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Music and Video: A Conversation With Three Musicians

We hold one AMA (Ask Me Anything) each month in the Wistia Community. During each AMA, experts from the video marketing industry (and beyond!) answer member questions via livestreamed video. We're always looking for new guest experts, so please let us know if there's someone you'd love to learn from!

This past week, our AMA featured Wistia's Creative Director Dan Mills, and his two bandmates, Adam Podd and Mark Goodell. The masterminds behind our new background tracks, these three musicians answered questions on software instrument libraries, volume levels, and more.

Here's a quick rundown of some highlights:

Composing and arranging

When composing custom background music for Wistia, Dan watches the video and begins by deciding on a tempo or a rhythm. "I look through drum machines and find a groove and tempo that feels good," he said. "I build it, in that regard, rhythm up."

When composing as a group, collaboration and experimentation are key. Mark explained that for the recent Let Em In sessions, Dan often provided a chord progression or a little melody, then they'd spitball back and forth before arriving at a final product.

Adam mentioned the importance of respecting each teammates' expertise when composing as a group. When you allow the players to contribute to their own instrument's parts, you end up with a more interesting final result. In Adam's words, "If you can let the drummer be the drummer, you'll have a better outcome than if you try to micromanage everybody's individual thing."

"If you can let the drummer be the drummer, you'll have a better outcome than if you try to micromanage everybody's individual thing."

Emotional journey

Musicians who compose for specific videos are tasked with creating an emotional journey of sorts, transporting the audience from one state to another. While explaining his own composition process, Dan noted, "There are a lot of little tricks, depending on the track. A lot of it is about the pacing of the track, the register in which the instruments are, and how many layers of instruments there will be."

Adam added, "If you listen to film scores, the underlying pulse often stays the same. It sort of lets your heartbeat stay the same while you're listening, and you get taken up and down in dynamics more than tempos."

Software instrument libraries

Software instrument libraries are collections of digital sound recordings (also called samples). So instead of having to record a pan flute or a timpani every time you need one, producers can pull up the software instrument, and trigger the samples with a MIDI/USB keyboard. These are a few of Dan, Mark, and Adam's favorite libraries.

  • Paul Mabury - "Really cool drum sounds."
  • Native Instruments - "Great for trailers."
  • Logic - "They still have a really amazing library of samples, as well as really good instruments that you can mess with."
  • Ivory - "I use it for my fake piano sounds."

Working with local talent

There are multiple benefits to working with a local composer. Dan explained, "If you're producing a lot of video that would benefit from a consistent brand of music, it might be worth poking around in the music scene and trying to find some composers. It depends on how many videos you want to make and how much money you want to spend."

In terms of finding the right fit, Adam noted, "It's not at all unprofessional or weird to ask a musician for samples of their work. If it's somebody who hasn't done a lot of it before, don't be afraid to ask them for 15 seconds of sound to see what their mixing capabilities are, before hiring them to make five tracks for you."

Volume levels

The more you practice adjusting the volume of background tracks in videos, the faster you will develop an ear for volume levels. "If you're trying to err on one side or the other, it's a lot more forgiving to have the background music be too quiet than too loud," said Adam.

Dan explained, "If someone's talking, I would not use tracks with vocals, but if it's video of how good your vacation was, a video with no lyrics could be kind of boring."

Mark added that you should always consider the instrumental range and the tonality of instruments that you use. "You want to make space for the human voice, or the robot voice, or whatever you use."


Inspirational speeches and miscellany

Mark:

"As you're working on any of this stuff, just ask questions of people. Whether you're trying to find music for your project, or whether you're trying to write music for your project, whether you're trying to record, don't be afraid to ask questions of somebody that you know that also writes music… just getting opinions of other people, and just having that workflow, it really helps get a better quality product."

Adam:

"People are often more musical than they either realize or they're comfortable bringing to their own company if they're not the music person. A lot of this new software is getting better at extracting that from you. If you have some musical instincts, and you're able to piece your own loops together… If that's where you're at budget wise, I think that people can learn to trust their own musicality when that's all they have as an option."

Dan:

"If it makes everyone feel better, at one point in time, we all really sucked at music. I can very confidently say that."


You can still watch the entire AMA in the Community!

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