The Effects of Background Music on People

I am a huge fan Shankar Vedantam and his work as NPR’s Social Sciences Correspondent. A couple weeks ago, he discussed the effect that background music has on people – and as a film/tv/video game composer myself, I was instantly intrigued. Here is a link to the podcast so you can listen for yourself! NPR | Researchers Test The Effects Of Background Music On People

The interview discusses how a group of people will view sharks on TV differently depending on the type of music occurring in the background. When the music was light and flowing, the sharks were seen as majestic. Of course, when the music turned tense and frightful, the sharks were instantly seen as mindless killing machines. I’m sure this seems like common sense. However, I don’t think many people realize that our job as composers is to speak directly to the audience’s emotions, as much as possible!

Let’s take a quick example from a rare documentary about John Williams composing for the original Star Wars trilogy (while heavily discussing Empire Strikes Back). In the clip below, we are shown the scene of Han Solo being frozen in carbonite – first without music, and then with. Notice the difference?

As you probably noticed, without the music, the scene is a bit… “eh.” (With no insult to Lucas and team!) Sure there are some slight emotional points, and it seems like something pretty tragic and dramatic is happening.

But when we hear the music’s elegant fluctuations from fear to uncertainty to hope and love then to pure evil, all within a two minute window… how could our emotions not run just as wild?

The thing is, not many people realize when watching films or television shows, or even advertisements, how much the music is effecting them. The music doesn’t even have to be this grand orchestration we get consistently from John Williams either.

The power of one note held out and twisted was Hans Zimmer’s trick for the Joker throughout The Dark Knight. The entire Joker thematic material is two notes. C and D playing back and forth with each other.


The simple yet melancholic piano lightly played over a bed of soft sounds and textures brought a sense of wonder and awe to us, thanks to Thomas Newman during American Beauty.


The lovely sounds of pitched percussion contrasted with out of tune synths and electronics to convey that not is all it seems between our two leads in Gone Girl, with the help of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

And of course I can’t leave out Michael Giacchino’s genius work in UP, where we see an entire marriage play out in four minutes and are left a sobbing mess by the end. Not a single word of a dialogue. The entire story is told through music and images. And it’s absolute perfection.


Sometimes images are simply not enough. And I guarantee if music was absent from these scenes, whether you knew why or not, you would know and feel that something was missing.


The Benefits of Custom Music


Composers at Work

Composers are some of the hardest working people I have ever met. I’m not just saying that because I am one, I’m saying it because it’s true. They frequently work hours beyond a typical 9 to 5 job in pursuit of perfection in every aspect of their music. This goes not only for the actual notes of the music but everything involved with its creation: mixing, parameter automation, and MIDI editing. If I continued to list things you’d likely stop reading this due to boredom.

I say this because there is value in the work of composers who create tracks for licensing and purchase to be used with different forms of media. While they might not be working to a specific film clip they are still creating an aural experience that can define a piece of work. It could even affect the media creator because they heard something specific in that track that made them want it in the first place!

But just like any field of work with options, custom music has some advantages to pre-composed/licensable music. This is especially applicable to those of us who get to work in-house with a video team to bring their vision to life.

Our team was recently working on a video that introduced a new award for the Triangle AdFed Addy Awards. The crew worked hard on the video to create something visually intriguing. While working on the music (using licensed tracks) something seemed missing. Luckily, I was asked to step in and compose something original to match the visuals!

One of the things that wasn’t working for video producer Bryan Reklis was the lack of edge to the track. It was too clean and crisp for what we were trying to accomplish with the overall product. The lack of variety didn’t help either as the track had one tone throughout. While it worked nicely with the timing of the edits, it simply didn’t add anything else into the mix.

This is where the advantages of working with a composer to make a custom soundtrack came in handy. The human interaction between two people working towards the same goal can have some surprising results. Having the ability to talk about what it is you want musically makes it easier for team members to integrate music into the project. The music is made specifically for their tastes and the needs of the project. This collaboration can lead to an even better version of what the video team and composer originally had in mind.

Many licensable tracks also are created to have the same tempo and same time signature (number of beats in a measure of music) throughout the track. While this is very useful for editing, it can sometimes lead to redundancy. It’s not uncommon for video teams to purchase several pre-composed tracks and edit them together to form a Frankenstein music track with no consistency.

With this in mind, I was able to create a track that had changes in time signature, tempo, dynamics, varying sections, and modulations to move the music forward in a 44-second window. Below I have attached a sort of “walkthrough” video where you can check out the Pro Tools session with the different instrument tracks and some of the parameters that were adjusted to keep the music moving forward while also serving the purpose of the advertisement.



If you have music creators in your team, use them! We love the challenges that come with creating the track that fits just right. I hope you’ve enjoyed this walkthrough. We will have some new projects coming out soon that I’ve enjoyed composing for and I look forward to sharing them with you all.



The Voice of the Composer

addt image

Custom Music Helps Take Home the Addy

When Blueforest Studios was selected by Triangle AdFed to produce a video to launch the new ADDY award and program we were ready to take up the challenge. We knew that we’d have to go above and beyond to inspire our local advertising and marketing colleagues. We collaborated with Bill Harper of Wonder Web and also the ADDY Co-Chair, who brainstormed the idea of smashing the old crystal trophy and metaphorically bringing the new one out of the ashes. Our team worked on getting just the right shot. We used our new set of Kino Lights plus natural sunshine and shading provided by numerous staff members holding the tent in place.

So once you have the shot, what’s next? Editing, editing, editing and a really cool voiceover. And with all the hard work that was put into this we couldn’t just put any random stock music into the video. So we turned to 1 of our 3 composers, Dustin Painter! You can hear that all he learned at the University of Southern California for his degree in Scoring For Motion Pictures and Television. We think the music is just about the best part of this award-winning video. We knew that based on his past work he was the man for this particular job. Check out the Silver ADDY winning video to see what you think!

Coincidentally, another of our composers, Donald Best, won for his custom music for a local Fortune 500 company.

We believe that a signature sound for corporate videos is an important part of the brand experience. Due to budget constraints we once used a very nice stock track on a video for a national brand. By the time the video was released, that piece of music was everywhere. We counsel our customers to consider custom music. It adds to the overall price of the project yet can really pay off in the long run when the audience associates the quality of the visuals with what they are hearing.


Fonts for Dummies

You may be thinking “I don’t know anything about design, how do I deal with type in my project?” “Should I make the text on my video neon pink?” “Why is my bellybutton on backwards?” We can help you with two out of three of those questions. Let’s get started.

The font of a text controls how we see the letters on our screen. It can be a powerful feature of good design. But like any power, it can be dangerous if it falls into the wrong hands. Good type can make the difference between confusion and communication. Here are some basic tips to avoid a font fail:

1. Choosing a font

Remember when there were only a handful of fonts to choose from? Nowadays there are almost too many options. Want your text to look like it was written by a 4th grader? There’s a font for that. Want your text to look like it was eaten and spat out by a grizzly bear? There’s a font for that, too. All those possibilities can distract you from your purpose: getting your audience to read and understand your message.

Take road signs as a good example. Did you know most official highways signs are written in the official “Highway Gothic” font? It was designed to be read quickly and accurately. Imagine the chaos and confusion if road signs were written in Papyrus. Let us all take a moment of silence to give thanks for Highway Gothic.


Now let’s look the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript from the early Middle Ages. Its text is aligned closely with its spiritual purpose. Its pages are ornate, intricate, and visually arresting. It is meant to be studied closely and slowly.


Figure out where your project falls within that range. Are you I-40W or a medieval monk? Let your purpose guide your font choice.

2. Styling: Keep it simple

The following example should hurt:


Blueforest Studios is not responsible for any injuries that may occur as a result of looking at this image.

Just because you can apply five different strokes, a gradient fill, drop shadows, and ten different fonts doesn’t mean you should. If your text is meant to be read, legibility should be your number one focus. Styles should be applied with the greatest reserve and good reason.

3. Bring it together

Now that you know how your individual letters will look, you can begin deciding how they will sit on the page or screen. Make a hierarchy and apply it consistently. Decide how your headers will look compared to your paragraph text. What about links and sub-headers?

A great example of this comes from Pelican Books’ clean, crisply designed website.

pelicanbooksWithout thinking, we know exactly where our eye should go. Scrolling through their site is easy and intuitive.

4. Observe fonts in their natural habitat

Type is everywhere. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t.

Take Budweiser’s 2015 Super Bowl commercial. It features a bold sans serif centered in the frame. There’s no voice over, so they need the words to do the talking.

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 9.07.52 AM

5. Go forth and font

Here are some resources to get you started:

Font Squirrel – Great collection of free, professional fonts.
Dafont – A glut of everything from basic to illegible.
Art of the Title – Online collection of movie title typography. A good starting point for references and ideas.
The Design Blog – The best way to develop your design intuition is to absorb good design. The Design Blog is a perfect way to marinate in the latest and best.


Audio Signals

Audio Restoration: A Powerful Tool In An Evolving Field

Most days of the week, while working on sound design or composing music, I will have a moment when I reflect on how much the world of audio and music production has changed so quickly in the relatively short amount of time I have been in this profession. I remember upgrading from my old Gateway PC to a 2008 Mac Pro tower the summer before my junior year at Western Carolina. The prior year I had become friends with Jonathan Churchill, Co-Founder at Embertone virtual instruments here in Raleigh. When Jon first showed me his compositional works for video games the semester before I felt a switch going off in my head changing my desired course of future employment from band director to composer. My mind was boggled by the fact you could make such great sounding music from one computer! Growing up I always imagined everything had to come from a professional studio with millions of dollars of gear in it. Seeing Jon produce music from a Mac I told myself “I have to get one of those.” Seven years ago I also recall hearing the audio samples he was using and thinking “Wow, that sounds like a real orchestra!” Of course in that short seven years the quality of virtual instruments, analog modeled plug-ins, digital audio workstations, and everything in between has increased exponentially. And it’s only going to do so even more in the years to come.

One of my favorite types of audio software to really come to light the last few years has been software geared towards audio restoration and repair. Now, there have been methods of reducing noise and crackle and various little messes here and there for a long time. Those are certainly all helpful and vital in achieving great audio for any medium of media. Within the last few years software such as iZotope’s RX line have given us ways to dive into audio from a spectral standpoint and remove just about anything you don’t want in your audio recordings.

Anyone who has recorded audio on set for a film of any form will tell you there is quite a process to capturing the purest audio from the shoot. Being outside of a controlled environment there is a good chance that your microphones will pick up anything from car noises, to AC units, to wind, to chatter in the corner, and the list could go on and on. Luckily for us if those sounds creep into our recordings we can remove them and deliver the audio your video deserves!

This tutorial video of iZotope’s RX software is a great demonstration of the difference even the slightest cleaning up of audio can do. Watch as the audio engineer is able to remove the noisy clicks from a wedding photographer’s camera during the vows of the ceremony.


But what about the restoration of audio? Some clips may be too loud and distort during the recording process. While it is still in best practice to record at appropriate levels there also could be sounds a client would want to use that they have on hand that need to be repaired.  Those types of recordings or sound effects can be worked with and polished too!


Finally, in case you are saying “Dustin, that’s great but have you used anything like this before?”, here is a clip from a project I worked on earlier last year. This comes from a series of recordings done in the New York City metro system. Singer Pavlina Horakova and pianist Drew Spradlin came up with the idea to take a piano to the subway system in New York City and record different movements from operatic works of the past. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you a subway system, let alone the one in NYC, is filled with noise stacked upon noise with a little more noise on top of that. With a lot of determination, and several cups of coffee, I was able to not only clean up this recording of several extraneous sounds but was also able to repair several instances of distortion and clipping to hopefully bring you into the beautiful music these two performed.


I hope all of you reading this have found it informative! Feel free to comment and let’s talk about the great things happening in audio and video production.





Hello From The New Audio Guy! (read: amazing composer)

Hello to all of you out there reading this on your computer screens, phones, tablets, and all forms of electronic devices! My name is Dustin Painter and I’m the new audio producer at Blueforest Studios here in Raleigh, North Carolina. The higher ups wanted me to write a blog post to introduce myself so here it goes!

I started workiIMG_0715ng here in November teaming up with our insanely talented lead audio producer Donald Best. Together we work on tracking and editing voiceovers, audio mixing, and audio production for clients that come to us for video production. We also produce any kind of audio production that you can imagine.

We take pride in producing excellent quality audio work for our video production team here at Blueforest Studios. Have you ever watched a video online, maybe even on TV, and thought to yourself “something doesn’t seem quite right here…?” The production value of the video looks great, the acting is superb, and the story the company is trying to convey is being told in a solid manner, so what is it? It’s probably because the audio has been thrown on the back burner during the production process and simply placed in. I can tell you one thing: that does not happen here!

The purpose of audio is so much more than just you hearing what someone is talking about in a marketing campaign. Nobody wants low quality audio in their videos. Even when you watch TV how many times are you actually watching? It’s easy for us to flip the tube on and go about working on different tasks. Maybe you’re cleaning the house, or cooking, or even just have it on for background noise. Why is it so easy to still enjoy TV even if you aren’t watching it? Perfect audio is why! Audio, even without the visual aspect, can bring you into whatever medium you are exposing your attention to. Audio is a vital part of storytelling and very well may be the most immersive part. What else in the audio realm is important for videos? Music! This is where I hope to come in and and to help you out personally here at Blueforest Studios: original music designed specifically to YOUR needs.

Outside of my work here at Blueforest Studios I work as a freelance composer and sound designer for film, TV, videos games, and any form of media possible. I studied “Commercial and Electronic Music” at Western Carolina University here in the mountains of NC and was lucky enough to do graduate studies at the University of Southern California in the “Scoring For Film and Television” program. During my time in Los Angeles I had the chance to study with some pretty incredible composers such as Christopher Young (Spider-Man 3, The Rum Diary, Sinister), Bruce Broughton (Silverado, Tiny Toon Adventures, Lost In Space), and Garry Schyman (Bioshock Series, Dante’s Inferno, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor) among many others.

As a composer my purpose is to bring you into the heart of the story. Music should help to propel the piece of media forward into a part of your brain that will make you remember what you just saw. It is all about making a personal connection to the viewer! Once again, how many times have you had something on in the background while working and have known exactly what is on because of the music that’s playing? Music not only works directly on viewers but can access a subconscious level of the brain to tell them how to feel, what is happening, and can engrain itself into the memory without you even knowing it’s there.

With all of that said I want to help bring your story, your product, your ideas, or anything you want to tell to the forefront of people online and everywhere! I feel very lucky not only to make music and sound as a career but to also have the chance to do it here at Blueforest Studios with some of the most talented, creative, and kind people you’ll find in the business of marketing and video production.

Of course there are some times when trying to create that right piece of music feels like this:

Then an idea comes along and it feels like this:

Finally a music track that fits just right is made and both I and the client I’m working for can sit back and know their video is ready for everyone to see!

Now that I’ve talked your ears off, or I suppose typed your eyes out, feel free to check out this playlist of some various work I’ve done on projects!

I hope you enjoyed what you’ve heard. Thanks for a few moments of your time and I hope to work with you all very soon!



Adorable Dog 16x9 with thirds(1)

What goes where? – Composition Basics

Maybe you watched our documentary on NCRLA, and wondered about setting up a video interview, maybe not. Regardless, I wanted to share a few basic tips when composing your shot for a video interview. First off, you need to pick a place for the interview. Often times, people will want to do an interview in a certain room because they think the room is their most impressive or comfortable or just “looks the best.” However, it is important to remember that with a video interview, you will only see a very small portion of the room. So, you only need to have a small section of the room “look the best.”

When choosing a location, keep in mind that you want to have at least a few feet between the camera and the interviewee and at least a few feet between the interviewee and the background. Sometimes this is easier said than done, but it will give you a better depth of field and keep your subject from blending it with the background. (Note: in a tiny nutshell, depth of field refers to how much of the image is in focus.)

So after you pick a location, you want to choose where to put the subject in the frame. There is a pretty simple guideline for this called the Rule of Thirds. If you divide the frame in to thirds both horizontally and vertically with lines, you want to have your subject in one of the intersection points of the lines. You can look at this picture of a puppy for an adorable example of the Rule of Thirds:

Adorable Dog 16x9 with thirds(1)

 Next, you want to light the scene properly, for more information on that, watch this video we made on lighting basics.

After you have your subject lit beautifully and properly placed in the frame, you will want to eliminated anything distracting from the frame. Sometimes, what is not in the shot is just as important as what is in the shot. If you are interviewing someone at a messy desk, you might want to have a tighter (closer) shot that doesn’t show much of the desk. Or, you might want to clean the desk. Also, if there is a window or other really bright object like a lamp in the shot, you might want to move the shot the those objects are out of the frame. Simply put, you want to make sure the viewer is NOT going to be paying attention to something in the frame that isn’t your subject.

These are just a few basic ideas that can help improve a video interview on the visual side of things, but don’t forget about audio. For more on audio in video read this.

If you have any questions of this topic or other video ideas, let me know in the comments section. Thanks!

Bryan Reklis
Video Producer