September 20, 2017

Josh Berger: Mixing Commercials Like the Movies

Post Magazine pg. 38
By Josh Berger, Re-Recording Mixer, Harbor Picture Company

What is a “commercial” in 2017? It’s a six-second, pre-roll on YouTube, it’s a branded Buzzfeed video, an interactive digital billboard in an airport, a VR experience, and sure, sometimes it’s still a :30 spot on TV. There is literally no limit to the format, the place, the medium or the platform a commercial might appear on these days. This wide-open frontier is both a creative gift and a challenge to those tasked with creating branded content. And while there is much to be learned and much new ground to be broken in every aspect of the production of these new forms of communication, when it comes to sound, there are many techniques we use on the feature film side of things that can be very effective in these more creative and entertaining commercial formats.

Sound can grab a viewer’s attention, but a subtle rhythm is what keeps them watching until the end. Creative use of sound can help drive the pace of a commercial, the same way it does in film. But for today’s savvy consumers, it’s important that we don’t overwhelm them with aggressive messaging. Restraint is key. A well-placed sound effect or a delicate combination of music and sound can support and enhance the narrative and the ultimate call to action to a consumer. This is a technique long used in mixing feature films, and is just as effective when it comes to commercial content.

No matter how long the commercial content may be — :30, :60, five minutes or an hour — the sound should take you on an emotional journey, as if you’re watching a feature film. Last year, I worked on a branded short film for the launch of a Kate Spade collection. Although the film had no voice over or composed score, we created a soundscape by pairing images of the models with sound elements organic to New York City to evoke a subconscious emotional response. The creatives behind the campaign recognized that letting the story evolve in a natural way was a more effective way to draw a viewer into the content. Whether you’re working with two minutes or two seconds, sound design can be used to tell the entire story.

When mixing sound for commercials, we need to keep in mind that most viewers won’t be watching on TV. The rise of social media and mobile consumption has more people listening to our work through headphones. This is a challenge we face with feature films, as well, as distribution platforms such as Netflix and Amazon become more popular. Regardless of whether we’re working on films or commercials, we need to adapt to the changing landscape. For example, I recently worked on a piece for Dove Chocolate, for which film director Pamela Romanowsky (Adderall Diaries) filmed a documentary style commercial about harvesting chocolate on organic farms in Ecuador. We approached the sound design and mix knowing the content would run across their Website and multiple social networks, and would likely be heard through a number of different devices. The worlds of feature film and branded content are continuing to collide, and as sound mixers in both realms, we’re facing a lot of the same challenges. At the end of the day, we simply need to approach everything we mix as entertainment for the viewers, and shouldn’t view length of content or distribution type as barriers to telling an effective story.

‘#MissAdventure: The Bumpy Ride’
In-house Kate Spade
Re-Recording Mixer: Josh Berger

‘Dove Chocolate Journeys – A Culture of Cocoa’
Refinery29 for Dove Chocolate
Director: Pamela Romanowsky
Re-Recording Mixer: Josh Berger