As a small child, my music-loving parents taught me how to tape songs from the radio and from their LP collection in order to make my own mix tapes and, as a result, I’ve essentially spent the rest of my life perfecting the art of music curation via tapes, then CDs and now digital playlists. Sometimes I curated to show off my ‘great’ taste to friends. I’ve curated to tell someone I liked them or let an old friend know I missed them. Sometimes I simply curated for myself for inspiration.
Simply put, music is an emotional engine that drives people to feel. When a listener is made to feel a certain way via song, they can also be inspired to act on those feelings and emotions. Advertisers use this to drive customers to buy their product. Music controls desire!
At Sonic Union, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to put these lifelong skills to good use. Our music team provides all kinds of music resources for clients: original composition, licensing through labels and stock music library searches. Library searches are just one of the many ways I find myself dusting off the old mixtape skills.
Typically, we’ll receive a brief from a client with a stated genre or emotional resonance that they’re aiming to achieve with their music. The client may have a temporary track that they’re using in a rough cut, or sometimes they won’t. Armed with this info, I’ll dive in and start searching the libraries that we typically use, including APM, Megatrax, Universal Production Music and many more. I’ll often take their reference track and start to break down what I’m actually hearing. What is the instrumentation? What sort of space is left where the instruments don’t play? Are there lyrics? What do they say? Is there an implied emotion or feeling this music is trying to communicate?
There are certain emotional tropes that are cultural signifiers and I can play with these in my searches as well. If I present someone with a track that has tenderly played piano major chords with a rising string or organic synth pad behind it, they’re going to hear optimism, perhaps hopefulness. If I present a track with rapidly arpeggiating or rippling synth outlining a suspended chord, they’re going to hear technological innovation, transformation or perhaps inspiration, even if they have no musical training. Our brains make these connections for us. The searcher's job is to use those connections to help tell a story.
Whether I’m sifting through my mom’s jazz records or my dad’s Joni Mitchell LPs, or trawling through the deep stock libraries that we access daily at Sonic, I find myself continuing to search for (and find) music that moves, inspires and tells a story. It’s an inspiring job that I’m grateful to take on daily. I’m also grateful that our industry not only needs tasks like this, but depends on music to complete their stories.
Julian Fader is a Boston-based composer, music supervisor and drummer with Sonic Union (www.sonicunion.com).