July 16, 2015

The Creative Process Behind Our Free Background Music

Dan Mills

Creative

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: music plays a super important role in your video. And that’s why, once again, we have released some free music for all of you to use in your videos!

As you may or may not know, this isn’t the first time we have given away some free tunes. A while back, when we launched a video about choosing background music, we thought some free tracks would be a helpful asset to go along with it. The result was the “The Sidecar Sessions”: three righteous tracks composed and recorded in the Wistia studio, on the very laptop where I’m typing this incredible blog post.

We were all super pumped to find out that people were digging the music! Getting the right background track for your video can be time-consuming and expensive, and it felt great to help alleviate that roadblock and see those little tunes get used in all sorts of different videos.

And now, I’m happy to finally release the next round of tracks for y’all to use, the “Let Em In Sessions”.

What was different about the “Let Em In Sessions”?

Glad you asked… a lot! But I’m gonna highlight the two things that made this experience so much different not only from the last go-around for giveaway tracks, but also for content-making at Wistia in general.

Location, location, location

Named after the studio where they were recorded, the “Let Em In Sessions” took place at one of my favorite recording studios in NYC - Let Em In, located near the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn.

Let Em In studio

Nearly every Wistia song that’s ever gone out the door has been written and recorded at the office in Cambridge, or in my small home studio. While my setup in both locations is totally fine for the day-to-day needs of Wistia, it simply does not compare to that of an actual recording studio.

The beat lab at Wistia HQ

Recording studios are acoustically treated and designed for recording and mixing, they have a wider selection of microphones and instruments, and they offer loads of pricey outboard gear and computer plug-ins to make audio sound as amazing as a T-Swift record. It was a huge advantage being in an actual recording studio.

Worked with some non-Wistians

I worked with two of my closest musical collaborators, who have been playing in my band for the good part of a decade. I did this for a couple of reasons… I wanted to produce more songs in less time, and I wanted the quality of the audio and the musicianship to be higher.

Here’s a tiny bit of info on what the other two musicians brought to the table:

Adam Podd is an incredibly educated musician/pianist/composer. You might know his work from the song in the old Lenny front page video, and the arrangement of the occasionally-tweeted (but scrapped for creepiness) “Barbershop Quartet” video.

Mark Goodell is a very creative producer and guitarist. However, his biggest contribution to this project was his skills as an audio engineer and mixer. Mark brought our new recordings to a much higher quality level (sonically speaking) than I’m capable of achieving on my own in the Wistia studio.

How did it go down?

We composed, recorded, mixed, and mastered 6 songs in 5 days! A few are a bit outside the box for a standard talking head, product launch, or support video, but we wanted to get some variety in what we had to offer for free tracks because those aren’t the only videos out in the world. Some tunes are more universal, and others will be useful for the right sort of project. I’m very interested to see what kinds of videos the tracks end up in!

Even with 8+ years of experience working with Adam and Mark in the studio, there was a learning curve for me in the role of project manager for a background track session. I’m used to making music for Wistia by myself, with feedback from our video producer, Chris Lavigne, when the songs are finished.

Here are a few lessons I learned about time management as a project manager with a budget-fueled deadline.

Time management

Daily goal setting

Adam, Mark, and I talked each morning about what we hoped to accomplish, and tweaked our approach as needed. I tried to manage the situation to not only nurture creativity, but also to be as efficient as possible.

One task at a time

I started to realize that we would often bounce around to different parts of the process. By the third day, we started designating certain times for writing/brainstorming vs. recording/editing.

Keep things moving & don’t waste resources

I became more and more outspoken when we were spinning our wheels or losing focus, and made sure each of us had something to do on our own even if the main task of the moment didn’t require all hands on deck.

Biggest takeaway (Jerry Springer final thought moment)

Using better gear, real instruments, different musicians, and professionally-mixed audio brought our sound quality to the next level. We don’t always need to pull out all the stops and work with outside experts, but depending on the project, I think it’s something Wistia might be considering more regularly.

The bigger takeaway from experimenting with this music project was from the experience of working with outside contractors. It’s always illuminating to try new creative processes, and this one will definitely change the way I work with people who aren’t my usual collaborators at Wistia. It was really fun to learn some new things about the intersection between creativity and communication.

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