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The Cost of Music – A Filmmaker’s Guide to Cutting Costs on Soundtracks & Scores

The Cost of Music – A Filmmaker’s Guide to Cutting Costs on Soundtracks & Scores

Professional and semi pro filmmakers are aware of the huge impact a great music score can make on their production. But the temptation is to cut costs on music so that more of the budget can be invested in the costly visual & post production side of film making.

 

So how do you trim your music budget without compromising the quality of the score?

Here we offer some tips and tricks on the best way to reduce costs while making sure that your score has the maximum impact on your audience.

Hiring a Composer

There are a number of different ways to add music to a film production. The director could hire a composer & liaise with him or her on every aspect of the score. Together they could spot the various scenes that require added emotional impact & discuss the hiring of an orchestra & specialist musicians to add reality and depth to the music. But all this freedom and flexibility comes at a cost. For a feature length documentary a professional composer’s fee could be up to $30,000 (Danny Elfman costs a little more!) and hiring an orchestra can be a drain on money and time, with sessions adding two or three weeks to recordings and in some cases doubling the allocated budget. However, for some directors a ‘gun-for-hire’ composer may be a necessary expense. This way they can ensure that they will receive personal input on their score, and be able to liaise with the composer if things don’t sound exactly how they’d imagined.

So hiring a composer is flexible & can add a unique quality to the production. But there are also many other options to consider.

Using Published Music

In terms of cost, placing published commercial music in your film is undoubtedly the most expensive solution. Permission needs to be granted by the songwriter (through the publisher) as well as the performer (through the record label). Hiring a rights lawyer to clear permission is only part of the expense. Both publisher and record label will have entirely separate agendas that will conspire to maximise income from their release. And the more a director sets his sights on a particular song, the more expensive they will make it to grant permission.

If a film includes published music without clearing it first, there may be penalties later. The more successful a film becomes, the more costly the penalties are once the clearance problem has been identified, with fees being based on the amount of screenings at film festivals, theatres and on video sharing sites.

There is also the issue of content. Many publishers will refuse clearance due to the religious, sexual or violent nature of the film’s content. Without knowing this, negotiations may have already begun and with a music lawyer on an hourly rate it’s easy to see how clearance issues can soon send the budget spiralling out of control.

Unless there’s no option, it’s sensible for directors to steer clear of published commercial releases in their score.

Using Stock Music

Stock music (AKA library music or production cues) may not be the most flexible way to score a film, but it’s certainly one of the most cost effective. Contemporary stock music is often tailor made for such projects, whereby a central musical theme will have been edited into suitable durations and incidental underscores so that the filmmaker can choose an off-the-shelf solution that is effective and compelling.

Many of today’s stock music producers are themselves film & TV composers which means they have the necessary experience and resources to turn out lush, intricate cues that predict many of the key emotional states expressed in the narrative arc of a typical high end feature film.

Adventure, melodrama, comedy, documentary. Most styles are catered for and often the only drawback is the amount of choice facing a director when he begins his search.

To get the best music filmmakers will need to visit the best and most reputable sites and libraries.

And the better the catalogue, the more expensive the music becomes. However that’s generally a sign of good quality. And whatever the cost, it will be a fraction of the fee for a composer.

And stock music also comes with one huge advantage. If purchased from a reputable site or catalogue, the cost incurred will also include an extensive license. This could include worldwide usage and limitless reproduction in perpetuity. So the director is able to curb costs on music supervisors, lawyers, composers, orchestras and musicians as well as instantly gaining access to all the paperwork required for music rights, copyright and distribution. All this will be included in the license. Saving them time, money and lots of future headaches when the film is distributed worldwide.

On the downside, the score won’t be exclusive. Other filmmakers can access the same music. But if it locks in perfectly with the narrative of a film, then however many other people use it, it will never sound exactly the same. Because of the unique combination of the music, visuals & narrative storyline of each particular project.

If you do decide to use stock music / production music, you could do a lot worse than starting right here at Shockwave-Sound.

The Final Cost

So, is stock music the most effective option for the pro and semi-pro filmmaker?

From the three options above the answer would be yes. However to score a feature length film or documentary with original stock music may require up to two hours of cues, which could end up being expensive. Thankfully, many catalogues release collections with many tracks of similar themes or a complete narrative arc. This greatly reduces the cost of buying each track individually.

As for quality vs. price, it’s worth considering that very few scores are made up of tracks that have been downloaded for $0.99!

Other Options

Public domain music is music with lapsed copyright. Some very interesting music has entered the public domain, particularly from the 1920’s and 30’s and it’s a good resource for eclectic and unusual recordings that may spark the imagination. Blues, swing, ragtime and a lot of contemporary music that is out of copyright. It’s worth spending time listening to what’s out there.

However, it’s sometimes unclear as to whether the performance rights are in the public domain as well as the rights to the composition. If one or other remains under copyright, it will present unforeseen problems if a director is set on using a specific recording of the music.

What they do in Hollywood


Director John Carpenter composed the score for many of his own films

Sometimes directors choose to score the film themselves. Legendary Hollywood director John Carpenter has provided the score for sixteen of his major motion pictures including Dark Star, Assault on Precinct 13 and Halloween. David Lynch is also a director who often performs and is deeply involved in the musical scores of his own feature films such as Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire.

Such is the importance of dramatic scores that directors will go to great lengths to get the music they want. Quentin Tarrentino wanted so much to have Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Stuck in the Middle’ for the torture scene in Reservoir Dogs that he fired the music supervisor when they couldn’t license the track. He then employed a music supervisor who got him the rights to the song and the famous scene was brought to life.

Some films employ a device called diegetic sound, where the score is made up of the naturally occurring sounds in the scene. A radio playing, a jukebox, a live band. All adding to a much more naturalistic approach rather than the more self-conscience written score.

Some scores go even further than that. The Coen Brothers’ film, No Country For Old Men had very little recognisable music at all. The score consisting of occasional tones & frequencies that were so in tune with the scene as to be unrecognisable as actual music. Often more like feedback or processed versions of the natural ambiences already present in the scene.

Martin Scorsese uses end to end published commercial music for his movie scores. Often a heady mix of Doo Wop, Phil Spectre, Motown and his favourite band, The Rolling Stones. Although recent films have unearthed buried gems like ‘Wheel of Fortune’ by Kay Star & ‘Cry’ by Johnny Ray from Shutter Island. ‘Bang Bang’ by Jo Cuba and ‘Dust My Broom’ by Elmore James from Wolf on Wall Street. As a music curator, Scorsese is creatively fearless and his hugely popular films of course have a massive budget set aside for licence fees.

All of these directors have a unique way of scoring. And it’s useful to study each director’s approach as well as the different techniques they employ to score each of their movies.

Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island score features many obscure gems

A few more ideas

There are other options available for scoring a film or compiling a soundtrack. Filmmakers often turn to family, friends or colleagues when it comes to music production.

Unsigned bands are also a consideration. Although experience and reliability are often not their strong points.

Perhaps the most exciting score may be a combination of many of the above suggestions. One or two bespoke cues from a hired composer, alongside a number of licensed themes from Stock Music catalogues. And then some eclectic choices from public domain or unsigned bands to add some unusual and unique qualities to the production.

Whatever you decide, hopefully some of these ideas will help create an exciting and innovative score for your next creative film project.

About the author: Simon Power has made
over 50 short films and documentaries for the music technology website Sonic
State. He has also removed & replaced copyrighted music on a number
of commercial BBC releases. In these articles he offers advice and tips
about using music in your low budget film and audio/visual projects. You
can learn more about Simon and his projects at his website, http://www.meonsound.com/
Music for the Boxset Generation

Music for the Boxset Generation

by Simon Power

Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Nashville, The Sopranos. American drama series are a huge influence on the way television looks, feels and sounds in contemporary entertainment. A big part of that enjoyment comes from their music: The soundtracks & scores. In this article we take a look at the music used in some of those series and find out what makes it such an essential part of the viewing experience for the boxset generation.

 

Game of Thrones (HBO)

music composed by Ramin Djawadi.

Synopsis

Based on the fantasy novels, A Song of Fire & Ice by George R.R.Martin, Game Of Thrones is set in the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos with storylines encompassing civil unrest, exile & the impending threat of a very, very long winter.

The music

An important part of the mood setting in Game Of Thrones is its long title sequence and theme tune at the beginning of every episode. A mechanical 3 dimensional map unfolds alongside Djawadi’s evocative music. A rich orchestral theme featuring cantering Eastern style cinematic percussion, a solo cello and assortment of brass, string & woodwind instruments. This theme sets the tone for the narrative and returns in a variety of versions throughout the series.

GOT is heavy on complex dialogue which tends to govern the role of the music. Moody orchestral swells offer support to the atmosphere of the dialogue, helping define the importance of what’s being said, rather than overwhelming it.

During battle scenes the music comes to the fore, often heavy orchestration with deep resonant percussion.

Although it may be played on real instruments mixed with samples, there are very few obviously synthetic sounds to detract from the medieval feel of the series.
In fact, with its austere orchestral washes, the role of the music could be termed ‘transparent’, in as much as it’s sympathetic to the dialogue and offering a supporting role to the storyline.

Aside from the incidental score, the series also buddies up with a number of indie bands. The National, Sigur Ros and The Hold Steady giving a contemporary feel to the music palette. A good way to reach the Game of Thrones audience on another level. Offering a connection to the present day through familiar artists and bands.

———

 Breaking Bad (AMC)

Music composed by Dave Porter
Music supervisor: Thomas Golubic

Synopsis

Walter White, a Struggling chemistry teacher, is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and turns to a life of crime in order to support his family’s future before he dies.

The music

Hugely successful cult series Breaking Bad has an entirely different approach to its score and soundtrack with the music taking on a much more upfront role during the series five seasons.

There are a number of different ways in which the music appears in the show. Firstly there’s composer Dave Porter’s contemporary sounding synth based cues that appear during key moments such as scene setting, great drama, tenderness or suspense. Unlike traditional orchestral music, Porter uses synths and electronic sounds mixed with real instruments like guitar, piano and woodwind.

 

With a variety of arpeggios, swells, breakbeats and loops the score takes on a much more contemporary feel in line with producers like Trent Reznor, Brian Eno or Mogwai.

The second way that music appears is with published music tracks by established & unknown artists sprinkled through each episode adding an almost ‘music video’ feel to a scene, the music becoming any bit as important as the visuals it accompanies. Anything from 60’s Lounge jazz or Hip Hop, to indie rock or Mexican Mariachi music. The variety of music used is dynamic, eclectic and quite often full to bursting point with humour and irony. Take for instance the scene where we see meth addict & prostitute, Wendy S. going about her daily business to the jaunty overtones of The Association’s Everyone Knows It’s Windy!

————

Nashville (ABC)

Executive music producer, T-Bone Burnett
Managing producer, Buddy Miller

Synopsis

Nashville chronicles the lives of a variety of fictitious singers from Nashville, Tennessee as they deal with the ruthless cut throat world of County Music stardom.

The music

Nashville is an example of a series where songs are being recorded and performed as the drama unfolds and are often lyrically and musically intertwined with the on screen drama. It’s an example of how music, visuals and narrative can be gelled together to appear almost seamless.

The added incidental music is of course Country flavoured as well A few bars of acoustic picking as we scan across the Nashville skyline. Or a well judged slide guitar lick in a minor chord to signify moments of melodrama. As a kind of self fulfilling prophecy, the soundtrack albums have become best sellers making the music almost as popular as it appears to be fictitiously in the series!

—–

The Sopranos (HBO)

produced by David Chase

Synopsis

New Jersey mobster, Tony Soprano turns to psychiatry as he struggles to balance the conflict between his home life and his job as boss of a criminal organisation.

The music

Perhaps the original series that kicked off the boxset generation back in the late 1990’s, The Sopranos was hugely influential with its bold portrayal of the American Dream turning into a spiralling nightmare. If you were a fan, you’ll remember the dust-ups, the shoot-outs, the car chases, the brutal assassinations. But it may surprise you to learn that there was no original music composed for the shows in its entire six series run.

The music choices were all carefully chosen popular songs that fitted the mood perfectly, often in complete opposition to the on screen violence or gory melodrama. This approach to scoring was a fairly new device on TV and was perhaps more in line with the feature films of Martin Scorsese who features end to end popular music in his gangster films like Casino, Good Fellows and The Departed.

One recurring use of music in The Sopranos was a well placed eclectic song playing as the end credits rolled out. Elvis Costello, Ben E. King, The Chi-Lites, Van Morrison. Even John Cooper Clarke’s Chicken Town featured in this highly coveted spot.

Then of course the show’s popular signature tune, Woke Up This Morning by Alabama 3. Chosen when producer David Chase heard it on daytime radio while driving to work.

So just within these few examples we have seen widely diverse ways of using music in a TV series. The supporting role of Ramin Djawadi’s orchestral score in Game of Thrones, Dave Porter’s synth based incidental music for Breaking Bad, Nashville’s total integration where the music becomes part of the show and The Soprano’s reliance on popular music to make up a memorable score.

There are of course many other examples. Mad Men’s heady mix of 60’s pop, Boardwalk Empire’s prohibition era Jazz and Blues. Even The Handsome Family’s eerie title track to True Detective.

All these and many more add flavour, depth and atmosphere to the excitement of American TV dramas enjoyed on TV’s & other devices around the world by a new breed of dedicated fans. The Boxset Generation.

 

About
the author: Simon Power has made over 50 short films and documentaries
for the music technology website Sonic State. He has also removed &
replaced copyrighted music on a number of commercial BBC releases. In
these articles he offers advice and tips about using music in your low
budget film and audio/visual projects. You can learn more about Simon
and his projects at his website, http://www.meonsound.com/

 

Working with audio in Sony Vegas® – Part Two – Adding FX, Mixing & Rendering Audio Files

Working with audio in Sony Vegas® – Part Two – Adding FX, Mixing & Rendering Audio Files

by Simon Power

 

In this series of articles we will be offering fundamental help and advice to amateur and semi-pro audio/visual producers who use Sony Vegas and want to incorporate music, voice overs and SFX in their productions.

Introduction

In part one of this tutorial, we looked at importing and timestretching audio files in Sony Vegas Pro 8 ®. In this exercise we continue with our project to produce a 35 second promo ad for a garden centre, by examining ways to mix, add FX and then render our finished project.

Our voice over is 30 seconds long, while thanks to timestretching, the music is now 35 seconds in duration. This gives us 2.5 seconds of music to use at the start and end of the promo to wrap around the voice. So with the music at 00:00:00, we now place the voice over at 00:00:02.500. Now we should get a nice couple of seconds of music before the voice over kicks in. OK, great. So let’s give it a listen.

We click shift + spacebar to play from the start of the project and the music plays in nicely. But what’s this? When it hits the voice over, our limiter is working overtime, peaks are in the red and the voice over is completely lost in amongst a muddy dirge of frequencies. Yes, of course, we need to dip the music under the ‘Voice Over’ file so that both elements mix together in perfect harmony.

Again, there are a few optional ways we can do this. First of all let’s try the manual way.

Highlight the music track (‘Music Bed’) by clicking in the ‘track header’. Then hit ‘V’ on your keyboard (That’s ‘V’ for volume.). A blue line will appear along the entire length of the track dissecting the stereo channels of our music file. Approach this blue line with your mouse curser. The curser changes from an arrow into a pointing finger. Take that pointed finger along the line until it is directly under the start of the ‘Voice Over’ file on the track above. Double click, and a square block will appear on the line (see illustration). A box attached to this square should read 0.0db. If you now grab the box with your curser and pull it downwards you will notice that the volume alters. (reset it to 0.0db).

Using a number of these square blocks on the volume line, we can accurately alter the gain on an individual track and mix it with the other elements accordingly. Let’s begin a fade at 2 seconds into the music file. Create a volume block at 00:00:02 and one at 00:00:02.500. Pull the second block down and note the reduction in gain at that point. You may be surprised just how much you need to dip the volume so that the voice over takes precedent over the music. It may be as much as 10db. You’ll need to use your ears to judge when a mix is right. Take into account we may be compressing the audio at a later time, which will bring the hidden frequencies forward. So a little compensation may be needed there.

When you’re happy with the introduction, do the same at the end of the voice over to bring the volume of the music back up to 0.00db. A gradual fade in of the music over the last 2.5 seconds of the voice over may be effective, but be aware that every syllable of the spoken word has to be clear and audible before bringing the music back in to reclaim those frequencies.

Mix Automation in Sony Vegas

OK, so creating all those square blocks and laboriously altering each one is no fun? Well, there is another way. In Vegas you can automate both the volume and pan functions on each individual audio track.

First, go to the ‘track header’ and highlight the ‘Music Bed’ track. Hit ‘V’ as before to insert our volume line.

Next, go to the ‘track name’ box in the ‘track header’ there are 6 icons. ‘arm for record’/’invert track phase’/’track FX’/’automation settings’/’mute’ and ‘solo’. Click on the ‘automation settings’ sun shaped icon (actually it’s a machine cog for ‘Automation’). This will reveal a drop down menu. Currently it may be set to ‘automation off’. Move it to ‘automation write (touch)’ and tick the ‘show automation controls’ box.

Now we hit shift + spacebar to play the music from the top. Below the 6 icons, you will note that all the audio tracks have a separate volume and pan control. Grab the volume control and move it around. You’ll notice that those square boxes are back on the volume line, but this time they are appearing automatically in conjunction with your movements on the volume control. Likewise, if we play with the pan control, an orange line appears alongside the blue one on the audio track, and the music pans from left to right as we alter the control. All this happens in realtime, so you get the effect of live mixing.

But there’s an art to this ‘automation’ process. It may take you a few goes before you get the mix exactly right. Of course you can do a rough automated mix and then alter the volume line manually afterwards. This will be quicker than doing the entire mix manually and may help save some time in the long run.

So, We have timestretched our music and mixed our voice track over the top. We are now well on the way to finishing our project. But we still have a number of processes available to us before we can wrap things up and present our finished promo to the folks at the garden centre.


Volume edit points appear as squares.

FX processing and Plug-ins

We have already put a limiter set to 0.00db across the entire project, which we accessed through the effects icon on the master volume control. But for individual FX processing, we are instead going to access the FX bank via the FX icon situated on the track header. Remember the 6 icons next to the ‘rename’ box? This is where we look for our individual track FX icon. It’s the third one. Between ‘invert track phase’ and ‘automation settings’ (see illustration).

Let’s say, for this exercise that the ‘Voice Over’ track needs compression, as even after mixing, the original recording was getting a little lost when the music bed was added. Compression may help add some ‘thrust’.

Click on the FX icon on the ‘Voice Over’ track and you will see a display called ‘audio plug in’. On Vegas version 8, the audio tracks already have 3 default FX: Noise Gate, EQ and compression. These are pretty standard Sony FX. You may have a favourite Waves compressor that you want to use instead. So first, highlight the Sony compressor plug-in. In the top right hand corner of the box there are 3 FX icons. Hover over the one that displays a cross over it (‘X’). This removes that particular plug-in. Click this and the plug-in disappears leaving you with just the Noise Gate & EQ. To add your favourite Waves plug-in, click the icon next to the one you have just used. This will display a box ‘plug-in chooser’ and the name of the track ‘Voice Over’ (see illustration). There you will see all your familiar FX as Vegas supports both VST and DirectX plug-ins and will have accessed them all during the installation process. Highlight your Waves compressor, click ‘add’ and then ‘OK’. If you just click ‘OK’ the effect doesn’t load into your project. You have to ‘add’ it to the effects chain. Your compressor will now appear alongside the Noise Gate & EQ.

Let’s say you adjust the expander by a few db to smooth out the dynamics, you can then save those setting by renaming the compressor (‘Garden Centre Voice Over’) and clicking on the floppy disk icon next to the name box. Already the voice over is sounding better and maybe it will benefit from some added EQ as well. Click the EQ plug-in and you will notice there are a number of presets in the drop down menu. One of these is called ‘(Ultimate S) Female Voice Over’. Perfect! Add that. Similarly, you may have other more defined EQ that you wish to use from your own FX bank. You can of course access these as you did the Waves compressor.

As for the voice over, it’s now showing a marked improvement, holding its own nicely against the music. You can now exit the audio plug-ins box.

Just like volume and pan, you can automate all the FX plug-ins and have them running in realtime with automated FX. But for this project, we just need a single effect over the entire track, so we’ll leave the automation to a later tutorial.


The FX icon is the third icon along in the track header.

Overall FX processing

As for our project, the music was sounding just fine, so no need to add any external FX or processing. The voice over is now punching through nicely courtesy of some added compression and EQ.

Now, I may be temped to add a touch of compression over the entire project,
But compression can be an unruly beast if it’s over used. You have to consider every possible scenario in which your piece will be heard. It’s OK for broadcast through a public address system at a garden centre. They probably don’t use any compression on their broadcasts. It’s simply a CD player attached to a mixing desk. A touch of light compression over the entire mix will be fine here. But what if they decide to broadcast our finished promo on local FM radio? They compress like crazy! If I add too much compression now, it may sound awful. The best thing to do is to make all your decisions ‘moderate’. Adding a pinch of compression over the entire mix will add life and buoyancy to the over all sound. With moderate use of compression, we’ve created a robust mix that will suit a number of different circumstances.


Select an effect using the plug-ins choser

Rendering in Sony Vegas

Listening through to the mix a number of times, I am now happy that I don’t wish to make any further changes. It has a nice introduction, the voice is sparkling with its added compression and EQ. And a moderate amount of compression over the entire project has made it bounce along nicely. It’s a job well done and I’m ready to render the file to our ‘Garden Centre Promo’ folder.

To do this I go, ‘file’/’render as’. Previously, you may have been rendering a video project, so the ‘Save as type’ setting could be set to .avi, .wmv or .mov etc. We are making an audio file and we wish to render as a .wav. Look in the ‘Save as file’ drop down menu for the ‘Wave (Microsoft) *.wav’ setting. This will ensure that our project is rendered as the correct type. The description should be 44.1kHz at 16 Bit as per our project settings. Rename the file garden_centre_promo_1, browse for the folder, click ‘save’ and away we go.

Within seconds the file will be rendered and ready to be transferred to CD or memory stick, or an FTP site that can be accessed by your customer.
Burn to CD

Once you have rendered the track as a WAV file, you may wish to burn a CD directly from the project. This couldn’t be simpler. Put a blank media you’re your CD burner drive, Click on ‘tools’ and ‘burn disc’. Choose an option from the drop down menu (‘track at once’ audio CD or ‘disc at once’ audio CD) and click ‘start’. The entire project will be rendered as one track onto the CD. (You may also want to refer to this article about choosing the right burning speed when burning audio-CD’s. Ed.)
Conclusion

With our ‘Garden Centre Promo’ project rendered as a WAV file and burned to CD, it’s now ready to present to the folks down at the garden centre. At 35 seconds and with pleasant music and a sparkling voice over I reckon it’s well within their brief. It won’t be long before we hear our production being broadcast between instrumental cover versions of well known hits, while newly wed couples scour the shelves on their quest for the perfect potted plants for their new home!

It’s not what you quite imagined doing for a living when you set up your multi media audio/visual production business, but, hey. Work is work. Whatever pays the bills! All you can do is make it sound as good as it can possibly be and build up a reputation for quality work at a competitive price. And hope that eventually Jay-Z returns your call!

Resources:

Vegas Pro product page at Sony Media Software
Royalty-Free Music by Pierre Langer at Shockwave-Sound.com
More in this series:

You may also want to read Part One of this series.

About
the author: Simon Power has made over 50 short films and documentaries
for the music technology website Sonic State. He has also removed &
replaced copyrighted music on a number of commercial BBC releases. In
these articles he offers advice and tips about using music in your low
budget film and audio/visual projects. You can learn more about Simon
and his projects at his website, http://www.meonsound.com/
Working with audio in Sony Vegas® – Part One – Importing & Timestretching audio files

Working with audio in Sony Vegas® – Part One – Importing & Timestretching audio files

By Simon Power

In this series of articles we will be offering fundamental help and advice to amateur and semi-pro audio/visual producers who use Sony Vegas and want to incorporate music, voice overs and SFX in their productions.

Introduction

Sony’s Vegas Pro® is an excellent creative tool for audio/visual work. It’s intuitive and powerful, and especially good when it comes to adding those extra touches that will make your presentation stand out from the rest.

Vegas 8.1 ramps up the 64 bit & Surround capabilities, but for these tutorials we’ll stick to something a little less involved. Vegas Pro 8 gives perfectly good results. You can access an unlimited number of 24bit/192kHz audio tracks as well as 30 real time effects including support for VST and DirectX. So that’s more than enough for any low budget audio promo job like the one I have in mind for this tutorial.

Getting Started

Because we’re concentrating on music and audio capabilities of Vegas, let’s say we’ve been commissioned to produce a short audio promo ad. It will be broadcasted at regular intervals between the music over the P.A. system at a ‘garden centre’ to advertise their “credit crunch” deals. Sure, we’d all love to be doing the next Jay-Z album promo for Radio Urban 248, but this is the real world and Jay-Z just ain’t returning your calls. So in the meantime, it’s down to the garden centre to earn a few bucks!

We’ve already been given a 30 second voice over WAV file recorded at a local studio, which we’ve saved to a folder called ‘Garden Centre Promo’. And now it’s time to open Vegas Pro 8 and get to work on the project.

Click on ‘File’/‘new’ and check that the audio properties are set to 44.1kHz with a bit depth of 16. Set the resample and stretch quality to ‘best’ as we may have to play around with the duration of the audio files. Click OK and let’s move on.

Jay-Z just won’t answer your calls. 

Choosing some music

You preview the V.O. file and they’ve done a pretty good job. It’s a female artist, good diction, clear, accurate and appealing. What it needs is a great sounding music bed that’s not too obtrusive and sits nicely with this pleasant sounding voice.

One good place to look for music that you can legally use would be the Stock Music collection at Shockwave-Sound. They’ve never let you down when you’ve needed quick and easy royalty free music solutions and whaddaya know? This time is no exception. Within minutes of searching you’ve got a whole ream of quality tracks that may just be suitable for the garden centre promo ad.

The track that really stands out is called ‘Rain Or Shine’ by Pierre Langer. It’s a kind of light and airy acoustic piece that has quite a wholesome feel. The track description uses the terms ‘outdoors’, ‘nature’ and ‘uplifting’, which certainly fits the bill for our garden centre clientele. What’s more, at only 38 seconds it’s a great length for a short promo. It resolves too, so we won’t have use a fade out, so that’s a bonus.

Importing the music into Vegas

Initially, there’s no need to commit to buying the track before we’ve tested it alongside the voice over.

We can listen to the track using Shockwave’s preview facilities. And play the V.O. file alongside at the same time. At least it will give a rough idea of whether the two elements work well together.

Once we’re happy that we’ve made the right choice, it’s time to purchase the track, download it to our ‘Garden Centre Promo’ folder and import it into Vegas.

Vegas can read any number of different audio formats, WAV, MP3, WMA, PCA, AIF, MPEG audio and AC-3. I’ve chosen to download the track from Shockwave as a WAV file.

To import into your project, first create an audio track in your ‘track header’ by either going ‘insert’ and ‘audio track’, or by right clicking in the track window and choosing ‘insert audio track’. Highlight the track and go to ‘file’/’open’. The ‘open’ box offers the option ‘Files of type’. Make sure this is set to ‘All Project & Media Files’ so that Vegas will recognise all associated files. Alternatively, you could use the drop down menu to go to ‘Wave (Microsoft) *wav’ so that it will specifically recognise that format. But best left to the default ‘All Project & Media Files’. Browse to find the ‘Garden Centre Promo’ folder, highlight the WAV file and open it. The WAV will appear on the designated audio track in the timeline next to the cursor.

Now double click on ‘track name’ in the ‘track header’ and rename the track ‘Music Bed’.

Put the file at 00:00:00 in the project window. If you wish to move it, simply grab it by holding down your left mouse button.

As soon as you’ve imported an audio file it’s a good practise to make sure there is a good sturdy limiter plug-in on the output level. Most professional music files will peak at 0.00db, but to be sure that your project never exceeds this, Vegas provides a number of plug-ins with limiting in mind.

Go to your master mixer and click the master effects icon. Choose a limiter or peak master plug-in and set it to 0.00db (they normally default at this setting). Doing this will avoid any nasty clipping or peaks later on.

Preview the music using Shockwave-Sound’s media player.

Importing the voice over into Vegas

At this point, let me mention Vegas’s Project Media function. It’s a way of grouping together all your media making it available at your fingertips for immediate use. You can drag and drop files from the ‘media bins’ into your project window easily and efficiently. And this can often cut down on time spent on project management. It may be something we will refer to in greater depth in later tutorials. For this simple exercise, its use is limited.

Check it out by clicking on the ‘Project Media’ tab above the project window.

Now that we’ve got our music bed lined up, we can import our voice over into the project window. We do this in the same way that we imported the music bed, but onto a separate audio track that we can name ‘Voice Over’.

Our project now consists of two audio tracks. The ‘Music Bed’ and the ‘Voice Over’. These are the only files we require for this project. Once we have saved the project as a .veg file to our ‘Garden Centre Promo’ folder we can begin work on the project.

Preparing the ‘Voice Over’ file

By clicking on the exclamation mark in the ‘track header’ of the ‘Voice Over’ track, I can solo the voice and play it without hearing the music bed as well.

I notice from doing this and also looking at the waveform, that there’s a few seconds of dead air at the start of the voice over file that need removing.

There’s a number of ways to do this. You can right mouse click on the file to reveal the drop down menu. Here you will see the options, ‘open in trimmer’ or ‘open in Sound Forge’ (this is dependant on you having Sony’s Sound Forge designated as your assigned audio editor). These options are perhaps better for more detailed editing. For a simple thing like this, it’s easiest to remove the dead air from the audio file whilst it’s still in the timeline. Do this by grabbing the start of the file in the ‘square icon’ zone (see illustration) and pulling it towards the right until the edge matches up with the very start of the waveform.

If need be, you are also able to ‘scrub’ in Vegas by grabbing the curser and pulling it back and forth. For those who may be used to analog editing (fairly unlikely these days!), this is a useful and familiar method. But the accuracy of the timeline really out weighs the necessity for such things. (But it sure makes a nice sound, don’t it?). OK, we’ve done a quick snip, so now we’ve got a voice over that begins immediately at the start of the file.

Now the voice over file no longer starts at 00:00:00, so we need to drag it back to the start in the project window. Here’s a tip while dragging files around in the Vegas project window. Make sure the ‘auto-ripple’ function is disabled first. (That’s ‘ctrl+L’ on a PC. Or you can click on the ‘auto-ripple’ icon on the toolbar.) It’s a great function, because it means you can shift all your media around in one go, just by grabbing one file. But if you leave it on, you can displace everything in your project unintentionally, which is a real pain!

So with ‘auto-ripple’ disabled, we can drag the shortened ‘Voice Over’ file back to 00:00:00.

 Grab the start of the file in the ‘square icon’ zone.

Deciding on duration

OK, things are looking good for our garden centre promo ad. We have a project set up that includes a voice over and a music bed and we’re ready to mix and match the elements so they sound good together.

We’ve established that our voice over is 30 seconds in length, while the duration of the music bed is 38 seconds. Unlike radio or TV, where duration is of paramount importance, the broadcasts produced for this garden centre are fairly loose and the brief was to make the promo somewhere between 30 and 40 seconds in length.

So, for this exercise, let’s say that we’ve decided that the promo will be 35 seconds in length. This means, of course, that we will need to reduce the length of the music by 3 seconds from 38 to 35 seconds. For this we will need to rely on Vegas’s timestretching abilities.

Timestretching in Sony Vegas

Timestretching is a way of compressing or stretching out the audio without altering the pitch. A key use for this might be strict radio or TV commercials where the duration has to be exact. Or a remix where you want to alter the tempo of the vocal but keep the same key. There are lots of different applications for timestretching and in Vegas it couldn’t be simpler. For minor adjustments to duration, tempo or for BPM matching it’s perfect. And you can stretch audio on-the-fly in real time, so you can hear the results instantly and adjust accordingly.

So let’s alter the duration of the music from 38 seconds to 35 seconds without altering the pitch.

First highlight the music file.You can set the timestretch attributes on each separate audio file by right mouse clicking on the file and highlighting ‘properties’. Here you will notice a tab for ‘audio events’. Set the timestretch/pitch shift to ‘classic’, then take a look at the stretch attributes. There are 19 attributes that you may be familiar with if you have used Sony or Sonic Foundry timestretch plug-ins before. Each algorithm has a different overall effect on the way the timestretching behaves and consequently how it sounds. But generally for music, the ‘A03 Music 3 (less echo)’ attribute will be the best one to use. Certainly in this case, where we are stretching (or rather, compressing) an entire mixed track. Experiment with each attribute when you have time. It may help you make decisions about timestretching in the future. Once you’ve set the attributes, you can move on with the timestretching process.

 
 Press control and a wavy line appears under the icon

Here’s how you do it. First, highlight the audio file and magnify to a reasonable size using the zoom tools in the bottom right hand corner of the project window. Then position your mouse curser at the end of the file and run it up and down the far edge. You’ll notice the attached icon displays 2 different modes. When you are close to the top right angle (where there’s a blue triangle), the curser displays a curved icon. This is the ‘fade’ function. To alter the fade offset you would need to grab that blue triangle and push it backwards. But for timestretching, you need to move your mouse curser out of that zone and down the vertical edge of the file. You’ll notice that the icon alters to a square shape. This is the area we’re interested in. Hover the curser about midway down the vertical edge and press the ‘control (Ctrl)’ key on your PC keyboard. You’ll notice a wavy line has appeared under the square icon (see illustration). Now you’re in timestretch mode. Keep that control button down and grab the edge of the file (a blue line will appear signifying your start point). Drag the vertical edge backwards (to make the duration shorter), or forwards (to make it longer).

Yep, it’s that simple. If you preview the track while altering the duration you will hear the effect instantly with no processing time. You’ll also notice that a yellow box has appeared in your timeline. The numbers in the box signify the amount that you are stretching in seconds, frames, samples, measures or beats. Whatever mode your timeline is set to, in fact. If you wish to alter this mode, right mouse click on the timeline to reveal a drop down menu displaying your options and alter accordingly.

Of course, there are limits to just how much timestretching is acceptable. For a start, the composer will have chosen the tempo of the music for specific reasons. Stretch it too much either way and it may alter the mood. Also, there’s the technical aspect to consider. Listen carefully to the track once you have stretched it. Although the algorithm is exceptionally good in Vegas, there will be degradation of the sound. Most algorithms will work well up to 130%. Vegas goes way beyond that and still sounds good. But it’s a personal choice depending on your project and the acceptable levels of sound manipulation.

For this exercise, I simply grab the end of the music bed file, press ‘control’ and drag the file duration back from 38 to 35 seconds.

In the next part of the tutorial we will be looking at how to mix audio files using manual and automated mixing. We’ll also be checking out FX processing and plug-in applications. As well as the rendering process and CD burning facilities. That’s in part two of this ‘Working with audio in Sony Vegas tutorial’.

Resources:  

Vegas Pro product page at Sony Media Software
Royalty-Free Music by Pierre Langer at Shockwave-Sound.com

More in this series:

You may proceed to Part Two of this series

About the author: Simon Power has made over 50 short films and documentaries for the music technology website Sonic State. He has also removed & replaced copyrighted music on a number of commercial BBC releases. In these articles he offers advice and tips about using music in your low budget film and audio/visual projects. You can learn more about Simon and his projects at his website, http://www.meonsound.com/
Choosing the right Classical music pieces for use in your project, part 2

Choosing the right Classical music pieces for use in your project, part 2

This is a continuation of the article: Choosing the right classical music (Part 1) which you can read here.

In part one of this series we looked at a list of 10 Bombastic classical pieces. Those huge, thunderous anthems that would sound great as an accompaniment to epic visuals & graphics or deep sonorous voice overs.

But the beauty of classical music is that it is rich in dynamism. One moment loud & boisterous, the next wistful & melancholic. In part two we’re looking into the sensitive side of classical music with a list of 10 breath takingly beautiful pieces of classical music.

Part two: Beautiful Classical Pieces

So here’s a list of 10 stunners from the classical canon. Usages could include film and documentary scenes such as panning shots of natural beauty, moments of reflection, falling in love…Romantic visuals that would benefit from a touch of sheer understated class.

10. The Four Seasons (spring) – Vivaldi

Fresh & flowery, The Four Seasons is Vivaldi’s series of Baroque violin concertos inspired by the 18th Century Italian countryside. Vivaldi’s music has a high note count with plenty of gushing detail & colour and of all the Season’s, ‘Spring’ is over brimming with flamboyant Baroque fruitiness.

9. Flower Duet – Lakme

Highjacked (pardon the expression) by British Airways for a series of TV ads, ‘Flower Duet’ is a magnificent operatic aria performed by two female sopranos. The operatic voices bob and weave through a magical garden of soaring cellos & assorted strings like two beautiful swans. Tasteful, graceful, stylish and elegant.

8. Piano Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor – Beethoven

Recognizable from a plethora of usages in contemporary film and TV, Piano Sonata No. 14 (AKA The Moonlight Sonata) takes you on a lilting journey with its ever shifting succession of solo piano chords. One moment somber and sincere the next enchanting and elegant, and as one of Beethoven’s most beautiful pieces, is more than worthy of a place in our list.

7. Peer Gynt (morning) – Edvard Grieg

Imbued with a sense of fresh optimism this dynamic aria builds from a fluttering flute into a euphoric orchestra as daybreak bursts through the morning mist. A Norwegian composer, Grieg even lived long enough to hear some of his compositions immortalized on record.

6. Messiah Halleluiah Chorus – Händel

In our lists of both bombastic and beautiful classical music, this one easily straddles both camps with its huge choirs, crashing cymbals & divine orchestration. Another Baroque composer, Handel is considered one of the classical elite having composed over 40 operas in the early 1800’s.

5. The Lark Ascending – Vaughn Williams

British composer Vaughn Williams’ most celebrated piece was inspired by a poem about a skylark. And as flutes and violins spiral skyward, the imagery of a bird in flight is synonymous with this elegant masterpiece. Melancholic, sad & breath takingly graceful.

4. Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G Minor Prelude – Bach

Known to induce feelings of tearful ecstasy and abundant joy in most listeners, one must often contemplate…What is it about this continuous stream of solo cello notes that moves the human soul so profoundly?

3. Nimrod – Elgar

Among Elgar’s best known compositions are the orchestral works, Enigma Variations. Taken from that is the popular piece is Nimrod. With its angelic wind and swelling orchestral strings it surely ranks among one of classical music’s most compelling pieces.

2. Adagio for Strings – Barber

Radiating with angelic warmth, ‘Adagio’ tugs at the heartstrings with apparent ease as its wash of strings climb higher and higher towards divine absolution. Simply one of the most graceful & appealing classical pieces ever composed, it has been used to great effect in films as diverse and polar opposite as Platoon and The Elephant Man.

1. Ave Maria – Schubert

Yes, here we are at the top of the pile where I’m keen to point out that these pieces are in no particular order. Although Schubert’s Ave Maria is possibly the number one favourite when it comes to popularity. And continued cover versions of varying quality. It’s a stunningly sad yet uplifting operatic aria in its traditional arrangement. Although nowadays we’re treated to less sympathetic versions by the likes of Beyoncé & Celine Dion!

OK, so there we have it. A list of 10 beautiful classical compositions in no particular order. And, of course, it’s all down to subjective taste. With so much wonderful classical music, I’m sure you could make up an infinite number of lists in the same category without including any of the above. In fact, here are five more that might just as easily have featured in the list.

  • The Swan (Le Cygne)
  • Sleeping Beauty op. 66
  • La Traviata Act 1 Prelude – Verdi
  • Jupiter (The Planets) – Holst
  • Gymnopedie No. 1 – Erik Satie

Well, here’s hoping that these lists will lead you on to finding some less well known pieces by these wondrous composers. And that this article will help with your decisions when choosing some beautiful classical music for your film, documentary or presentation. Good luck!

Classical Music at shockwave-sound stock music library: http://www.shockwave-sound.com

About the author: Simon Power has made
over 50 short films and documentaries for the music technology website Sonic
State. He has also removed & replaced copyrighted music on a number
of commercial BBC releases. In these articles he offers advice and tips
about using music in your low budget film and audio/visual projects. You
can learn more about Simon and his projects at his website, http://www.meonsound.com/