By Paul Greeley (@paulgreeley)
In my 25 year career in television marketing, I have written, produced and edited more than 1000 TV commercials, most of them devoted to promoting local TV news. And the one lesson I learned in producing them and utilized more than any other is how important the right cut of production music is to the overall impact of the spot.
When I would sit down to begin editing a spot, I always felt anxious.
I have an approved script, well-written with announcer copy, sound bites and images, and places where I envision sound effects, natural sound or graphics might go. I feel confident I have the right ingredients, I have the pieces that, when woven together, show promise, but I can’t be sure I can turn those words on a piece of paper into a precisely edited message with power and emotion until I have the right music. So I spend a lot of time looking through production music libraries for cuts of music that I think might work.
I lay the various cuts into a rough edit of the spot, maybe only a few seconds worth. And usually, when it’s the right cut, you know it. And then it’s eureka, euphoria, excitement, exhilaration, maybe even ecstasy. Now you know you have the glue that holds that spot together. The music sets the mood, dictates the pace, determines the editing style, and evokes a mood.
Here are some selected spots I created over the years that I think demonstrate effective use of production music.
Sometimes pregnant pauses and minimal music are enough.
When the whole world seems to be shouting, sometimes you can get people’s attention by whispering. In this spot (there were 4 spots in this campaign, all structured the same way using the same music cut), the subjects are lit dramatically. I turned the video into black and white for effect, and dipped to black between sound bites.
Sometimes, it’s OK to create an over-the-top sound design.
This spot was created in the late 80s, way before non-linear editing. All I really had in terms of video was a few seconds of alligators at an alligator farm, so I wrote the spot with that in mind. The background where the words appear is video of the sun reflected on water that the cameraman shot with his camera pointed over the side of the boat. I slowed it way down and reversed it. Also, when I slowed down that video, the accompanying audio became a drone sound that sounded menacing and I kept that up throughout the spot. I wanted the sound design to be over the top, very Hitchcockian, to signal to the viewer that we’re having a little fun here. I remember sitting down with a bunch of little pieces of scary music, a piano riff, a bass line, a horn riff or two, and just kept trying them in different places.
Find music (and sound effects) that complement the subject matter.
Once I knew the title, I wrote the spot around it with lines like ‘it’s a jungle out there” and found sound bites like ‘cost me an arm and a leg’. I found a music cut that gave me a jungle feel and added animal sound effects throughout. Since I knew the spot was heavily laden with nat sound, sound bites, and sound effects, I wanted a simple drum bed to unite it all together without making it over-produced.
Set the mood. Create a feeling. Signal the viewer your intentions. Is it light, heart-warming, funny, silly, or something else.
A silly music bed allows you a lot of freedom to carry your idea visually.
1. Always be on the lookout for good production music. When searching a data base, note interesting cuts. That cut rejected today may be perfect for that project tomorrow.
2. Always try several cuts of music and lay the music track down early in the edit process. It may help enhance and define your editing style.
3. Most music tracks have different lengths. So if you find a cut you like, but wonder if another version may have parts that will work better for your project, listen to them all.
4. Design the sound for your project. Usually, there are several versions of most cuts of production music that are stripped down, versions without horns, without
guitars, etc. Using just a bass line with perhaps the drums might allow you to introduce certain other musical elements at exactly the time you want, adding emphasis where you want it.
5. Wait for that ‘eureka’ moment, when you’ve found the perfect cut for your project. Don’t settle for anything else.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR, Paul Greeley Greeley writes a weekly column for TVNEWSCHECK.com that is all about marketing and promotion at local TV station. He has more than 20 years of experience in local TV marketing. Greeley is been a writer, producer, editor, creative services director and VP of marketing for a top-20 broadcast company and has experience in markets large and small.