I love a good soundtrack. Who doesn't amIright? For me though, it's become borderline problematic in everyday life. Watching just about anything these days, I am a bona-fide soundtrack creeper. Second screening, jumping onto iTunes or Spotify, finding the soundtracks, needing to have them before the episode or film has even hit the midway point. Starting out quietly positioned on the couch I'll proclaim unrestrainedly YAAASS! From nowhere. Startling my co-watcher.
This is just perfect, I'll squeal. Giving no other indication with any context from where I am coming from or that the car chase scene we are currently watching will work brilliantly with the buffalo - lion piece I had been working with earlier in the day. Or that the slow haunting metronome opening of a feature film will have me jumping for my phone to grab the track because it can't possibly wait.
I must have the track first thing in the morning, the ice melting scene from a few days ago must have its current music replaced with this new found masterpiece with immediacy. It's urgent. How will I possibly sleep tonight with this magnificent discovery!
Music is just damn cool, it drives a narrative to all kinds of places with its rhythmic poetry, it sets the tone for emotion. And what dear reader is editing if not emotion? I feel my edits, I make decisions based on feeling, what's right or wrong rhythmically based on tone, emotion, rhythm and pace (along with a tool box full of other things that we will unpack in other posts). But for now we need to set the tone for the scene, characters, story arc, parallel story lines and even a single moment. An icicle cracking and falling, a raindrop hitting scorched earth, an eye shift - these all rely on the tone we set for the moment that needs to be communicated between us and the viewer.
I also have a terrible tendency to fall hopelessly in love with my scratch music. But that’s how it should be, if you care deeply about your subject you’ll take care, and treat it as such in every realm of the process, be measured in your selection, music is a vital.
What dialogue are we having? A dialogue being communicated through billions of refractions of light diodes, electronics, sound waves, satellites, over oceans, thousands of miles and even time. When a piece is laid down, exported and sent out regardless of format for the purpose of viewership - an audience watches it after the fact, so with this arrangement undertaken there is an unwritten, unspoken contract between the creator of the content and the viewer and it thus creates a connection - a connection of the heart.
We know this because we feel it. An activated response to audio and visual through an accelerated heartbeat, eye dilation to excitement or even tears to sadness, a slower heart rate in rhythm to the beat of a track.
Natural history editing and laying the music is no different. Because it’s a decision and a feeling of emotion. How would or could it be anything else? The same person watching CNN later tuning in to the series' Mindhunter and Queen's Gambit with a glass of merlot is more than likely the same person who is going to watch your Natural History film or docushort - call to action piece with their kids tomorrow afternoon. I know this because I am that person, I am also surrounded by this target market. The first step to reaching a target market is understanding them. So I see no reason to treat them any differently than I would myself and what I like. So I use what is around, current and relevant. Scratch tracks are personal and I take them very seriously.
Putting forward your narrative with the incorrect music choice is detrimental to your piece. At any stage of the project. Take the time to do a thorough music search.
A mentee of mine with the Jackson wild Mentorship program
Flora Wallace-Smith (https://www.fwsedits.com)
recently asked me to walk her through my music process. I immediately began answering and as I began talking I realized, I hadn't ever really been cognizant about it much as a process until I started unpacking it with her, I became extremely conscious that it is actually more of a ritual than anything else. And if an editor loves anything, my god, do we love ourselves a ritual.
I’ve written my ritual points out below:
I mean don’t even get me started on Sound Design - dancing a tango with music and it's love affair with picture enhancing an edit to make it sing. There is something so magnificent about it, gets your blood racing, you sort of just want to go out and make something awesome, don't you...
Ps: Thank you to https://www.pexels.com for the awesome free images!
When an editor produces and directs there is a fun term we are known as, the PrEditor (an obvious play on the word Predator). The first time I was called this, I was both shocked and insulted. Being a lean into the slide kind of person and of course living well within the wildlife genre, I now love this term, regardless of how it was originally meant. Enter me, the "Preditor". This blog is a place I hope to create a journal space for my ideas, thoughts and stories of the cutting room as well as out in the natural world.