Saturday, February 7, 2009

Two Sides of Sound

Our Blog Corner...


"Most of us get involved with music for emotional reasons-for some of us, that pleasure becomes impossible to give up. Over time it tightens its hold and becomes for many, an obsession."

I think it is safe to say that for both of us, music is nothing short of an obsession. As we feel our obsessions grow on a daily basis, we're both positive music will play a huge role in our futures. As for the present, we are still reflecting on an Interim term that majorly contributed to our musical journeys. All these places have their moments and their meanings...Here's what it all meant to each of us on an indiviual basis. Although we were in different places with slightly different perspectives, different people, and different thing was consistent: the inspiration through the music.

I can't quite put my finger on the moment I woke up and decided I was going to pursue my dream of being in the music business. I suppose it's this obsession that has developed over time and it wasn't until recently that I decided I was supposed to be doing it. Through a summer of lots of reading, research,networking, and new music, I found myself overwhelmed by a sense of clarity and a new path. By sense of clarity, I really mean sense of it. Not complete clarity by any means-but a much better idea.

Fall arrived and I began my search for Interim projects. I had always been to WorkPlay to see various singer/songwriters and decided to contact them and see what they had available in terms of internships for the month. I went in for an interview and knew it was the place I needed to be for the month. There was absolutely no reason to go away anywhere when I had such great resources in my own back yard. I spent all semester in anticipation for my month. I had hoped that it would provide some really great foundations for my future career. December came around and as things were winding down for most, I was at my highest getting ready for January. January came before I knew it. Todd Coder, talent buyer for WorkPlay is who I worked with all month. Todd's job consists of booking artists and then dealing with them on the day of the show. There are many factors that go into what artists will come play. Is money negotiable? Will they sell well? Are they emerging talent? Have they played there before and done well? At WorkPlay, there is the Theatre (seats 450) and the SoundStage (seats 800). After the deal is negotiated and confirmed, it is on the production calendar. Todd immediately emails me the deal memo. On this deal memo is the artist, where and when they are playing, the time, the ticket prices, and specifics on money. From this information, I construct a press release. The show is then announced and tickets go on sale in accordance with the set date in the press release. From the day a show is confirmed to the day the artist is in house, we work our hardest to publicize the show according to how the ticket sales are doing. All of our marketing,website updates, and ticket sales are found on We can send email newsletters, change website info, and track ticket sales through this website. On the day of the show, the artist/band arrives for soundcheck mid day. Artist hospitality is taken care of on this day. Once the artist is finished playing, the box office manager, Emily Haslett, closes out with the manager. By closing out, she is giving the set amount of money over to the manager that was in the contract. Say there was a 70% door deal. This means they take away 70% of what was made in ticket sales that night. That, in a nutshell, is the booking process.

My month really touched on many basic marketing skills and booking skills. Most importantly,I saw just how vital and important communication is among a business. Without it, any business will fall apart. I feel like I have delved far into the music business world with the help of so many that got me to this point and through the month. Although, I may not know exactly what area of the business I will end up in, I have my foundation laid and will continue to build upon it. If I could allow myself to expect anything, it is the fact that the path will lead not where I expect but to someplace better. Needless to say, I'm inspired and continue to be. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with the extremely talented and passionate souls at WorkPlay and even more grateful for the opportunity to continue to work with them throughout my semester.

For more information on the venue,shows, and all things WorkPlay check out our website AND become a fan on FaceBook!

Now I turn it over to Matt to tell you a little about his month ...basically, my dream job. LET ME MAKE YOU A SOUNDTRACK TO YOUR LIFE! No seriously, it's his turn...

Hello all you dedicated blog readers. For the month of January I was the sound designer for our interim show Dead Man Walking. This is Tim Robbins' stage adaptation from his movie of the same name, which was based off of Sister Helen Prejean's book of the same name as well. It tells the story of Sister Prejean's work with a death row inmate named Matthew Poncelet. The story takes place in southern Louisiana in the early 1980's. We staged the show in an arena configuration with a very minimalist setting. Since Robbins is a film director the stage adaptation has very cinematic elements to it. The show depended very heavily on lights and sound to bridge the transitions and move the story forward. I'm here to tell you about my process and work as the sound designer for this very unique production of a play that is only licensed to educational theatres.

As the sound designer, I was in charge of all the auditory elements of the show. This included the pre-show music, sound effects, and my personal favorite...underscoring. Not only was I in charge of the design of the show, but I also was the sound board operator for the run of the show. My first task was to develop a sound plot that indicated the what, where, when, and how each sound cue would be perceived by the audience. This plot was updated about ten times as the month progressed. All in all, we ended up with 69 sound cues...unheard of for live theatre. Secondly, I coordinated the recording process for all of the voiceover lines, music that I wrote myself for the show, and other sound effects that I was unable to find in the sound effects library that was available to me. My third major task was to edit all of these sound cues into the appropriate form they were going to be used in for the show and burn them to CD's. This show required two CD's of sound effects running on two different CD players, sometime simultaneously during the show. I can easily say that it was one of the most frustrating experiences of my life trying to figure out how in the world I was going to run a mixer, and two CD players at the same time. With time, however, I became rather adept at running the sound with reasonable proficiency. One of my other major tasks was to set up the speakers and place them in their appropriate positions. I decided to place a series of four speakers on the floor underneath the seats to offer a different kind of auditory experience for an audience. There were also multiple overhead speakers used as well. The floor speakers were used primarily for the earthly, day to day sounds such as doorbells, crowd noise, television, etc. The overhead speakers were used for the more ethereal moments in the show such as underscoring of scenes and voiceovers.

I'll now discuss my favorite aspect of the work I did this January - selecting music for the show. My first task was to select the pre-show music. I began this process back in December. The goal of the pre-show music was to set the locale of the play and introduce the audience to the culture of Lousiana. I decided to go with a mostly Delta Blues vibe for these eight songs. I did a great deal of research with each of the songs and made sure they had some relevance to the show both lyrically and musically. As for the rest of the show, I did a good deal of underscoring of scene work. This was definitely a risk I was taking mainly because it is not very common to do underscoring with live theatre. It's completely different with film, however. Think of some of your favorite movies and your favorite or most memorable moments from those movies. Chances are that those moments are so memorable because of the music that underscores them. Even with the cinematic nature of this show, it was still up in the air for me until I acutually watched the show with the music in the background. Actors in film never hear the music until they see the finished product. The music isn't a potential distraction for them while they are acting. This is not the case for live theatre. I was wondering how the music playing over the actor's lines would affect them. True relief from this distress didn't come until one of the actors came up to me and told me how much the underscoring in one of the scenes helped him to really connect with this character and the scene. That is ultimately the best compliment I could have received. The music I chose to use for underscoring was very minimalist, but very emotionally stirring. I wanted to make sure that the music didn't distract from the scene. Afterall the music isn't the star. The music was there to offer an emotional undertone that would subconsciously work its way into an audience's perception of the play. I also wrote some music for the show on the guitar for a hymn that is played several times throughout the show. While searching for appropriate music I couldn't find a version of the hymn that worked well with the rest of the show's soundscape. So, after speaking with the director I decided that I would write and record a guitar part for the hymn. A single guitar went very well with the simple and earthly nature of the rest of the sounds. I also recruited some company members to sing the hymn. I have to say one of the best moments of the show was the ending where the hymn and the "choir" comes in singing "Be Not Afraid." The way it was recorded really captured the sense of a small group of people singing in a little white church on the side of the road. It's interesting how the simplest choices can sometimes be the most profound and moving.

Just in case you are interested, here is my soundtrack for the show:

1. Fixin' To Die Blues - Bukka White, 2. I'm Sailin' - Mazzy Star, 3. 30 Days In Jail - Johnny Shines, 4. So Lonely - Tim Buckley, 5. Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues - Skip James, 6. County Farm Blues - Unknown artist, 7. Lousiana Blues - Muddy Waters, 8. I Shall Be Released - Bob Dylan, 9. City In the Dust On My Window - Hammock, 10. Strange Fruit - Billie Holiday, 11. Maria - Six Organs of Admittance, 12. Strange Fruit - Jeff Buckley, 13. Maybe They Will Sing For Us Tomorrow - Hammock, 14. Eighty-four Thousand Hymns - Hammock, 15. Razorback Drug Town - Hammock, 16. A Dream For Us - The Appleseed Cast, 17. Be Not Afraid - Matt Adams & Company of Dead Man Walking

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