Diary of a Music Producer

Okay, that sounds somewhat pretentious.  I am not a big time music producer by any means.  But the last few months I have been deeply entrenched in my studio for hours at a time working on a new theme for a local television news show.  It is not the first time I have done this;  my music ran on that show for three years in the early 2000’s and was then replaced by a corporate decision to brand a number of television stations across the country with the same music, produced somewhere back east.

The CitrusTV control room during a taping of C...
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This time, I was given a musical piece to emulate…not “copy”, but essentially create a similar feel and tension to.  At first what I came up with was too much the same and I knew that, but it eventually morphed into something much more original.  The most difficult part was creating the drum track.

When I come up with music I often start with drum loops, usually from a decent source like the audio series Drums On Demand.  They are cleanly recorded and I can mess somewhat with tempo and fit the parts together so that the fills and sections pretty much work with the music I’m creating.  But this time, I took the song that I was given and tried to re-create a similar rhythm, utilizing my own drum sounds and several loops I found.  There was a looseness to the original that was hard to copy…almost a hip-hop kind of feel with hand claps and stereo snares that are slightly off from each other.  It took an awfully long time to come up with just the mix that I felt comfortable with.

When that was done, it was a matter of creating a kind of tension at the beginning of the theme.  When you listen to news music themes, they are often powerful, serious and dramatic, utilizing symphonic sounds (horns are very popular!), or occasionally hard-core electric guitars.  They rarely sit on phrase for very long, changing constantly to create tension and building up toward what I call the “signature”.  Think of the NBC peacock…or even the musical stabs in commercials for products like Intel computer chips.  That’s the signature and what makes it identifyable.

The original song had very simple instrumentation to begin with, just a guitar playing arpeggiated notes and a kind of horn playing longer, more drone-like tones.  I used similar instrumentation, but also found a synth loop that had a kind of stacatto, almost “news bulletin” like sound to it that played underneath.  Eventually I added a drone of a different sort, one that kind of oscillates from the left to right and back again.  Bit by bit, I added pieces and would send them to the person I was working with to get his feedback.  Over a couple of months we got closer to something original, really only just coming down to “where to put this and what instrument to use here” types of decisions.

But that is only the beginning.  Besides having a news open theme, you also have to have what I refer to as “bumpers”;  bits of music that bring you into or out of a commercial break.  Usually I create a number of bumpers with different lengths and varying instruments that are taken from the opening them. Then there are separate themes for the sports segment of the show or the stock market report.  And there may be need for a more sombre version of the main theme…for instance if the preceeding story was about a death or disaster.  One time I had to construct a totally different theme that had a kind of “war” feeling to it when the US invaded Iraq.  I’ve done music bits for health segments, kid’s segments, call in segments…you name it, I’ve probably come up with it!

At this point in time, we are very close to finalizing the main theme, and I have been working on creating the rest of the package.  Sometime in September or October, my music will start running on the news again.  It’s always a big thrill to listen to it the first few times.  Actually, I never get tired of hearing my music on TV, so the thrill is never gone :-).

It’s a lot of work, sometimes worry when you know you have to please a group of people who all have their own tastes and “hear” their own themes.  But in the end, hopefully it’s music that will last for two or three years and become as identifiable with the show as the show is with the general public.



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