There’s a little bit of mystery in the best syncs, and that ambiguity means room for interpretation. When it’s not obvious what the picture and music suggest we feel, there’s more space for us to find our own emotional response, and this makes the experience deeper for us.
Mike Ladman goes into this dynamic in the latest episode of SyncLove, a series of lively conversations with professionals about what exactly makes sync magic, focusing on a single film or work that inspired or wowed our guests. For the kickoff episode of SyncLove this season, Mike chose Wes Anderson’s iconic The Royal Tenenbaums (music supervisor: Randall Poster; composer: Mark Mothersbaugh), a film with a soundtrack as idiosyncratic and challenging as its characters.
A master of sync and a DJ in his spare time, Mike has put his passion for music to work for some of the world’s biggest brands and organizations. Mike has led the Music Department at Droga5 and won a whole gamut of awards and honors for his incredible music supervision, including several Clios and Cannes Lions.
“The fun and the tricky thing about music supervision, about anything that you’re passionate about, is that it’s hard to turn it off. I’m always listening to music and thinking this would be good for this scene or that scene… Back when I had roommates, I’d run out of the bathroom and say ‘Oh no, what is that song? Who used that? I’m pitching that for a spot I’m working on right now…’”
Always in search of “the song that stops me in my tracks,” Mike is unflaggingly curious about what people around him are listening to. If a song can make him stop what he’s doing and listen, he knows it could do the same for a viewer experiencing an ad. “I think collaboration is great. I mean, that’s why I send out searches for ‘what do you like?’ instead of just my taste,” Mike says. “I want to know everyone else’s. The more you ingest the better.”
You don’t always need to know everything to know a track has potential, Mike notes. In fact, mystery can be an emotional engine, letting viewers find their own way to meaning and feeling. Mike harkened back to his childhood experience in Hebrew school, when he felt more intrigued and moved by religious texts recited in a language he didn’t quite understand. Mike looks at artists like Sigur Ros, the Icelandic group famous for inventing their own language, and how the lack of direct meaning transforms the experience of their music.
Mike notes that Anderson has this knack for having a sound as distinctive as his films’ visual design, and yet managing with Poster to make every film sound distinct. What unites them, Mike explains, is that even when the soundtrack dips into styles like 8-bit electronic music, “there is still a warmth and a human quality” that pervades his unexpected soundtrack choices.
This quality certainly holds true for Mike’s favorite moment in the film. Mike picked The Royal Tenenbaums for one scene: the short but breathtaking bus scene backed by Nico’s “These Days,” a song written by Jackson Browne. In the brief 20 or so seconds it takes Margot Tenenbaum (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) to walk from the bus toward the camera, magic happens: “That track takes a mundane moment and turns it into this moment in time,” Ladman reflects. “It’s the colors, the slowed down motion, the warm production with strings and her voice… it just has all the feels.”
Those “feels” (yes, that is the technical term, or so we believe here at SyncLove), that magic comes from making space in the moment for the viewer’s emotions to enter the picture. Viewers “can have some poetic freedom. And you don’t need to say exactly what you’re seeing right now,” Mike explains. “I think leaving that up to the interpretation of the viewers is where you get the feels, because they’re letting their own emotions tell that story. You’re just giving them the basics.”
“This is where the mystery comes in,” reflects Kirt Debique, host of SyncLove and co-founder of SyncFloor, the series’ backer. “The music created the environment where you could look at something mundane and feel a great deal. It’s what you strive for in a sync, just enough tension, surprise, and open-ended questions to let a viewer sink into the emotional world of the film.”
Check out the podcast episode on SyncLove HERE.
SyncLove is sponsored by SyncFloor, where you can find inspiring music by real artists.
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