Why I Make Such a Big Damn Deal about Audio for Video!

I’ve said it before: the most important component of a high quality video story is the audio. Note the use of the word┬ástory: YouTube ramblings, addresses from the marketing director, and explainers don’t count– their audio is the person speaking or explaining and music may be a distraction.

I didn’t come to this conclusion without practical experience. I first started in the business doing “twin dissolve slide shows” for business and arts groups. a twin dissolve slide show is compressed of two Kodak Carousel slide projectors, a “dissolver box” connected to the two projectors, and a tape recorder with the soundtrack and a cable to the dissolve box telling it when to advance slides. Going from one slide to the next involved a special effect: a dissolve or fade from one slide to the next, so there was never a blank screen. The net effect was cohesive, whole sight and sound show, the less expensive version of an industrial film.

The cable between the dissolver box and tape recorder was used to record “pulses” on a separate audio rack which triggered the slide advance and dissolve effect.

Script-> Shooting-> Soundtrack-> Editing.

This was our production path, and any video producer will tell you this is wrong. Editing is a dance between audio and video, and the editor needs to play with both elements to create a well-paced, engaging end result.

But our challenge was the slides part. Slides and audio were necessarily edited separately, usually by two different people. You could lay out the show on light tables as per the script, but you wouldn’t know exactly how to time and pace the show until there was a soundtrack to tell you how long a sequence would be, whether the pace was slow or fast, emotional or humorous, etc. So the soundtrack preceded the final edit, placing the slides in the slide trays, and “pulsing” the show. In other words, it was providing the majority of the editing decisions simply by being first.

A peak inside our audio production studio- two 4 track tape decks, a turntable and a mixer.

Even when we moved into video, we kept this as our editing model.Budget video editing in the early days was cuts only from one 3/4″ deck to another. The soundtrack was created first and then laid onto the audio tracks on the videotape to act as an editing guide. It wasn’t until “non-linear editing” on a computer appeared that a single individual could edit both audio and video with an array of both audio and video transitions and effects. (Large video “post production houses” had this capability somewhat earlier).

Lesson Learned: Audio Drives the Pace and Emotion of the Project

Our books The VideoBiz and How to Create Tribute Videos both have extensive sections on audio production and may be a help to you. They’re available in Kindle and Paperback. Check out this blog’s past entries for more thoughts on audio as well.

A weak soundtrack will bore audiences, causing them to disengage, start coughing, shimmy in their seats, and slow the perceived passage of time. Which means you will have failed your client. Which means you’ve put your job or your company in peril. And you’ve made your direct client look bad.

How My Favorite Soundtracks Helped My Career

How My Favorite Soundtracks Helped My Career

Movie Music had a major impact on how I decided to craft our earliest slide show (eventually video) soundtracks.

As a 22 year old in a competitive corporate climate, I wanted to make sure that our “sound” was big time. I knew that the proper use of “movie style” music was the key.

Eventually, I found the right music to “borrow”– a combination of classical and movie soundtrack– and we were on our way. I first learned my craft doing family “Tributes” for my family, and some of the listed music was for these in-house “practice” projects.

I borrowed from some of my favorite soundtracks, and here’s a list of what I borrowed (this was 42 years ago, so I assume the statute of limitations has run out. If not, well, then, who hacked my WordPress?)

Citizen Kane. Bernard Herrmann’s music made this movie for me. His symphonic compilation, “Welles Raises Kane”, covers all the emotions… pride, enthusiasm, triumph, a life’s summation. I combined this with “The Memory Waltz” from Jane Eyre to add early moments of nostalgia.

Midnight Cowboy. Not for the Nillson songs. For John Barry’s beautiful “Joe Buck Rides Again”. It romances, then it gallops.

The Magic Christian.  Three great pop songs came out of this, but I loved the energy in Ken Thorne’s underscore to “The Hunting Scene.”

 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. John Barry again, and this time it’s for the lilting, then marching Journey to Blofeld’s Hideaway.  I used this to help paint a picture of my parents’ trip to San Simeon for a slide show my Dad was putting together. He was amazed.

And some classical favorites that actually work within the context of arts or industrial soundtracks:

The Overture from the School for Scandal. Samuel Barber’s first composition for full orchestra. It was composed in 1931 while Barber was completing his studies at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. We used in in our first professionally completed slideshow for the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

The Academic Festival Overture. Johannes Brahms. Brahms composed the Academic Festival Overture during the summer of 1880 as a musical “thank you” to the University of Breslau, which had awarded him an honorary doctorate the previous year. It is amazing to me how cinematic this piece is, and we used a recording of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra performing it in a slideshow documentary for the Milwaukee Symphony, conducted by Kenneth Schermerhorn.

After these first few practice runs, with the hope that our output (and income) would increase, we began investing in music libraries, which in those days came on 12″ stereo LP’s. My early favorite was The Chappell Library, which souerce music from England, France and Germany, and later, KPM, which primarily distributed the works of top notch British composers / conductors.

But it all started, as it did for so many in so many ways, with a viewing of Citizen Kane.