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Bangin' Beats: Todd-AO Delivers Sound for Hip Hop Doc on A Tribe Called Quest
Re-Recording Mixer Craig Mann and Supervising Sound Editor Joe Dzuban create an exhilarating soundtrack for a new documentary on the hip hop pioneering band A Tribe Called Quest.
From a sound perspective, Beats Rhymes & Life differs from most documentaries due to the prominence and importance of the music. The soundtrack weaves live recordings and album tracks together, not only as a way to showcase the group’s talent, but also to help tell the story.
According to Dzuban, the music became a character in the film. “In a normal documentary, you start with the dialogue and everything else augments that. The dialogue is king,” he says. “But in this case, the music played a role in storytelling just as much as the dialogue.”
“Mike was very concerned about making the music ‘bang’, it had to pop!” adds Mann.
Mann said that his approach to the mix was to treat the soundtrack like a DJ set. “I suggested that we have the music cues blend from one to the other,” he recalls. “We pulled a lot of tempo trickery and pitching to keep that vibe going throughout the film. One of the things that I really enjoyed about working with Mike was that he was always open to the ideas and tastes that we brought to the table sonically. Giving us that latitude on the stage really made a difference to the finished product.”
Mann and Dzuban did face a number of challenges common in documentary films, including segments recorded under less than ideal conditions and archival footage suffering from age. “We used Izotope RX quite a bit in editorial and Craig did more of that on the stage,” notes Dzuban. “The sooner you can overcome those challenges, the more time you have for storytelling and the more creative aspects of the mix, things that really make the final track stand out.”
“In a few cases, we laid studio instrumentals under archival performance footage to beef up the track so they didn’t sound anemic,” Mann says.
Longtime fans of A Tribe Called Quest, Mann and Dzuban believe that knowing the music resulted in a better soundtrack. It not only meant that they brought a lot of passion to the project, but it also gave them insight to the band’s work as artists. “There were a lot of decisions that we made regarding music transitions and edits that might not have been made by someone without a hip hop background and we believe that helped raise the level of the film.” Mann says, “Doing a music doc was high on my to-do list; the fact that it was about one of my favorite bands made this a dream project.”
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About CSS STUDIOS, LLC
Hollywood, California-based CSS Studios® is a wholly owned subsidiary of Discovery Communications (NASDAQ- DISCA, DISCB, DISCK), the world’s number one nonfiction media company reaching more than 1.5 billion cumulative subscribers in over 180 countries. CSS Studios provides creative post production sound services to major motion picture studios, independent producers, broadcast networks, cable channels, advertising agencies and interactive producers. The services of CSS Studios are marketed under the brand names Todd-AO®, Sound One, Soundelux®, POP Sound®, Modern Music, Soundelux Design Music Group and The Hollywood Edge, with facilities in Los Angeles and New York. With more than 50 years of experience in providing creative sound services and technical solutions, the companies, collectively, have garnered more than 50 Academy Award nominations and won 26 Academy Awards®.