Music & Anime: A Relationship Editorial – Part 3 – Promo Video Musicians’ Interview

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This is part three of a multi-part, personal editorial from social media coordinator, Godswill Ugwa. This is an interview correspondence with the two musicians behind the sounds and songs of most of Funimation’s trailers. Edited by social media producer, Lauren Moore

Welcome to part three of Music & Anime: A Relationship Editorial, where we explore various connections between the two mediums. You can see part one here where we take a look at the soundtracks of Blood Blockade Battlefront and The Boy and The Beast and part two where we explore Yoko Kanno’s legacy as an influential composer. In this part, we’ll be speaking with the Funimation staff members in charge of making the music for the trailers and commercials we put out! The two members speaking with me are Music and Sound Composers Andrew Manson and Andrew Black who took the time to share their backgrounds and inspiration.

Godswill Ugwa (GU)- First question for both of you: How did you get into this industry and how long have you been at Funimation?

Andrew Manson-

I graduated from the UNT Film program in 2008. In 2010, I came back to the country having lived a year abroad and a good friend of mine from school who’d been working at [Funimation] for a couple of years told me about a job opening in an adjacent department. I applied and got that position working for DTO (Digital Uploads), and later video engineering for a couple of years. I had been writing music in my free time for various media projects since 2007 or so, always dreaming of composing full time. I’d done a handful of student films, short films, a zombie feature, web series, etc.

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Around April 2013, a colleague and friend told me about a position that opened up when one of the previous composers left [Funimation]. The application process was about 6 weeks between interviews and writing samples, but it went very well, in part because they liked my music, and in part because I was already working in the building, AND I had worked with Austin and one of the editors on a short film of theirs just a couple of months previous, so I had made some great new friends in the department already.

The rest is history. The last three years have been a constant growth period in terms of the improvement of creative style and technical execution. We get to write in so many genres and styles that I feel constantly challenged in the best way. I’ve done probably 60-70 trailers, written probably 40+ pieces of music, and mixed a couple hundred various other media projects and each one has felt like an opportunity to try something new. Funimation has a high standard of work as well, so it’s great to be able to work hard and rise to that bar.

Austin Black-

I was working as a glorified janitor at a health club and just playing in bands. I met a guy who oddly enough now works at Funimation. We hit it off and stayed in touch. Several years later I noticed this ad campaign all throughout Dallas called “I Am Second”. It looked like it was [the employee]’s work so I reached out to him and asked him if it was. Sure enough a few days later I’m at his office and he’s showing me this I Am Second commercial he’s working on and mentions that he’s unhappy with the direction of the music. I asked him what he was looking for. He played me a song. I said “I can do that! I’ll have it in your inbox tomorrow morning.” So all the sudden I was a dude working at a coffee shop seeing a commercial with my music come on TV multiple times a day.

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I wrote/produced my first album under the name Our Winter which gave me more experience producing. Then for about a year nothing happened. One day my best friend Todd Blankenship (who worked at Funimation for about 5 years  as a videographer/editor) told me there was an opening for a composer, and he thought it’d be perfect for me. I sent in a couple tracks I had done, but got a response that my work didn’t quite show enough diversity. The job here requires the ability to compose for so many different tones and genres because we have such a diverse ranges of shows/movies.

So I spent that night composing a bunch of different styles that I had never done before. I did like a happy pop song, an orchestral song, a hip hop track, and a few others that just showed I was capable of different styles and emotional tones. Got invited for an interview… 6 years later I’m very fortunate to have such a wonderful job working with some amazing and talented people.

GU- Lets get into the meat of things: How would you detail your work processes? Also what tools do you use?

Austin Black – 

Hmmm… I could go many directions with that. Well first and probably foremost in my process is that I’m really not afraid to let my subconscious do the heavy lifting. I am fortunate that I work with people who understand I need some time to simply connect with the emotional tone and aesthetic of the brand and story. Which is a lot of just going on walks or reading or watching funny youtube videos until or strumming guitar until something pops into my head. Sometimes that’s immediate and the song is written within the first couple hours, but other times it can take several days before it really clicks and I have a sense of how to express the story musically. The moment It clicks though it is usually downhill from there. Whether it’s strumming my guitar and finding the right chord or going on a walk and a melody pops into my head there’s always a turning point where it becomes clear what will work. From that point I then just try to really focus on the feel, quality, and texture of the production which to me has as much if not more effect on the efficacy of the song in the trailer/spot. What that looks like often is emulating and/or creating a new band in a sense. Every band/artists/composer makes a lot of smaller decisions that stack up to their sonic aesthetic. So we’re talking choices like equipment, playing style, editing vs non editing, rawness vs tightness, distortion vs cleanness, hifi vs lofi, sampling, layering vs minimalism, live drums or drum machines, effects, instrument choices, scales/music theory, mixing style, mastering I take in to consideration all of these kinds of elements and many others so that every track I write can be as specific to that style as possible. But often all those kind of decisions come immediately in the moment I connect with what the song will be so all of this is ultimately happening within a 3-7 day period.

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I could talk tools for hours. As my co-workers know I am constantly buying and selling gear. Mostly because I find it inspiring to use new tools that influence, limit (in a positive way), and inspire my approach to a song. I play a lot of guitars (Island Instruments Anzol, Epiphone Custom Shop SG), analog synths (Make Noise, Moog, Korg), bass – but other times I’m using Logic, Native Instruments, Universal Audio, Kush Audio in the box to shape the sound. I have way too many guitar/synth pedals that I use for all sorts of character/whacky sounds (Chase Bliss, Fairfield Circuitry, Hudson Electronics, Harben Audio). I have a couple of guitar amplifiers for different sounds (Otis Trudeau, Supro Thunderbolt). Some mics and outboard gear (AEA r84, Shure SM7b, Avendis MA5, UAD Apollo 8 Quad, Dizengoff D864)

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To me as far what leads the process it has to always start and remain focused foremost on the writing itself and how that connects with the emotion of the story. If I don’t have that all else fails. The beat can sound huge, the samples or guitars can sound high fidelity, but none of that matters if I haven’t found the right melodies, chords, progressions to match the image.

Andrew Manson – 

I start by assessing what elements I’m given for each project and go from there. An average project comes with music, sound effects (sfx), dialogue, and occasionally Voice-Over (VO) that we need to mix together so they coexist without trampling on each other. Available project elements can vary wildly for various reasons. Sometimes, I’m given a finished edit with temp music that I need to replace; sometimes, it’s just a mix, where all the materials already exist and are ready to be mixed together; and occasionally I might need to write the music in advance for the editors to have something to edit to, and it’s up to me to watch the show and write something that works. For a project that will require original music from me or Austin, the musical direction is decided by brand managers and the trailer editor to fit a marketing vision. Once I’m given a set of parameters or an anime genre and/or an edit to work with, I generally start by either listening to a bunch of genre-specific music to find some inspiration, or more often, the specific track the editors picked that I will need to emulate in some way. My writing process can vary based on the project, but it often starts with a tune on the piano to build around and assign instrumentation to. I also often start with an instrument that might best represent the intent/style/genre of the music (like a fiddle for a jig, or the bass line for a hip hop beat). My next step after figuring out a tune, is figuring out timing/tempo. Then there’s phrasing, programming of effects and dynamics, and a mix to make it as clean, dynamic, and effective as possible. I show the music to the editor in steps to make sure I’m on the right track, and make adjustments as I need to. Once the music is finished, I mix it in with SFX and dialogue, and send the whole thing off for approval. Once it’s approved, there might be additional mixes for variants of the trailer, loops for the blu-ray/dvd, and button sounds to be created. It sounds like a lot, but you get used to the process and deadlines.

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I write in Logic and mix in Pro Tools. We also have several really great instrument libraries by EastWest, Native Instruments, etc.. Occasionally, we get to bring in a musician to play on a track in some capacity. Austin has played a couple of wicked guitar solos for me (Noragami!). We also have a massive SFX library with everything from swirling vortexes, to screaming baboons. We have a couple of great plugin suites to help give our music and mixes an added layer of polish and individuality. My setup is relatively simple and includes the piano, midi controllers, a simple mic set up on occasion, and space for musicians to record.

GU –  Who starts the process between the video editors and you guys in setting the tone? Also do you watch the show in order to make the tone?

Andrew Manson –

Traditionally, the editors, working with brand managers and marketing, set the tone and feel of the trailer, but we are encouraged to make it as cool as we can and bring original ideas to the table. Otherwise, we wouldn’t make very interesting music! Occasionally, based on a variety of factors, I might be asked to write a piece of music before an edit exists and suggest a creative direction, but it’s still up to me to talk to the other creatives involved (editors, etc.) and understand the tone and direction the trailer should take.

I do watch the shows when I can. The honest truth is our schedule doesn’t allow a lot of time for that, but we put a huge amount of trust in the editors and brand managers to provide good direction, so I don’t hesitate about it really. Sometimes I’ve watched the shows on my own and understand what they’re about beforehand, and I certainly watch the shows when I have to write music in advance, but decisions about tone and genre are normally made before the project lands on my desk, so I trust in the development process and in my talented colleagues to move in the right direction.

Austin Black –

To me as far what leads the process it has to always start and remain focused foremost on the writing itself and how that connects with the emotion of the story. If I don’t have that all else fails. The beat can sound huge, the samples or guitars can sound high fidelity, but none of that matters if I haven’t found the right melodies, chords, progressions to match the image.

I’m of the opinion that it’s my job to match the tone of the trailer not the show itself. If it’s all there in the trailer then it’s no fun for the fan. My job is to create anticipation, and then when the fan sits down to watch there’s still plenty to the world and tone of the show to surprise them and unfold before them.

GU – What are some of your favorite pieces/works that you have done?

Austin Black –

I’ve honestly done so many it’s truly hard to remember even half the music I’ve made. Some recent favorites are the DBZ Ressurection F Theatrical Pre-role. The One Piece Season 7 music for the different Voyages. Ping Pong.

Andrew Manson –

That is a tough question and I could probably answer it in a lot of different ways. Personally, I loved writing the music for Rage of Bahamut: Genesis, and I think Noragami, Dark Matter, Free, Psycho Pass S1, and GITS:Arise (Borders 3&4) turned out cool.

But then, there are some pieces of music that got talked about a lot, so maybe they have their own merit. For example, it was really cool when people really liked the Jormungand music a couple of years ago, and the very interesting track I was asked to write for the Dragonar Academy trailer certainly got noticed haha. I will also always fondly look back on the collaborative (and award-winning, athankyou) “Funimation Now” track Austin and I got to make together. Very proud of how that turned out. So I suppose a few tracks stick out, but every piece of music has been fun to write and an exciting stylistic challenge.

GU – Is there anything else that I may be missing that you’d like the fans to know?

Austin Black – 

We do our best and will continue to try to make the tracks from trailers available. All the feedback means the world.

Andrew Manson – 

I’m also very thankful for the feedback we get (YouTube comments, Twitter, etc). We both hugely appreciate when people dig our music. It might sound cheesy, but it’s a job I certainly don’t take for granted and love coming to work everyday to do the best work I can and treat the shows right for the amazing Anime fans out there. Overall, thank you for everything. We wouldn’t get to do what we do if it wasn’t for the fans.

GU –  Finally where can fans find your work?

Andrew Manson – 

My soundcloud page: https://soundcloud.com/AndrewManson  (There’s a playlist called “Anime Trailer Music” :D)

Austin Black –

twitter: @blackaustin

Instagram: theblackaustin

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