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    Music Under Talking Heads
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    Senior Member scorsesefan's Avatar
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    I generally use music in my docs in transitional scenes and loath the over use of it under sit-down interviews (which often times is used to prop up underwhelming interviews).

    Does anyone have any tips for using music with talking heads in an organic and nuanced way that will enhance the footage?

    Thanks everyone and stay well.


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    Quote Originally Posted by scorsesefan View Post
    I generally use music in my docs in transitional scenes and loath the over use of it under sit-down interviews (which often times is used to prop up underwhelming interviews).

    Does anyone have any tips for using music with talking heads in an organic and nuanced way that will enhance the footage?

    Thanks everyone and stay well.
    Info that may give you a different perspective. You may already know all this. What I have done for many years is use an old technique shown to me by a good music recording engineer. Music Track Tone Shaping. He taught me to use a frequency analyzer to work out exactly what the spectrum range and frequencies were of a talking head. Whatever those voice frequencies are then using a multi-band graphic EQ adjust the volume levels of the music track frequencies that you have extrapolated from the voice track. Music frequencies outside of the voice frequencies can then remain higher but the music frequencies occupying the same spectrum as the voice are lower and don't compete so much with the voice. You end up with a good sounding music / voice mix with decent music levels that don't compete with the voice levels. An overview of the techniques and frequencies to pay attention to can be found here.

    Chris Young

    https://producerhive.com/music-produ...ocal-eq-chart/


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    Mixing music in underneath is something I used to do poorly, but documentaries that I saw usually did it well --- no doubt because they had budgets and professional personnel whose only job was to mix. So yeah, make sure you get that right.

    But I tend to agree with you that I don't like it under interviews. I love a good score in movies, but in a documentary it feels manipulative. Like you said it feels okay for transition scenes and B roll, but when an interview subject is talking, it seems out of place.

    Ken Burns does it well. I haven't scrutinized how he does it. I just know that his documentaries don't annoy me. Most documentaries annoy me --- usually because of the video look and lighting, but sometimes for the music, cutting, or sound mixing. He is most famous for the Ken Burns Effect, where you zoom and pan over a photograph --- but everyone does that now. I like just about everything about his docs. His use of real film goes a long way to earn my favor. But I also love his lighting, which stands out in its simplicity, and his editing, which stands out in its assured pace --- neither rushed nor asleep.

    He uses music, but I think he generally fades it out when he moves to an interview sound bite. If I remember right, I think he doesn't even overlap it. He totally fades it out before the subject speaks and doesn't start fading it up until the subject is done speaking. I suppose I would be all right if there were some overlap --- if the music is still fading out as the interviewee speaks and even fades up as they finish their thought. It could work quite well if you start fading it up after the interviewer makes a salient point. A really good sound bite has the same dramatic arc as a story: exposition, build-up, climax, and denouement. You could maybe start to fade the music up as or after they reach the climax --- this should be near the end of the clip anyway. There are a few documentaries by Ken Burns for free on Amazon if you're a Prime member and want to analyze his technique.

    I suppose you also could play "Deborah's Theme" from Once Upon a Time in America under all your interviews, and I would be fine with that too
    Last edited by combatentropy; 03-21-2020 at 10:55 AM.


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    Senior Member paulears's Avatar
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    In interviews is there any need for music at all? I'm a bit old school and think that drama deserves what music can do to enhance the viewer experience, but interviews? I just want to hear them clearly, and find the concept of music disturbing? In my view totally unnecessary.


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    Senior Member scorsesefan's Avatar
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    Thanks, guys. My usual instinct is no music under interviews, or fade in/out at the head/tail. But sometimes you lose your way and need folks to remind you that you should stick to your guns...


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    When it comes to aesthetics, I really try my best to avoid adherence to specific "rules." Don't get me wrong, they've served me well as shortcuts toward a look/feel, but not as limits or boundaries. I think of it like this: if it doesn't add, it subtracts.

    I use music under interviews all the time, as a bed, or to tuck under and ramp to transition to montage/VO, etc. There are also plenty of pieces I've edited where I want the audience to hear every breath, pause, crackle in the interviewee's voice... It all depends on what and how you want to present their testimony to the audience. There's no "rules" for this! Listen to your instinct, and you will not go wrong!


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    Senior Member paulears's Avatar
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    I suppose context is key here.


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    Yeah, context is key...music under talking heads has been around probably as long as editing has, and I see (hear) it more than I don't.

    Usually you'll find it in products promoting a service, business, story/people, etc. while more news/talk-show/serious content-related programming will/may not have it (or something very gentle/subtle).

    I like it when you sometimes watch pieces that have both; they may use a track in some parts under the b-roll/interviews but other parts are just told with dialogue and no music.

    (Not sure about documentaries, but it's used in most of the corporate videos I come across.)


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