Music as an Active Voice in a Podcast
How do we kind of move towards having music serve a more active role in the podcast? I think one of the things is just if you intend for there to be music in a piece, give it a place in the script. Always. It's far better than like, especially for someone like me to look through it and think, okay ... where does this fit in here? Or one problem that I'll often see in early versions of scripts is everything is through-written. So everything is a reference to the last thing that was said. There's no space for me to put any music in there. Or you know, maybe I'll try to sneak it in a beat and establish it and then we'll keep it going, we'll find a right place for it to really create some space. If you don't have those kinds of built-in narrative pauses, or maybe like a signposting, like here, let's step back and talk about where we are right now. Like those are great opportunities for music to play a role. And then just let it breathe when you can. If you're making a podcast, there's kind...
a no excuse not to. I also feel like, okay, push it a little bit further than you think it should go and see how it feels then to let music have a little space. I think we, if we're working on something, we're really familiar with the material, it's easy to work fast. It's easy to short-change that experience. And you know, one thing that could really be great is just have another set of ears of a person that you trust, doesn't know the story. You know, what do you think about the pacing of this? What do you think about the music? Kind of have a partner in crime of critical listening to help you kind of navigate those scenarios. One thing that I do a little bit of, I rarely get as much time in the process as I would like for this, but I try to get into some kind of note taking, whether it's just on a notebook, or if it's a little more formal. But I can ... don't go to the screen yet, but I'm gonna show a little sort of music logging or music spotting sheet. And what I did with this was I just listened down to the whole show, what we call like a rough mix phase. Like, everything is in good enough shape to hear it. The levels aren't 100%. There might be some spots that we need to fix. Or we need better ambient tape that we're waiting on. But if we're at that phase, that's like a really good phase to just stop, listen to the whole before you start putting music in there. Like really consider where does it belong? Where will, after a certain amount of time, it feel like there needs to be some music? And those kinds of cues that I showed you of like okay, it's all through written up to here and then here's a really good space for it. If the people you're working with or if you haven't built that into your writing, consider maybe how some re-writing could help you in that situation. But regardless, it's just good to have a note process that helps you out and serves you well there. (mouse clicking) So I have this sheet, and if you wanna go to the laptop, just a scoring worksheet. This one doesn't have any notes on it, but, this is me listening down to an entire episode. Leave your name so we know who did it. And then, my references here are like, okay, what are some notes on potential cues, page, or pull quote references? I want like this really awesome ... Seventies cop, spy theme to happen right after he says he was a made man, or something like that. So, that can be the kind of information that informs the process. Like, you put time codes in here. You can think about ... You can probably buy a little metronome app for your phone, and just find out how fast, how many beats per minute you think this should go, like, what kind of pace. Even if you don't know a thing about music, you can feel a pulse and you can -- and get a sense of like what you'd like to -- or like, just use the words you're familiar with, like something waltzy, something rustic. It's just a place for a lot of these adjectives that might inform a composer's process or your search for library music. It can be extremely useful. There's cultural references. There are keywords; you can throw those into the mix. If there's things that you wanna avoid. I really want to avoid using ... Hip-hop tracks in the story about these kids in Baltimore, because of X reason. And there can be good reasons for those kinds of choices. Like I worked on a couple of shows that we did about Baltimore, and when I was thinking about, okay, are there times for that texture? I wanted to do that with restraint. I didn't want it to be something that overshadowed the characters or imposed something upon them that I didn't really know based on the material. So sometimes cutting against those impulses that you might usually have can be pretty powerful. Now ... I think this is a good time to just talk a little bit more about the mood-boarding idea of thinking of the sonic mood of the piece. Who are the characters? Are there light motifs? Is there a theme that you have in your head that you might like? Is this person a sort of Jimmy Hoffa-type character? Like, what do I think of when I think of that person? What might they listen to? Can you work against that idea, if that's limiting for you? What are gestures or ideas in the piece that can inspire you? One of my favorite pieces of work, and believe me, it's also one of the most difficult pieces of work that I did, was this woman who was talking about her own abuse situation and she was reporting on it. And telling the story in a larger way about how the system failed her and other people like her. But she was a gymnast and she was -- the context of this is that she was abused by her gymnastics coach, which is a story that's very much in the news. I thought a lot about what's going to ... What's going to be a good sound for this. I don't have anything. I don't wanna go into anything that's too child-like, evoking this time when she was a kid. I just really wanted something that was like, okay, what's the gesture or a movement that resonates with this piece? And, so what I landed on was just this really simple concept of I thought of like a gymnast rotation ... On like a parallel bars or any of the events that they use. And I thought ... ♪ Do do ♪ ♪ Do do ♪ ♪ Do do ♪ So just like an octave, and I'm not any Great Shakes on the guitar, but I know my way around it enough to produce something interesting to me. So I just did like a simple slide down the fret board to get that effect. Looped it, and then it ended up being this one figure or theme for her that I could keep returning to to kind of assess her state of mind. I could build on it, do some things that were kind of in the same key. So if you're searching through a music library, if that's kind of where you're going with this, a lot of them will now allow you to search tempo. They'll allow you to search key. They'll allow you to kind of break down into these atomized elements. You can get away with some really simple ingredients, or like the impulse is to use this one fully produced piece of music. I go much more the other way. I'm gonna give you that one figure. I'm gonna give you an expansion of that figure, a theme and variation. I'm gonna, as we get deeper into the story, this piece of music is gonna become more complex. And it just, it allows me one other thing, which is to economize my labor, right? I'm not working so hard to make like nine different cues. I've got, within this one cue, I've got three of four places that it could go. So, it's ... And that kind of repetition, you can use that to your advantage, as long as it's not ticking off the listener too much. As you kind of saw in that document, you can create a timeline of the piece if you want to. You can do Post-It notes on the wall. What are these different moods in the story arc that are happening that we need to make sure we hit? Where there are matches and clashes. You can really decide, okay, the tape really carried this part; I don't need the music. Like sometimes you can add a little more than you need. And build it into the writing. Let's just take a quick look at Pro Tools again. I like to start abstract and work towards detail, or if you think about the unfolding of a piece, it would be like additions of phrases. (piano music) So you've got that kind of piano octave thing happening. (piano and guitar music) This ostinato loop, it's ... (guitar music) It's not really tied to the meter of the piece. Like I can't count, one, two, three, four in this. It actually kind of makes it feel a little like there's a poly rhythm, or there's one set of rhythms working against the other. That works a lot for me. Like a two versus a three. So if you do one two three, one two three, one and two and, one and two and, one and two and. So if you have those kinds of things working together, that's usually something where it creates a little intrigue without having to get maximalist in the arrangement of something and add dozens of tracks to really make it work. So you can hear kind of that the music does creep in there. This music works with a fadeout too. (guitar music) So, there's a nice long tail built into that music, but there's also a percussive attack-based ending to it too, so you -- a piece of music like that can be pretty versatile.