Yearly Archives: 2007

If you’re old enough to have played an Atari 2600, then you’re old enough to know 90% of these old TV-logo intros and signoffs from the 70s and 80s.

The classic logo-music of all time is of course NBC’s “bing-boing-bing” chimes, (unfortunately not included in the YouTube emebed below). Just 3 notes. It’s all you need to brand a network.

Somewhere along the way, though, it seems that log-music producers started trying to top each other. Music had to be “cutting edger”, “forward looking”, and “aspirational”. It was the 70s, outer space was big, so everything had lots of synthesizers and reverb. Logo music was as it you were trying to score the Apollo moon landing in 5 seconds.

Too bad more log-music producers didn’t try a Star Wars-eqsue symphonic approach, instead we got creepy sound effects and synthesizers. But they do bring back memories!

Posted 11 years ago by John Piscitello

Directors know how important it is that the scoring orchestra really get into the film’s character and theme. Apparently George Lucas and John WIlliams decided to take this concept to the extreme – here is some unearthed footage of the original 1977 Star Wars final scoring session London…

Posted 11 years ago by John Piscitello

A successful composer gave me advice to hire a mastering engineer for my demo album, because if mastering were easy to do yourself, well, the world wouldn’t have any mastering engineers.

I’m taking the advice, and before hiring an engineer, I’m reading ” Mastering: The Art and Science” by Bob Katz of Digital Domain. It was recommended to me as a sort of bible for mastering, and reading it I would agree.

Let’s say you’re a film director and you want to use a friend’s band for some of the music. It’s an inexpensive option, the song fits your story, but lacks that full professional sound of say, a Fall Out Boy.

A surprising number of bands don’t consider mastering for their demo albums, which can greatly improve their sound. At the very least, ask the band how their project has been mastered. If not, they may be willing to spend the money to add that polish, since after all, it is their demo, and it will improve the fit and finish of your film when you show it.

Why hire a mastering engineer? Bob Katz has an article about this. It’s long, but here are some excerpts about why a band should master their album:

1. Ear Fatigue
Some mixes may be done at 2 o’clock in the morning, when ears are fatigued, and some at 12 noon, when ears are fresh. The result: Every mix sounds different, every tune has a different response curve.

2. The Skew of the Monitors
The result: your mixes are compromised. Some frequencies stand out too much, and others too little.

5. The Perspective of another Trained Ear. The Buck Stops Here.
The Mastering engineer is the last ear on your music project. He can be an artistic, musical, and technical sounding board for your ideas.

7. Don’t Try This at Home
We’ve found many DAWs and digital mixers that deteriorate the sound of music, shrink the stereo image and soundstage, and distort the audio.

Those are only some of the reasons why, inevitably, further mastering work is needed to turn your songs into a master, including: adjusting the levels, spacing the tunes, fine-tuning the fadeouts and fadeins, removing noises, replacing musical mistakes by combining takes (common in direct-to-two track work), equalizing songs to make them brighter or darker, bringing out instruments that (in retrospect) did not seem to come out properly in the mix.

Posted 11 years ago by John Piscitello

Ah, what could have been. In the heyday of Napster, I would download singles I would never have paid for – goofy songs like Cher’s “I Believe”. And the fun could have continued for $10 a month. The record company’s held a secret meeting with the Napster CEO in 2000:

Seven years ago, the music industry’s top executives gathered for secret talks with Napster CEO Hank Barry. At a July 15th, 2000, meeting, the execs — including the CEO of Universal’s parent company, Edgar Bronfman Jr.; Sony Corp. head Nobuyuki Idei; and Bertelsmann chief Thomas Middelhof — sat in a hotel in Sun Valley, Idaho, with Barry and told him that they wanted to strike licensing deals with Napster. “Mr. Idei started the meeting,” recalls Barry, now a director in the law firm Howard Rice. “He was talking about how Napster was something the customers wanted.”

The idea was to let Napster’s 38 million users keep downloading for a monthly subscription fee — roughly $10 — with revenues split between the service and the labels.

But ultimately, despite a public offer of $1 billion from Napster, the companies never reached a settlement.

Now album sales are down from 785 million albums in 2000 to 588 million in 2006; record stores are closing; laid-off workers are polishing their LinkedIn profiles; and ringtones and iTunes are not making up the shortfall (let alone restoring growth).

The article points many fingers, but it’s a familiar business-school case study: incumbent players are pressured by distribution relationships to prevent the growth of cheaper channels.

As for record company execs: they may be criticized as ostriches, but they have weak strategic power. When your main suppliers – the talent – can demand “no-look” clauses in their contracts, and your main distributor is Wal-Mart, you’re vulnerable. The Internet has created a new distribution channel, and the incumbent suppliers and distributors has every interest in pressuring the record companies to fight the tidal wave.

The next middlemen to suffer? Certainly the TV and cable networks. Expensive talent, and powerful distributors (Wal-Mart for DVDs, Comcast for cable).

It’s only a matter of time when some talent decides to take VC money to produce a show the quality of Lost, 24, or Grey’s Anatomy and distribute it all directly to consumers. The cost of creating a TV series is surprisingly close to the average series B round. And the ROI timeline is similar as well.
How soon before private equity starts raising money to fund David Chase or Darren Star to create an all-Internet TV series?

Posted 11 years ago by John Piscitello

If you said “business card printer”, you’d be right!

VistaPrint, the online business cards company, is now worth $1.64B. YouTube sold to Google for just $1.6B.

So can we expect to see VistaPrint founders on the cover of Time and Newsweek? Well, no…
But it goes to show, you don’t have to be in the slick businesses to have a wildly successful startup.

Posted 11 years ago by John Piscitello

A heat-drenched landscape coughs up dust. A bulldozer belches exhaust. And a lazy blues guitar is heard strumming in the pounding heat.A worker climbs on the bulldozer’s gears, failing to realize his life is at risk…

Yes, it’s “Shake Hands with Danger”, an industrial safety film produced for Caterpillar from the 70s (via BoingBoing).

The music is inspired by the darkest of songs from the man in black, Johnny Cash. Lots of reverb, exposed blues melody lines, languid pauses between phrases – the perfect mood for working hard in the heat and losing two fingers because you weren’t careful.
Don’t miss it when the foreman says “What if he bumped that control by accident? You’d be mincemeat by now!” (Has anyone really said “mincemeat” since 1975?)

“Shake Hands with Danger
Meet a guy who ought to know
I used to laugh at safety
Now they call me…three-fingered Joe
Shake hands with danger
Find it anywhere you choose
Be careless for a moment
Spend a lifetime with the blues.”

Posted 11 years ago by John Piscitello

Paperwork Mario, Cii-Section, and SealHunt – proetty politcally incorrect, but still, wish I got to do the score for this one… 😉
Posted 11 years ago by John Piscitello

The National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM) had its annual convention a couple of weeks ago, and Chris Muratone and Rob Sisco of SoundScan gave an overview Link presentation of Soundscan data from 2006.

The data is fascinating. Think music is heading to the long tail? Well 89% of all albums released in 2006 (by indies and majors) sold fewer than 1000 units. 74% sold fewer than 100 units.
So if you crack the top 11% of all artists, keep your album production expenses under $5000, and earn $5 an album, you can break even. Earn $10 an album and you’re making $5000.

There are many more fun facts in the deck (just don’t read it in slide show mode – too many animation effects in it…)

Posted 11 years ago by John Piscitello

The Hartford Courant wonders whether the super-short musical intros to Lost, Seinfeld, and Ugly Betty are a sign of TV theme songs dying out:

So, obviously, people like TV themes. Why don’t network executives? They’ve been trying to kill them off since the 1990s, when “Seinfeld” opened with a funky – but very quick – bass line.

Bob Thompson, professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University, blames it on network consultants fretting over viewers’ itchy remote fingers.

“The idea was that you had to immediately close in your audience like quicksand, and a theme song that would provide nothing new was an invitation to check out other channels,” Thompson says.

Sure, sales execs are going to fight for another 30 seconds of commercial time to sell each week. But I can’t agree with the article. Theme songs are thriving. American Idol, CSI, Battlestar Galactica, House, and The Office – plus anything on in late night – all have prominent themes.

The article laments that Ugly Betty devotes a scant 11 seconds to Jeff Beal’s theme. But Lost’s theme song – basically a few seconds of interesting sound design – is essential to the show’s atmosphere. (Really, can you imagine anything else? Try this alternative Lost theme song

on for size. Not quite the same, is it?)

Whatever the length, TV themes are still essential to establishing both the storytelling atmosphere and the “brand” of their shows. Seinfeld’s bass-and-beatboxing and the 60 Minutes stopwatch may not be as musically complete as Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance or Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, but they are just as indelible.

Posted 11 years ago by John Piscitello

For film makers needing a score with traditional Chinese instruments, here’s a site to do quick research on Chinese instruments. Spend a few minutes here and you’ll soon pass the quiz to identify the Er-Hu vs. the Liuqin, or the Dizi vs. the Bawu. You’ll recognize nearly all the sounds from movies you’ve seen.

(The site is Melody of China, a San Francisco-based Chinese musical group. They also have their own Chinese-music web links.

Posted 11 years ago by John Piscitello