In Depth: Music & Sound Design vs Animation

We invited Mutant Jukebox and freelance animator and director Russ Etheridge into the studio to talk about the importance of music and sound in animation. 

Workflow: Scoring Animade's Olympops

 Shervin and Russ talk through Animade’s Olympops animation. 

See more of Animade’s work here

See Russ Etheridge’s work here.

Q&A With Mutant Jukebox

What’s the story behind Mutant Jukebox?

Mutant Jukebox emerged out of the way I like to work. I’ve always written across lots of different genres, mainly because growing up, the group of producers and writers I surrounded myself with had different musical interests, and I learnt a lot from collaborating. The name actually came about because at the time I wanted to have a singular alias, a representation of this kind of mutation of styles and approaches.

How does your day begin before you get to the studio?

I work chaotically and have always struggled with having a particular order to the day. One thing I found out early is that I can’t work where I live. I found it impossible to maintain any sort of coherent daily routine. Getting a studio space was a way to impose a structure on my day. 

When you’re paying for a studio, it helps you to switch your mindset from hey I’m just making music for the love of it to no this needs additional funds, it needs to pay for itself and make a living. That’s when my approach as a professional developed. 

 Now I have a young family, sleep patterns and routines are unpredictable, but I do my best to keep a rhythm. One of my greatest pleasures is my morning walk to and from work. I occasionally get to stop at a local park on route and I like to take a minute before the day starts.

You’re in the studio and you’ve got a new brief to work on how do you begin to tackle that?

One thing that you can always be certain of in advertising is that time is scarce and things need to happen very quickly. When I first entered the industry I spent every minute of that time writing, with little strategic approach or giving time to figure things out. I would just launch straight into writing.   

I like to throw sounds at the picture and let something unexpected hit me, the tiniest thread of an idea can be pulled to kick-start a flood of connected ideas. I like to focus on the feeling that a client is trying to achieve and the different shades that feeling can have. Once I have that, then comes structuring to picture. On the whole, you’re working to 30/60 sec lengths so I work up two three rough directions so I know that I’ve explored the direction to a good degree. 

I usually give my self 2/3 hours to roughly sketch out some ideas, different routes, tones, intensities, energies that the picture/brief allows. I then set about to roughly structuring those ideas to picture giving the director the opportunity to hear the film in different ways. The ideas have to be noticeably different so that you’re not just giving them two or three versions of the same idea, but also within the boundaries of the brief so that it’s not too off-brief.  

Often the first feedback is the harshest, so I always brace myself. But usually you have begun to carve out a direction that is right for the picture, and the creative teams also feel that they helped through directing. I find it easier to think of myself as a designer (music producer) as opposed to a composer with a fixed stylistic approach. This way you’re doing the best for the project and helping the creative team figure things out about what works what doesn’t without bias as to a particular approach.

"One thing that you can always be certain of in advertising is that time is scarce and things need to happen very quickly."

How do you keep yourself motivated and inspired?

Getting involved in other areas of creativity or the industry really helps. Last year I co-produced several pieces of filmed content for a client’s website. I was involved from its inception to delivery, so I had to work with set-designers, DoP’s, directors, stylists a whole host of people that is needed to produce a film. We were working internationally, the director was in Paris, the client in South Africa and the Agency in Portugal. It was intense; the client changed ideas mid-way, shoot locations were changed, styling decisions etc. and we had to respond. It was tough but I learnt so much from the process. It also gave me a new found respect for producers. It’s a tough job with a lot of pressure and with so many facets. In that regard, we have it easy. 

I really don’t want to be afraid to step out my field of expertise and try out different things. It’s through this that I find inspiration and motivation.

How important is it to have a relationship with the production studio and/ or director you’re working with? 

I have a small group of people that I work with regularly, and others that come and go. Developing a long-term relationship pays dividends in the end because you develop a shorthand and more importantly trust, this becomes especially important in our field as the turnarounds are so quick.

Also when someone is dedicated to building a strong, close-knit team, the work is always more seamless, more collaborative, and that ultimately leads to better quality work.