GEEK ALERT: If you don’t dig audio as much as I do, skip this entry!
I ducked into Promo Boot Camp’s "Sonic Survival: Bigger, Better, Badder" session with STEWART WINTER, Co-founder/Composer at www.videohelper.com One word: Wow. Alas, too many empty seats in a remarkable session overflowing with tips, techniques and shortcuts to make your promo’s audio mix stellar. I’m a gonzo music lover in the first place, but personally? Nothing’s more gratifying than when a producer sends me his/her finished vid. The graphics. The chosen vid clips. But — THE AUDIO MIX? Their efforts and creativity with non-voice audio elements are NOT lost on me whatsoever.
But let’s face it: affiliates simply don’t have the luxury of time to do a lush mix. Or do they? Winter’s big tip? "Start folders. Now," says the former promo producer. "Transitional elements, sound effects, isolate something and keep it. It’s your own personal stash of elements that will really help you save time." And what if "your music library blows?" (Winter’s turn of phrase in the session.) Don’t give up, he says. "There’s good music everywhere. It’s become so easy to produce and distribute now. Explore. It’s called ‘Google.’ You gotta cherry-pick." But one thing Winter dislikes greatly: "Non-exclusive music. Clients will find the same track six times with six different names. It cheapens things. Music’s started being less about being written for an emotion or mood. It’s frustrating."
Winter urges (and we heard this in other sessions, too), "consider doing the radio edit first, because it might inspire something different for you in doing the promo."
In his session, Winter walked us though techniques previously heretofore that would "ruin" your promo; e.g., the recklessness of using a flange, reverb, stutter, lengthy pauses or risky bit of grit from a sfx. "You want the viewer to say, ‘WHAT was THAT?’ or ‘WHAT did I just hear?’," says Winter, to grab attention. He encourages suspending a loop into a "freeze." Be fearless about a subtext in the mix that may include barking dogs and polka music. (He played an actual spot that did!) Use a "radio" effect and modulate the voice rhythmically to the music. A pet example of his? An E! promo in which the female VO was layered twice: one emotional and one emotionless. The end effect was disturbing — as was the series it promoted, "What’s Eating You?" (The promo featured a woman’s obsession with eating chalk.)
"But use caution," says Winter, "because your mix will sometimes be like an ugly baby. Stay with it long enough and the ugly baby becomes a pretty baby. Get someone else to listen to it. If you have the time? Wait 12 hours and listen again. If it’s bad? Dump it!"
Another case study: the arguably boring news promo. The client demanded a particular music bed. Winter played the vid of Obama, a White House and what not. Then he played the music. It was a Japanese melody. Winter took us thru the steps. The isolation of a clip. The processing. The crossfades. The wizardry was confounding. The room filled with a bit of wonder and several "A-HAs." And it’s hard to believe…but the spot was rejected! Which is ANOTHER brief topic Winter discussed and reassured as reality.
"Editing the music saves your a**," says Winter about the categorically cruddy music choice of the news spot. "See the music as a series of elements. Viewers won’t notice. That’s because you did it intelligently."
"Intelligently." That’s how I felt about my attendance of this hidden gem session. I did so. Very.