with a sonic tag that acts as an audible tag, yet it’s only been in the past 10 years or so that advertisers have been using these tags in order to make a mark. Danny Levin, co-founder and composer at the Austin, TX-based music house Tequila Mockingbird (www.tequilamockingbird.com), has been charged with coming up with an assortment of music that has worked in advertising campaigns and as a mnemonic.
Recently Levin and the composers at Tequila Mockingbird worked on a tag for the grocery store chain Albertsons that has so far been added to a pair of television and a pair of radio spots.
“It’s their tagline sung by a woman, and we had her do it in nine different keys,” Levin explains, “so it would match whatever they decided to do with the music in the spot. That’s always a discussion. Do they want the tag to be in the same key or do they want it to stick out? If we want it to stick out, how glaring of a key change do we want? They ended up kind of in the middle.”
The key on those Albertsons spots, Levin adds, was not so much to recast the entire music track that was composed for the spots, “it was their way of sprucing up already existing spots and have a little signature,” he explains. “Some companies manage to have visual signatures, this is just like that.”
The key to getting this, and any other logo kind of assignment, done was copious amounts of demos. “In the case of Albertsons, I believe it was us and two other music houses shooting at it. We initially presented possibly 60 ways of singing the words, ‘Easier is Better.’” On other pitches, he says, the firm may have presented over 100 demos to an advertising agency while looking for the right piece of music, sound design or a combination of both.
Tequila Mockingbird’s studios are based around Digidesign Pro Tools and Levin works with a handful of software-based synthesizers. One of the tools that he finds handy is the MOTU MachFive, a software sampler that takes in any sound and processes it for use in a digital audio workstation, like Pro Tools.
WORKING IN SURROUND
One of the few network logos that is currently being aired in HD comes from the New York City-based company Ear Goo (www.eargoo.com), for the new MTV high def channel MHD. The company also handled the audio post production responsibilities on the channel’s new Orb logo campaign. The 13 branding IDs for MHD, explains Ear Goo president/creative director Paul Goldman, were very much like art pieces where they were called on to push the audio envelope.
“MTV told us that when people see this campaign they want them to see how visually cool and crisp HD is, and they shot [visuals] that are very colorful,” Goldman says. “They wanted us to do the same with audio. So, we have things coming out of the back speakers and we have weird sounds coming out of the subwoofer, because when people see these spots between shows they want them to feel like it’s all new technology with new pictures and new sounds.”
It was a refreshing change for Ear Goo’s creatives. “We’ve done some HD, but usually it’s for a commercial and you have a lot of fences around you with the voiceover and the product spot,” he says. “Although you can do an HD mix, it is pretty simple — there is some ambience in the back speakers, the voiceovers are up in front and music is out the front two speakers. These spots are really like little art pieces. They were totally open, they gave us some time to work on it and we just kind of went to town with music and sound design.”
The Ear Goo staff splits their time working in Pro Tools|HD, MOTU Digital Performer, Apple Logic and Propellerhead Reason.
There are those jobs that always seem to stick with you, and for Alan Ett Music Group VP/senior composer Scott Liggett that job came a couple of years ago when he was working on a set of promos for the NFL Network. “We were brought on board to work on the launch of the network and we did some promos that aired during halftime of the Super Bowl,” he explains. “For that I flew around the country and taught various NFL players and coaches to sing “Tomorrow” from Annie.”
The idea, he reports, was that the day after the Super Bowl, every team was undefeated once again. He worked with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and coach Bill Parcells, in addition to players like Warren Sapp and Terrell Owens.
While that job came with a concept in hand, when Liggett was tapped to work on some logos for Buena Vista Home Video and Disney DVD it was up to him to find the appropriate Disney-esque orchestral stinger. “Those [logos] were designed to elicit the magic of Disney and we had to compose to the graphic,” he explains. “They had Tinker Bell flying all around and it was more or less of what you think of as Disney; it was magic and wonder and excitement of following Tinker Bell from left to right, up and down and all around.”
The logo, which is in surround, is orchestral by design and Liggett started the process by working up sketches of score ideas. “The tempo was already set and it was a pretty fast clip,” he says. “It was very, very active at first. We didn’t have much time to ramp up, so we utilized a lot of orchestral devices to create energy, excitement and movement.”
To get started Liggett works in Digital Performer, TASCAM GigaStudio and a handful of synth boxes that are controlled by a Roland Fantom-X8. He does all his tracking in Performer and delivers a full mix to clients when requested or AIFF stems to an outside mixer.
To be sure, this type of work comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. There are the :03 sounders, the :30 ID spots and then there are the lengthier promos that are used at trade shows or as pitches to potential clients. The creative team at Bar 1 (www. bar1nyc.com) in New York City came across a longer promo assignment when CNN approached them earlier this year. In fact, reports mixer/engineer Tim Litner, the piece that he worked on was used by CNN at this year’s NAB convention.
The presentation, which was a sales pitch to networks that might be looking at purchasing the CNN feed, was set up to run on three video screens simultaneously and was mixed in surround sound. Originally, Litner was only going to be responsible for the mix. “But when it came down to doing the surround mix, I ended up doing a lot of sound design work as well because a lot of the sound design that had been supplied to me was only stereo,” he explains. “I always embellish stuff as much as I can, especially because they were specifically going for something that was very exciting and enveloping. They also had complete control over their playback set-up. This is one of the variables with surround that can sometimes intimidate people from doing the most creative and exciting things, because if you think that the consumer is not going to have their system set up properly, then sometimes you might be a little more shy.”
While Bar 1 has been working in surround on other projects, Litner and the company’s creative director, Joe Barone, have not seen the demand on promo or ID assignments increase for multiple channel mixing. “Yet, it’s a constant push to try to make clients aware of the possibilities that you have in surround and also to try to convince them that when they’re doing promos on high definition channels, particularly, that they have those options available to them,” Litner says.
“It seems to be slow, because we’ve had 5.1 capability for awhile,” Barone adds. “It’s doesn’t seem like people are jumping on it like they did when we went from mono to stereo.”
That said, Litner believes that the future is bright. “As high definition television programming starts to catch on, I think that advertisers, as well as stations or networks that are doing promos, are going to want their advertising or promos to be as exciting as the program that they’re advertising on,” he says. “I watch quite a bit of high definition TV and it’s often very surprising to me because the programming has exciting wide screen high definition picture as well as surround audio, and when the ads come on they are all standard television aspect ratio. It makes the ads and promos less exciting than the programming, and I think that advertisers as well as channels and networks are going to start realizing that they need their stuff to look as good and sound as good as the programming.”
Creative partners Glenn Schloss and Erik Blicker of G&E Music (www.gemusic.com) in New York City know what it’s like to make an emotional musical statement in five seconds. The duo, and the balance of the staff at G&E, has had the opportunity to work on a handful of show opens and station IDs. Most recently they have completed a show open pitch for the NFL Network that’s a whopping 14 seconds of music, a show open for the Commander Castle program on A&E, as well as ID assignments for Discovery Channel’s Digital Network and PBS Kids.
“There are similarities in the approach between [the two assignments] as far as the branding perspective,” reports Schloss, “but we approach them in different ways. A show open is a little more specific where a station ID can encompass a little more.”
Of the many challenges on this type of gig, Blicker says, one of the most important is to discover what kind of feeling and message needs to be conveyed. “There is a lot of market branding that goes into all of this,” he explains. “When you watch Who Wants to be a Millionaire, that music brands the show. So, I think finding something that states the brand but yet also connects in an emotional way with the viewer is really the challenge.”
That’s especially true while working on a show open. “One of the other challenges is that show openers nowadays have gotten shorter and shorter,” Schloss says. “Back in the olden days they would have a long scene that would state the whole thing and it would almost be a part of the show. It depends on the show, though. If you watch The Sopranos, that open goes on forever, but it has really branded the show. It depends on what the creative direction is and how much the [producers] perceive the music as an emotional connection to the viewer.”
Although the G&E studios boast all of today’s best technology, both Schloss and Blicker are old-school musicians who rely on such things as Gibson Les Paul guitars, Marshall amplifiers, drum kits by D&W and Tama and the like.