Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Making of the Music for the Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat Book Trailer

Hi there, folks. I thought we'd take a short break from our regular stamp countdown and talk a little bit about music. And movie making. I got it into my head a while back that I really wanted to make a book trailer for Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat. I put it off for a long time using the excuse that I had no idea how to make a movie. I firmly believe however that having no idea how to do something is NOT a good enough excuse not to do it. So at the beginning of February, when it was particularly cold and nasty outside, I sat down and taught myself the basics of moving pictures. As it turns out you don't need much in the way of skill to produce a competent short book trailer with Reading-Rainbow-Ken-Burns style imagery (a camera slowly panning over a still image). Before long I had a nice little trailer clocking in at just over a minute long. Next I wanted to add some original music. Making music is my secret passion. I never really took official lessons (sorry Mom and Dad), but over the years I've taught myself the rough basics of several instruments—guitar, banjo, ukelele, harmonica, and little bit of piano even (a very little bit). Music making is pure fun for me. It helps keep me sane when things are going poorly in the studio. There's nothing better for stress than organized noise making. While in art school I began recording many of my musical experiments, some which were more successful than others. Since then I've recorded dozens and dozens of tracks at varying levels of competence. Some could only marginally be described as music. Others, despite my lack of skill, are really not that bad. When I first have an idea for a piece of music I usually start by recording a layer with the one instrument that I can actually play pretty well, the guitar. I've had this guitar since the 6th grade and it has served me well over the years:
Next, I typically add more layers with instruments that I know less about. In the case of the music for the Jonathan trailer I chose the banjo. My banjo is unique from most other banjos. It has six strings (instead of four) and is tuned like a guitar. This means that I don't have to know how to play a real banjo in order to play this thing. A very handy shortcut for me.
For the Jonathan trailer I really wanted to add an accordion sound. This was problematic because I really, really don't know how to play the accordion. But like I said, having no idea how to do something is NOT a good enough excuse not to do it. (You may be asking yourself at this point: If he can't play the accordion then why does he have one? Good question. But an even better question is: If he can't play the accordion then why does he have THREE accordions?) So I sat down with my nice red accordion and spent three hours fiddling around and making noise. When I found two or three notes that sounded good together I wrote them down. Eventually I had a very simple melody that any beginning accordion student could play without difficulty. Unfortunately I am far less skilled than a beginner. And I am too impatient to practice. I simply couldn't remember how to play the melody when it came time to record. So I came up with a new plan. Sticky notes.
(Here is my dog, Wednesday, checking out my noise machine.)
I wrote numbers on each key so I would know in what order to play them. Very professional.
It took a while to get it just right, but it was well worth the effort. Watch the link below and let me know what you think!