7:26 AM: The office is dark, and the hallways are quiet. After a 4AM workout, breakfast, and an hour in Austin traffic, I’ve finally made it to work. A handful of others are in the building and all you hear is the overhead music from the break room. It’s peaceful. No distractions, no emails, just me and the idea. This is when I feel the most creative. The task this morning is to create a sound effect. That’s all, just one sound effect. However, this one sound effect must embody the entire image, culture, and philosophy of a multinational client that has ingrained itself into the very lives of millions. You know, just a typical Tuesday morning for a Mood Media Sound Designer.
So how do you even begin to create a four second piece of audio that should essentially replace the clients logo? Well, it began the day before during a meeting with my Creative Director. We analyzed dozens of the client’s past and current T.V. spots, taking note of the music selection, the copy, the colors, pacing, everything. We agreed this project should be musical as opposed to a more organic sound effect. This will allow us to take the basic piece of music and adapt it for different styles to fit more regional markets, or campaigns for specific products. For now, we want a contemporary style with a clean cut feel. I’m given a deadline for a first draft and sent on my way.
Typically, the first part of the process begins with me staring at a blank Logic session and the clients logo for some time. If you stood in the corner of my studio, you may think I was catatonic, but trust me there is a hurricane of information swirling through my brain. I begin to imagine what kind of movement an animator would apply to this image. Are the colors bright and vibrant, or soft and relaxing? In this case I’m immediately drawn to the circular pattern of blocks. I continuously trace the logo with my eyes and a melody begins to take shape in my head. I start on A. It seems like as good a place as any to start. My fingers slowly move up and down the keys. Some intervals sound a little too happy. The next one sounds like a horror movie score. I continue moving around until I stumble upon a melody that stands out to me. It’s bright, it’s modern, it’s exactly what we’re looking for! I play it again and again and think “Wow! Brian you are a genius!” Once more, this time faster as a celebratory pass and that’s when it hit me…I just wrote the jingle of a certain fast food chain with “Golden Arches.” Of course it was good. It’s been on the air for decades. Alright try again.
After getting nowhere with different melodies and instruments, I notice that there are six blocks in the logo. I think to myself “Okay, one note for each block.” I want to mimic the circular design, so an up and down pattern is what I’m looking for. D#, F#…Nope. D#, G, G#, A# F, D#…That’s not bad. I play it once again. I think we’ve got something here.
I spend the next hour or so filling out the production with different layers to thicken up the sound of the melody. The trick with these kinds of projects is to create a base we can then adapt to multiple styles and genres. The core melody can exist in just about any style we want. If I was to use a vibraphone, it could sound like a toothpaste commercial from the fifties. This would be great for a campaign pushing nostalgia. For the modern sound we are going for on this project, I use a mixture of well-rounded synths, pads, and I record myself playing an electric guitar lick for flare. I then add some harmony with the last two notes to make it sound more interesting. And lastly, I add in some bass and percussion elements to give it a full musical sound.
It’s finished! It sounds like something you’d hear on T.V. I do a final mix down getting all the elements to balance properly. Ultimately, this four seconds of audio that sounds like four instruments has THIRTY individual elements to it. Multiple layers are used to give each part a unique sound, and they all work together to bring the final theme to life. Once complete, I deliver the final audio file to my Creative Director and then wait. At this point my creation is out in the world. Will it stand on its own feet, or crumble under the pressure of fresh ears? After an agonizing ten minutes there’s a knock on my studio door. I apprehensively open my door and find my Creative Director standing there with a huge grin on his face. “DUDE!” The work has paid off. It seems I’ve captured what the client was going for. A brief celebration ensues as I share the tale of my process and single out elements of the production.
With the initial production completed, I was then assigned the task of adapting it to multiple genres. More discussion ensued and we collaborated with the client on desired changes that can be made to fit different scenarios. Since writing it, my simple 6 note melody has been cut, stretched, distorted, and equalized more times than I can count. We now have 14 different versions of this audio ranging from country to an electronic trance version. It sounds like something you would hear in a club on the moon, but that may just be my imagination running wild.
Creating something from scratch that paints a picture with only audio is the coolest thing ever. It’s the entire reason I studied to be a Sound Designer. The goal is to create unique audio that supports the overall message of the project it’s being used in. In the case of an audio logo, it needs to not only be something that will get stuck in your head, but instantly make the listener think of the brand. That’s a very tall order for a four second piece of audio. But if we’ve done our jobs, that six note melody at the end of an ad will feel like something that’s always been a part of the client’s history. Effortlessly reminding the listener that when you interact with them, you know exactly what to expect.
– Submitted by Brian Sanchez, Messaging