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An Interview with John Bickerton

In this interview, John discusses music libraries and sounds in presentations.


John Bickerton John Bickerton Composer/Producer John Bickerton is Creative Director for the UniqueTracks Production Music Library.

Unique Trackslicenses music for use as soundtrack in digital video productions, independent films, Flash, multimedia and PowerPoint presentations.

Geetesh: Tell us more about yourself - and how you set up UniqueTracks.

UniqueTracks John: I am a jazz pianist and spent the later years of the 1980s performing in clubs in New York City leading a jazz trio and several quartets. New York City is Mecca for a jazz musician, all the great players, young and old, live within the city's 5 boroughs so the experience I've had as a New York musician has been the best education (in life) I ever had. I did graduate with a Masters Degree in Music composition from Boson University and a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University.

UniqueTracks really grew out of a smaller company I had formed around 1996 called Loud Neighbors Music which was mainly a music production company. I began composing for TV at that time and Loud Neighbors was my publishing company. The first 4 or 5 library discs that I issued were issued through Loud Neighbors Music - I eventually, around 2001, changed the name to UniqueTracks because I thought it reflected the nature of our products better.

Geetesh: How is UniqueTracks different from other music libraries?

John: UniqueTracks is different from other music libraries mainly because of the content of the music in the library. The tracks, most of them, sound more like "rights-managed" tracks rather than royalty free tracks. When I began producing music for the royalty free market, royalty free music had a negative connotation with a lot of editors and producers. Mostly because the existing music was pretty cheesy, sounding like someone's idea of corporate motivational music. I, to this day, wonder how this style actually became accepted as the "corporate" sound. You can hear it still in a lot of phone on-hold programming. It's the ultimate background music because it takes no stance on anything - it's just wallpaper, but it's not even pretty or well-designed wallpaper. My goal at UniqueTracks was to create background music that had a point of view - some type of stance - if you listen to a great film soundtrack, it adds character to the production, it isn't just something to make some noise in the background. Actually, being a musician, I get severely irritated when I get put on-hold and it's some very lame music in the background.

Geetesh: How important is it to use sound in a presentation. And what sorts of sound genres work best for different presentation styles like business, education, and home?

John: I think the hardest thing for a presenter or editor to do when it comes to music is decide what that music should be. I have written an article that outlines my thoughts on how best to approach music scoring. It's called What you should know about your production before you add a royalty free music soundtrack. Basically I suggest that you initially not think of music styles, but instead, use techniques to determine the emotion you are trying to convey. This is what a composer does when asked to write soundtrack for a scene. They sit with the director and discuss the emotional meaning of the segment and then decide how best to convey that emotion. If you just approach your piece thinking you need a rock track, well that's probably going to get you started, but knowing, in words, the type of emotion you're trying to convey with the music is going to help you find what you need much faster. To support this, the UniqueTracks library is fully searchable by emotional keyword. If you come to our site knowing you need a "peaceful" or "introspective" piece of music, you can just click that keyword on the page and be provided with a menu of all the tracks in the library that convey that emotion. It's a faster way to find what you need. To take the example of rock music again, if you came to our site knowing you wanted a rock track, you will be presented with 100s of rock tracks. Knowing in advance what you want that track to convey (its emotion) is the fastest way to find the music you need from any production music library.

Geetesh: What about editing sounds before inserting them in presentations, or other productions? What edits work best, and which audio editors do you suggest?

John: I firmly believe that users that have some type of ability editing audio on the computer multiply the power of production music 100 times. Given the very broad licensing that royalty free music provides, if you can edit, you can legally create tracks custom-fitted to your production. We do have some customers that just want to purchase a 60 second clip and drop it in their timeline and be done with it, but really, the editors that can perform basic audio editing (looping, cutting the track on the downbeat) really increase the power of the tracks they have licensed. I have customers that have created their own loops by pulling 8 measures out of a full-length track. They then just use that as their Flash soundtrack. The music in most UniqueTracks collections come in kits, you get a full-length, then the broadcast mixes 30s and 60s, but then we give remixes and transitions. Remixes are based on the full-length track but the melody is dropped out so the background works better under dialogue or when a strong presence is not required. Other remixes will replace the melody with a new variation. The transitions are short clips that can tie two scenes together or be used as segues to something else. The strength of the kit concept is that all of these things are based on the same musical materials so that as you use them in your production, your music score isn't a hodgepodge of different styles but instead you've got a stylistic, melodic and thematically linked soundtrack.

My favorite editor is a Mac only product called Bias Peak. To me it's the top-of-the-line 2 track audio editor. But there are many editors available. Even as shareware there are strong audio editors. For the PC world, there is a great lowcost editor from Acoutstica Mixcraft by Acoustica. You can perform all the basic audio edits with this product.

Geetesh: About sound file formats, which formats does UniqueTracks provide - and which work best?

John: UniqueTracks provides music on Audio Cds, on CD-ROMs as WAV files and as MP3 files. For presenters, I really recommend using WAV files. If you've ever tried to loop an MP3 file you'll know why I say this. The MP3 spec places a 1 second fragment of silence on the front and back of every MP3 file. When you try to loop this, you'll hear a bump in the loop each time the track cycles from front to back. It's unavoidable with MP3s. The best thing way to get a seamless loop is to create your loop using a WAV file. Another option is to create the loop in FLASH as an .swf file.

Geetesh: Is there any trivia you would like to share about an unconventional use of sound tracks from your music library? Or maybe you just want to share a fun anecdote?

John: UniqueTracks music is used worldwide in a huge range of musical situations. We have major corporations as clients - MTV, CBC, Oracle, Comedy Channel, Coca-Cola, Corel, Disney, Hallmark, IBM, AIG - but there are thousands more that are small businesses and tiny production companies that have small music budgets that come to us for music to score their project. Helping these folks is the most satisfying part of the business for me.

Geetesh: Do you have anything special for Indezine readers?

John: Indezine readers can receive 15% off their first order at UniqueTracks. Just enter this coupon code - Indezine15 - in the promotion code box on the checkout page of our webstore.

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