As a collective of imaginative musicians and sound designers, we live for the opportunity to create outside the box. So when Jeff Smith of MAGGIEVISION approached Storefront Music’s Adam Elk about a basketball-themed score for their ESPN “Minions” commercial, we took it as an open invitation to have a field day.
There’s definitely precedence for beats made from basketball sounds. The Nike “Freestyle” ads from the early 2000’s (sound design by Jeff Elmassian) surely serve as inspiration for anyone creating music from sports sounds. This job provided a unique challenge to meld the talents of both our sound designers and composers to create something truly awesome. This is how we did it:
Jack and I checked around and found a local court that was willing to let us come in with our field recording equipment and track for a few hours. We loaded up a selection of microphones and a gym bag full of basketball gear and headed over to the court. There we recorded dribbles, passes, layups, swooshes, sneaker squeaks, whistles, and just about every other conceivable basketball sound, all with multiple microphones to get different frequency responses. The result was somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 samples.
Many tedious hours of editing later, courtesy of a very patient Jack Simons, we had what we needed to build our very own Storefront Music virtual basketball instrument. Using the wonders of modern programming, I took our samples and created an instrument that allowed our composers to play the basketball sounds on a keyboard. Each key had a different sound and depending on the velocity the key was pressed with, it would give a harder or softer version of that sound. That is to say that if you lightly tapped a key, it might give you a light foot squeak, a soft whistle, or the sound of a basketball gently bouncing as if it had been dropped from only a few inches. Hammer the key aggressively and you get the other end of the spectrum; the sound of sneakers squealing across the floor, a whistle screaming, a basketball slammed into the hardwood and reverberating through the court, etc.. Of course all of the intermediate sounds were included as well.
Once complete, the instrument was installed on all of our composers’ computers and used to create original tracks for ESPN. The team at MAGGIEVISION selected a piece by in-house composer Christian Almiron, which they used on set to record footage with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson as they played ball to the beats. The final product took shape a few months later after the footage was edited and “Bob” the minion was animated in. The result is a really fun promotion for the upcoming Minions movie, due out July 10th, 2015!
In all, this was a unique job for us that allowed for some unorthodox sound design techniques and collaboration, and yielded results we can all be proud of!