by Jerry Vigil
Yes, it's our favorite time of the year. The time when production orders will too often include the special instruction; "CLIENT WANTS CHRISTMAS MUSIC UNDERNEATH". As you're well aware, Jingle Bells and Joy To The World don't go too far with Christmas starting somewhere in the middle of November. Here's a way to make your own holiday music. You'll need a sampler and keyboard for this tip.
The most recognizable sounds of a holiday song, aside from a traditional melody, are the tubular bells and sleigh bells. Take any slow to medium tempo piece from your production library. Lay it down on a couple of tracks and on a third track, play some nice tubular bells. A little musical background will help you here, but anyone can pick out the first two bars of "Joy To The World" on a keyboard. Match the key the production cut is in, and as close to the beginning of it as you can, play the first two bars of "Joy To The World". Since most basic production music is rather simple anyway, this will work with more cuts than you think! You don't need to play the bells all the way through and in most cases you don't want to. You may choose to bring them up again at the end of the cut, if you wish.
Try other Christmas melodies as well. Another way to use this idea is to play the short piece of the Christmas song solo then start the production music. As long as you play each piece in the same key, it'll sound pretty good.
What you have achieved is a bed for a spot that will definitely sound like Christmas music when the spot starts, but won't be another 60 second version of Jingle Bells for your listeners to endure. Spots will not sound the same because they all have Christmas music under them, and the client, in most cases, will be happy.
Tubular bells are not necessary to do the job. Those of you into programming your synthesizer may have a large assortment of patches that sound like bells of one sort or another. These will work also.
If you really feel like spending some time on it, bells are not necessary at all. Only a recognizable Christmas melody is needed to give the cut of production music that "holiday spirit"! So crank up some violins or electric guitars and have at it!
The sleigh bells are what you would need a sampler for, if you didn't need it for the tubular bells. Go to your sound effects library and sample one shake of a sleigh bell. Find some production music and simply "shake" the bells to the beat of the song. Bingo! Another piece of holiday production music! (Note: Those of you without samplers can simply find some sleigh bells and actually "play" them along with the music to get the same effect.)
Let us know how this works for those of you that try it. If you're musically inclined and haven't done this yet, you're going to actually enjoy cutting your next "holiday" spot! If you spend a lot of time on these mixes, be sure to master and save them for next year. Chances are you'll need them. ♦