Well, I thought I was pretty well done and ready to publish episode 1. I had the animation all complete, voices all recorded, a final cut of the end-to-end video. Great! I proudly showed it to a friend (Jake) and he said “where’s the music?”
“How many TV shows or videos don’t have any music?”
That led to some more delays getting the first episode out, but it was another interesting journey and the end result is much better because of it.
Opening and Closing Credits
The first decision was what to do for opening and closing credits. I got all gung-ho and put together a simple melody for verse, chorus, and bridge. I then wrote lyrics for 3 verses (plus chorus and bridge). Jake offered to help and turned my simple melody into a real sound track. But how long to go for credits? The full song was like 5 minutes long! So how about the chorus alone? That was more like 40 seconds. Would that be an acceptable length?
Then I came across an article that had analyzed YouTube videos to identify the optimal length for opening credits. The results indicated the longer the credits, the more of the audience you lost. Credits of longer than 5 seconds could lose half the audience. The message was clear – get to the content as fast as possible, no matter how good the credits were. YouTube viewers are not a patient lot.
As a result, I took the last line of the chorus (without lyrics) and used that for the opening credits. In episode 3 I am playing with starting the action and superimposing the credits over the top (still with the music). The audience gets a better feel of what is coming from the first frame.
All the Way Through or Only Between Scenes
After the credits, the next question was how much music to use. If you listen to a movie like Star Wars closely, you discover that the music rarely stops. The music flows with the movie, highlighting the emotions of the scene.
I actually found this problematic because I was trying to keep the video moving along as fast as possible. I could not flip between music as rapidly as the emotions of a scene were changing without it sounding strange. This would be easier with a longer movie where scenes stay on a topic longer. So I went with the approach of short music segments between scenes, dropping down to zero volume during the talking.
I also found you could then create scenes with no voice at all purely backed by music. Such scenes felt strange with no music – like the audio was broken. With music it felt completely natural. The music helped reinforce the emotion of the scene.
Next was the question of what volume to play music at. Again, different people had different opinions here. Some advocated “ducking”, where the the volume is adjusted to fade out when talking was going on, then immediately back to normal volume when the talking completes. Others believed this was a bad approach as people notice the music changing volume and it can become distracting. Instead they advocate selecting a volume level where the music was noticeable (you should not have to strain to hear it, or else again it can become more distracting than helpful) but not interfering with the voice track making it hard to understand.
Writing Your Own Lyrics
I went as far as writing lyrics for my opening credits, even though I only used a few bars of music so far. It was a fun exercise. I plan to turn this into a short music video using animation clips from the series. This becomes more like advertising for the series. The lyrics effectively tell the story and purpose of the series.
It might have made sense to release the song before the series. However my biggest issue is still finding someone with a good voice willing to sing my lyrics (for free!). Especially when the lyrics have been written by someone who has never written a song before (and so is of unknown quality!!).
Music and Sound Effects
One little glitch that happened along the way was the combining of sound effects with the music. Once combined the original recordings were lost in the software used. In my episode one, Hank is in his bedroom struggling with some homework. It has a sound effect of writing on paper. Because I only have the music with sound effects combined, I cannot use the music for other purposes or change the position of the sound effect. (I might try and edit the music to see if I can splice together a version without the sound effects. The last resort is to re-record the song if needed.)
The message is simple – keep your sound effects and music tracks as separate recordings and use Premier Pro or similar to merge them together later.
I have to give a big shout out to Jake who was kind enough to help with some original music for the video. However, like all things, it can take longer than you expect and he had other obligations to attend to as well. So I went hunting for more generic sites of music.
In the end I went with a special YouTube subscription on http://epidemicsound.com/ where you pay a low monthly fee for months when publishing videos. Seemed a pretty good deal and had a huge selections of music. Broad selection I found important as there is a certain “feel” to the music that I wanted to keep somewhat similar. It was surprising how many songs I would say “no, wrong feel, that won’t work”. Having the broader selection was very useful.
I do have to thank Jake for both giving me the idea and helping with the music for the series. I am using his work created just for the series in combination with some songs from Epidemic Sound.
Even just with short clips between scenes, the music added a lot to the overall feel. But don’t under estimate how much extra time getting the music right will take, especially if you want to align animation timing with the music. It all takes time. But it all becomes faster the more practice you have.