Improving a film's impact through voice and music

As Head of Audio at Big Blue, I bring together the voices, music and sounds that communicate the messages and emotions of our film projects.

We recently partnered with Sydney-based Digital Storytellers as audio partner for a two-minute animation to highlight the creation of the UNDP Impact Fund, a partnership between Bangladesh and UNDP. The animation was shown as part of Bangladesh’s presentation to the UN General Assembly earlier this month. Big Blue provided the following:

  • Script consultancy

  • Sourcing, coaching and recording a voice actor

  • Writing, recording and mixing an original soundtrack

Script consultancy

How many words per minute does your voice actor speak comfortably (probably around 150 words)? Do we need gaps for breath, or to allow the visuals to take hold in the viewer’s eye? Does the script flow well, or does it need better links between ideas and sentences? Does the music fit the mood? These are just some of the many audio-related decisions that should be looked into to early on.

The audio roadmap must be planned early, during script development when ideas can be shared and adapted easily. Once production starts, and sketches become moving images, scripts become recorded narrations, and music compositions become recordings, the film starts to set into a shape that is more challenging to adjust later in the production timeline. Plan the audio early.

Sourcing, coaching and recording a voice actor

A film’s voice actor is responsible for hooking viewers and communicating messages. Voice actors need a lot more than just a nice voice and enthusiasm (though these definitely help). They must understand the client’s story, respond to guidance and feedback from the production team, and ultimately sound convincing.

On this project, we sourced a voice actor personally familiar with Bangladesh, who understands the international development sector, and understands the target audience.

A voice actor that knows your audience and the type of tone you want is a major boost. If a voice actor can actively participate in shaping material, asking questions and suggesting improvements to the script and story, then their contributions make the production stronger and more effective.

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Writing, recording and mixing an original soundtrack

A well-delivered narration by a competent voice actor engages listeners, conveying information and emotion. Music takes that energy and emotion further. It partners us with visual content and immerses viewers in the experience so they are more likely invested in the story.

A good music score steps forward when it needs to take centre stage, and it steps back when the voice actor needs to lead. This can be something as simple as turning music down or even off.

Other situations may require you to sculpt your music (‘the arrangement’). This can include, for instance, transferring a melody line from your bright, cutting violins over to the darker, more subdued clarinets so that the voice and orchestrations stay clear of one another. Or, it can include re-recording a section of the music quieter during a softer, intimate moment when you want the listener to focus on the voice.

For this animation, which shows Bangladesh to the world, we used Bengali instrumentation (the dhol, tabla, dotara, flute and mondira), a hopeful, uplifting melody, and a lilting rhythm inspired by the region’s folk music to put the viewer in a geographical location and emotional location, too. One hopes that the a film explaining a new large-scale international development initiative would bring with it a sense of positivity, of change for good, and leave the audience with a good taste in its mouth afterwards.

Conclusion

Structure. Clarity. Impact. These may sound like the words thrown around your office roundtable, but they relate to sound and music, too. If your film’s messages are fighting against poor diction, an overpowering soundtrack, an unconvincing narrator, or a mismatch with visuals, then your story loses impact. So when you start envisioning your story, use the power of voice and music to create the emotional impact that you want.