Frozen Soundtrack

User avatarJanuary 29, 2011 by Surfaced Studio

I have not managed to put up a post for the last few weeks because I have been working on a challenging and fun project: a music video soundtrack

Celina over at Fables in Fashion wanted to create a 'frozen' themed make-up look and create a short video with a suitable soundtrack. And since I love writing music, I agreed to compose a soundtrack for the video. First off, so you know what I am talking about, here is the final product:

I do hope to get the chance to compose some more soundtracks! I really enjoyed the experience and I think I learnt alot of new skills while I had to write music outside of my usual comfort zone.

Today, I want to take you through the steps I took along my creative process for this short composition

Concept

Music can be hard to define, especially when you hear it in your head and you have to describe it to somebody else. The first challenge for me was to understand exactly what type of music Celina wanted for her video. Since I was composing the music before the video was created, it was essential to fully understand the project itself, the contents that would be in the video and what mood and atmosphere it was to convey.

Celina wanted a dark melody, a little like the Edea theme from Final Fantasy VIII, but within the context of someone being frozen in ice. I liked the dischords in the Edea theme, but wanted to create a wider, more modern atmosphere.

When I was searching through suitable background sounds and instruments during the initial phase, I was trying to picture a blizzard, large blocks of ice in a dark night, the sound of ice cracking and forming all around me.

I created a very short demo to pitch my initial concept to Celina:

[/audio]

Refinements

Celina liked the melody itself but wanted the keys to sound brighter and sharper. She felt the demo was a bit too mellow to be associated with ice. She also did not like the initial low frequency percussion I added - she felt it sounded a bit too 'tribal' for what she had in mind.

To me, I also wanted to add a more threatening feeling, more dramatic tension to the composition.

After brightening the keys and removing the initial drums, I decided to add a very low bass drum into the background to create threat. I wanted it to sound like an ancient war drum being beaten while the evil queen gathers her army to move out.

To increase the tension of the song, I added a dramatic high mid frequency choir into the second half. With the choir, I also added a final note to the end of the composition.

[/audio]

Due to the short length of the piece I did not have alot of time to build-up tension, so I moved the high choir to start when the melody first comes in. Because this flattened the overall tension curve of the soundtrack (first and second half are the same), I increased the drum activity in the second half. However, Celina felt the drum was a bit too active and hectic to convey a 'frozen' vibe.

[/audio]

I reduced the active drum from the second half and, in order to fill the lower frequencies and give the sound more intensity and fullness, I added a male choir into the second half instead.

[/audio]

Celina was satisfied with the composition and thus, it was time for me to move on to mixing

Mixing

A lot of people think that mixing is a little 'cleanup' task at the end of the music creation process. However, at least to me, it can take as long as composing the music in the first place - though that might be due to the fact that I am less in mixing ;)

Mixing is all about arranging and organising your sound elements within the 3 dimensions of the sound stage:

  • Horizontal (panning)
  • Vertical (frequency)
  • Depth (reverb/delay)
The main melody keys, being the most important element in the song, went into the middle of the mix. They sit well above the bass drum in the mid to high mid frequencies and have a softer stereo delay (panned hard left/right) on them to give them a very wide feel. I applied a high pass filter to avoid any possible clashes with the drum, some compression to increase the attack and a high shelving eq to further brighten the keys and make them stand out crisply against the background.

Deeper sounds should always be placed towards the centre of a mix to help create that grounded and solid feel. Therefore the dark bass drum went into the center of the mix as well. I applied some equalisation to soften the point of the drum and increase the dark, rich feeling it created. I also added a low pass filter to ensure no high frequency sounds get mixed in with the keys.

The atmospheric synthesizer creating the blizzard like background sits around the bass drum (centered, widened) but is alot softer and moves further into the background when the music starts playing. You should avoid having multiple instruments of the same frequency playing at the same panning position in your mix - they will overlap and sound muddled.

There are two choir elements in the song: the high mixed choir and the low male choir. To me, those elements represent opposing poles and thus I placed them at 35 left/35 right respectively. Because they felt a bit disjointed and not part of the same choir, I gave each of them a little bit of reverb which I panned to the opposite side at 60 left/60 right respectively. This created an engulfing surrounding choir sound.

Once I was happy with the frequency distribution and the overall mix, I moved on to fine tuning

The overall sound envelope of the mix was a little flat so I started to introduce some automation. All elements do get a little louder in the second half of the composition and the choirs especially do ebb in and out a little bit to give it a bit more dynamic and dramatic feel. Be sure to not kill your dynamics with compression! For me, since both choirs were sampled I neeeded to introduce a bit of volume changes within held notes to give it a bit more of an organic feel.

Here is the final mix of the composition. Notice how much cleaner you can distinguish between the individual elements of the song compared to the unmixed version. Also notice how the choirs tend to soften/rise on longer held notes, especially towards the end of the song

[/audio]

Conclusion

While I am happy with the final composition, there are always things which - in retrospect - I would have done differently. But hey, that's what learning is all about

Here are a few things you can notice in the above mix that I am not entirely happy with.

  • Equalisation on keys: this, in retrospect, is a big facepalm for me. I achieved the brightness in the sound of the keys mainly by equalising and boosting the higher frequencies. However, you can clearly hear that the lower notes in the melody are softer and rounder because they are not boosted in the same way. I should have modified the original sound source to produce a crisper sound rather than using the 'lazy approach' with equalisation.
  • Ending echo: I wish the delay on the final note of the keys lined up a little better rhythmically or, instead of an echo, had a large reverb on it instead. This could have been an easy fix during mixing but I was too focussed on the overall composition to notice it.
  • Organic choir: I love the sound of the choir, but wish i had taken some more time to make it sound more natural. Nothing beats an actual recorded choir, but for home musicians like me that is just not an option. Still, I think I could have improved the sound of the choir had I spent some more time fine tuning volume changes and expressions.
Overall, the 'frozen' soundtrack was a great experience and if you know anyone who is looking for a soundtrack for a video, let me know

While there are many challenges in writing music for someone else, there is also a lot of opportunity to learn and grow and become a better and more flexible musician.

User avatar
Sefie
8 Years Ago
January 29, 2011 @ 21:48 am

Haha, Celina did say that you were very patient in putting up with her suggestions and changes for the music. It's great to see the other side of the... discussion... XD I love it, I think it completely makes the video and it literally sent chills up my spine!

User avatar
8 Years Ago
January 29, 2011 @ 22:22 am

Hehe thank you
I think the video turned out really nice in the end and it was great fun writing a soundtrack that had to fit a certain vibe. It was a lot of work, but it's great to feel that people enjoy it in the end!

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I am passionate about providing high quality VFX & Film Making Edutainment online. Check out my training courses on Udemy
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