Swede’s School of Mash

Video mash ups are all over Youtube.  Be it ‘Cassetteboy Vs The Bloody Apprentice’ or one of the many tracks created using Songify, like ‘Winning’ a song by Charlie Sheen they all help our lunch breaks / kettle boiling / tube journeys go quicker.

But there’s a heap of time, skill and patience that goes into these videos.  The author has to successfully write a catchy song or find a great piece of dialogue, find and edit all the video, and consider the copyright of the videos they are using.

If you haven’t yet seen a video by Swede Mason, you must live on planet Targ.  As one of the wonderful breakthrough talents of the mash up world, I thought I’d get in touch with Swede and ask him a few questions.

Hi Swede!

Firstly, thanks very much for taking the time to be part of my blog.

I guess the first question people may ask when listening to your work is how much time do you put into making one of your tracks? Does it take hours of television watching to find those perfect audio clips?

It takes time to gather the samples, but its an ongoing thing, and ive been collecting them for over ten years. if im watching telly or a film or whatever, I’m always nicking bits and pieces that I think might be interesting to mess with. Putting them together into a track takes time, depending on how ambitious the composition is. Get in the back of the van took 6 hours, whereas magpie music took 6 months.

How do you go about structuring and writing a track?

I usually start with a sample that I think is a hook, and then try to find other samples that fit if it needs to be taken further. The samples inspire the concepts behind the tunes.

It’s quite rare to find a great musician, writer and video editor all in one. Did you start out as a musician or a video editor?

Thanks! It’s just perseverance. If you spend ten years doing something you are gonna get better. I used play in bands but always took a back seat on the writing. When I started making my own stuff I could indulge in some ridiculous ideas which would never have worked in a band. I cant sing, so sampling was a way of getting a lead into the music. I was influenced by White Zombie initially, and Chris Morris

Your work seems to be going from strength to strength, are you now scouting out new ideas for tracks?

Got a few things on the boil yep.

When you watch TV promos, adverts or online videos in a mashup style, do you ever think, ‘I could have done that better’?

Kind of. I dont think I could do it better though. There are so many restrictions when you do commissions, promos and that kind of thing. You’re selling something after all. It’s not easy to make something good when you are on the leash.

Have you ever thought about exploring other avenues with your work like editing audio live or teaching your skills to others?

I’m gonna try and sort out a live A/V set for next year. If anyone wants lessons at swede’s school of mash get in touch with Dental Records.

How did you go about releasing Masterchef Synesthesia on iTunes?

The guys at Dental Records had to strike a deal with the production company that owns the clips. They liked the tune and wanted to make some easy money. Once they’d reached an agreement it as just a case of getting onto online platforms, and starting a campaign online to try and get it in the charts for a laugh.

Lastly, what do you love most about creating your videos?

Finding a great sample. Keeping an open mind about what can be used as music and taking a ridiculous idea through to completion is a buzz.

Masterchef Synesthesia reached number 37 on the iTunes chart. It is still available from iTunes for 79p

Thanks for reading, and see you next time.  If you liked this blog, please subscribe :0)

Claire

Claire Batchelor, Composer for Television, Film, New Media, Theatre and Live

Claire Batchelor, Composer for Television, Film, New Media, Theatre and Live

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10 Ways To Ruin Your Video Project With Music

If you ever work on media projects that use music, this list is for you. 

I know two things.  One is that being a composer for picture means that I scrutinise pretty much every piece of applied music I hear.  The second is that other composers, I know, also suffer from this.  We love something, we hate something, we want to sound like someone, we think we could do something better, we can’t BELIEVE we just heard that rip off / sound library / synth / plug in. 

After a while, you start to notice the same things over and over again.  Composers will inevitably construct small huddles in the corners of rooms, debating these things, laughing, conferring, crying, tearing their hair out.  If only the rest of the world knew our pain.  So I decided to list a few for your enjoyment. 

10 Ways To Ruin Your Video Project With Music

1.) You hire a composer who actually still uses cheap MIDI orchestra sounds (Watch this Heinz Salad Cream advert for details, 2010).

2.) Have the music track so quiet that the composer sits in front of their TV with a visible question mark above their head.  Why were they even hired?  Note – other composers watching the program instantly feel their hurt.

3.) You slap your newest favourite song on the video as a temp track and pay a composer to mimick it, not signing off anything less than pure plagiarism. 

4.) You’ve scoured for hours in the endless depths of ten different music libraries, and pick something that barely fits but you’re bored of sifting through.

5.) Your mate plays the guitar and is writing the music.

6.) YOU play the guitar and are writing the music.

7.) You change your mind about what you want so many times during the project, that the composer’s mind and creative passion have simultaneously turned into something that resembles month old soggy Weetabix.

8.) Get loads of really cool bits of music just like on Top Gear – and then realise your editor couldn’t chop a carrot.

9.) Lay down all your audio tracks using Laptop speakers, speakers sat on a reflective desk, speakers near the ceiling, speakers on the floor, or anything equally ridiculous.  (If you want to know how to position your speakers, please read this excellent PDF.)

10.) You use the originals of, or even worse, poor soundalikes of any of the below as these are officially the most overused tracks of all time*

‘Lux Aeterna’ (Listen from 1:23) from Requiem for a Dream   

‘Angel’ by Massive Attack

‘Teardrop’ by Massive Attack

‘Clubbed to Death’, by Rob Dougan

Anything from Moby’s Album ‘Play’

* Official according to me.  P.s, these are great tracks, but horribly overused. Music Supervisors, Post Production Supervisors and Editors, we beg you to find new pieces of music to use.

Comments below! See you next time :0)

Claire

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The Music and The Memories

Have you ever thought about the psychological differences between listening to a piece of music you’ve heard before, and a new piece of music?

If not, maybe you should start – as these differences can affect your audience considerably.  Music has a powerful emotional pull, and everyone has very personal associations with music they know.  Imagine a piece of music that has negative associations to you. It may be an ex-partners favourite song, or a favourite record your sibling used to play over and over.

Now imagine that an advert comes on TV, let’s say for a new smartphone coming out.  The ad starts and you hear those familiar opening bars of that song.  Are you thinking about the phone? You may be – but there is also the possibility that you will slip off into a daydream, feel a tiny surge of resentment that your sister got the better stereo and therefore could play the blooming song at full volume all the time, oh and weren’t you going to call her the other day and then forgot…

Not exactly what the advertisers were after, and there may be literally hundreds of songs which will provoke a memory or emotional response from you.  In fact, it’s scientifically proven that music can evoke memories, and may even be used in the future to help treat people with Alzheimer’s Disease: Science Daily: Brain Hub That Links Memory and Music Discovered

“Are you using a piece of music in your new project because it really is the best fitting piece of music?”

The effects can resonate in any type of media project, not just advertising. If you use a song or well-known piece of music in a corporate video that makes the listener think of something else, are they listening to the voice over?  Are they really paying attention?

The flip side to this coin is that sometimes music can be used because of its associations – you only need to watch a person’s soufflé actually rise on Come Dine With Me to hear the “Hallelujah” Chorus by Handel.  Also, if a piece of music is overused, (Take That, I’m looking at you) it may lose its impact altogether after the audience have heard it thousands of times.  Why would anyone need to buy the single?

Ear Art

So what if you don’t ever use well-known music, or don’t have the budget for it?  Well, you’re not excluded.  An intrinsic angle to this which is also worth considering, is whether you have a positive association with a piece of music because you have successfully used it in a project before.  The track may be unknown to most of the world, but to you it’s the track that two separate clients loved in their past projects.  Are you using it in your new project because it really is the best fitting piece of music, or are you using it because you have a positive association, and subconsciously think you will get the same positive result?

The Other Options

Cover Versions

If you use an unknown cover version of a well-known song, or get a composer to record one, you can enjoy the best of both worlds.  You could end up grabbing your audience’s attention whilst they hear the opening bars that they recognise, maybe played on a different instrument, then get the wave of recognition as the vocal comes in.  They’re delighted that they’ve recognised the song  in its new form, and because it’s a new version, they can associate it with the brand.  This was used to great effect by Adam and Eve for John Lewis in their Christmas 2009 and 2010 adverts.

Youtube – John Lewis Christmas 2009 “Sweet Child of Mine”

Youtube – John Lewis Christmas 2010 “Your Song”

Another good example is the cover of Blondie’s ‘Sunday Girl’ by Alex Ball and Phillipa Alexander for M&C Saatchi. I asked Alex what he thought:

“The intention was to get a well-known song with relevant lyrics, but create a particularly laid back mood with a new arrangement of it. “Sunday Girl” is originally a pop/punk song, but it’s simple chord progression and major key lent itself to a slowed down acoustic version. This meant we could capture the mood we wanted, but have the “familiarity effect” of the song that the audience recognises. Our agency was inundated with calls from people wanting the cover, and so 10,000 downloads were made available from the Mail on Sunday website. So the music definitely did it’s job.” – Alex Ball

  Pros Cons
Existing Track Recognition from audience  Can be distracting, Expensive
Cover Version Recognition from audience, but can also be associated with a brand / film / subject as it is a new version Can be expensive, but usually cheaper than licensing the original recording.
Composed Music Tailored to fit the video No recognition from audience at first 

Composed Music

Specifically composed music has no outside connections or connotations, and is tailored specifically to your video.  However, there is no instant recognition from the audience first time, but if the music is strong enough and heard enough times (in advertising) it can really signify the brand.

In a corporate film or documentary, composed or unknown music can work well as the listener will be able to concentrate on the subject without being distracted, and the music can be tailored to match the moods of the film. 

And just to finish off, a few of my personal associations:

 
 

 

 
 

  • If I hear any song from ‘K’ by Kula Shaker I instantly remember being 14
  • If I hear anything by Roy Orbison or Neil Young I remember being a young child (what my Mum used to play all the time)

Thanks for reading, and see you next time.  If you liked this blog, please subscribe :0)

Claire

Claire Batchelor, Composer for Television, Film, New Media, Theatre and Live
Claire Batchelor, Composer for Television, Film, New Media, Theatre and Live

 

 



 





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10 Minute Tips: Using Audio Compression in Videos

Are you using compression correctly on the voice overs and audio files in your video productions? Are you using any at all?  Compression in real terms means competition… 

If you’re not using compression on the audio in your videos, your work could fail to measure up to your competitors.  It’s true that things have got louder over the years;  television programmes, adverts and music have become more and more compressed.  Whilst I personally dislike very heavy compression, (most Katy Perry songs give me a headache..) the right amount will help give your voiceovers depth and definition, and make your overall audio sound polished and improved.

So how do you go about achieving the right results?

Ideally you should aim to improve the sound of your production but not over compress it.  A compressor in basic terms ‘squashes’ the sound but can also have the effect of making audio sound louder, ‘jump out’, smoother and with less dynamic range.

Usually you will have access to some sort of compressor plug-in within your video production suite.  I would advise setting up a compressor on your voiceover / speech tracks if you have them, and if you can, over all your audio tracks together (you may need to use a bus or group track to achieve this.)  Whether you apply your overall compressor before or after roughly mixing the audio tracks is personal preference.  I like to have a mild compressor on the whole mix from the start so that when I’m mixing the audio I can hear it and it’s not so much of a change.

A word of warning – applying your overall bus / group compressor should be done with care as it will change the sound of the whole video.  If your compressor has presets try anything called ‘light compression’ or ‘gentle mix compression’.

Compressing a voice correctly will help any voiceover, vox pop or piece to camera be clearly audible and have a warm, pleasing tone.  One of the main reasons for using compression is that there will be less peaks and troughs in your audio – making it tighter and stronger.  Speech will be less easily lost and stand out against any foley or music (which most likely will have been compressed rather a lot). Again, look for a suitable preset or see the settings under ‘Single Band Compressor’ below.

Uncompressed Vocal

Uncompressed Vocal

Compressed Vocal

Compressed Vocal

Highly Compressed Vocal

Highly Compressed Vocal

 

 Glossary
 

Light Compressor

Light Compressor

Single Band Compressor

A simple compressor usually with controls such as Ratio and Threshold.  A good article on what these controls do along with Gain controls and how they work can be found on the ever useful Sound on Sound article base.  Get to know what each parameter does and notice the difference in sound.  if you’re getting stuck, try a preset as mentioned before.  You can always tweak the settings of a preset – they can be good starting points.

Also there’s a good definition of Ratio from Audio Issues.com :

Heavy Compressor

Heavy Compressor

“The ratio is where you determine how much compression you are going to apply to a signal that goes over your threshold. For every signal that goes over the threshold, it gets compressed according to a certain ratio.  For example: A compressor with a threshold at -10dB and a 3:1 ratio is a nice starting point for vocals. If you have a semi-constant level of the vocal at -1dB it will become compressed so that it only reaches -7dB”

 

Multi Band Compressor

A compressor with more than one frequency band.  This can be useful when mixing music as you can control and compress the bass frequencies (which are the loudest frequencies) seperate to the higher frequencies. 

  

Multiband Compressor

Multiband Compressor

Limiter

A harsher compressor with a higher ratio, usually used on a final mix. 

Normalize

A Normalize function will bring the volume of audio up to a specified level, eg. 0db or -3db.  However, be careful as it will also bring up any low level hiss and raises the noise floor.  It is better to aim for a louder signal (without clipping) when recording.  Normalize does not squash the signal or reduce dynamic range as a compressor does – it’s basically just like turning the volume up. 

Loudness Maximiser

A Loudness Maximiser is a special kind of limiter, capable of achieving the brain-poundingly loud masters used by pop and rock music.  Note that there is a difference between a volume level, say in decibels, and perceived loudness.  A track which has been compressed or processed may sound louder but may not actually be louder in volume.  As this has become a real problem in regards to TV stations having louder and louder adverts, there is actually a new metering specification in Europe to try and counteract the issue.  More information on this can be found in this Wikipedia article.

 

If you have any questions I will do my best to answer them.  Please note that this is only a rough outline on compression, but should be enough to get you started and get the audio on your videos sounding smoother, cleaner, louder and polished.

Claire Batchelor, Composer for Television, Film, New Media, Theatre and Live
Claire Batchelor, Composer for Television, Film, New Media, Theatre and Live
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Shiny New Blog

Welcome to my shiny new blog!

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