Behind the Scenes of the Danger Zone Video
This was an ambitious project with many moving parts so I’m going to walk you through my process. Ultimately it starts with the musical arrangement; I wanted to choose a song which was loosely lockdown themed, well known, and fun to play! The second consideration was how the melody and song elements (guitars, synths, etc.) would translate into an ensemble of saxophones. This song seemed the perfect candidate, all wrapped up in some 80s nostalgia!
Being a video this song needed to be condensed to pack more punch than our typical band arrangements which usually follow the exact structure of an original song. Once I decided upon the song sections to include I set to work transcribing the vocal melody and all the song elements by ear from the original recording into Sibelius (a notation software). This usually takes me a few hours to get down depending on the length and complexity of the song. I always start with the bass to establish the structure and then move onto the vocal melody before writing out the remaining parts. Before starting the process I usually have a good idea of how the song elements will translate to the six saxophone parts so I write the transcribed elements directly into the arrangement, eg. a vocal melody starting with the Alto’s, an arpeggiator synth being assigned to the Tenors, etc. I then created sheet music for the six individual parts in the band, making sure they were presentable and read fluently.
The next step was to create the backing track. I asked, a frequent tutor at our , to record a drum part which was then sent to for mixing to achieve that authentic big 80s sound!
In the meantime I set about recording all the saxophone parts myself with a small home recording studio setup. Being stuck in lockdown without access to my Bari sax meant I had to get creative so I played my tenor and manually pitch it down afterwards using some studio trickery. Once all the parts were recorded, tightened up and mixed I exported each part as an individual backing track.
One web page of instructions and an email later and our members soon had access to the sheet music and backing tracks and I could rest easy for a few weeks! They were tasked with playing along to the backing track on headphones and recording a video of themselves on their phones. Sounds easy right?… I think many of them would argue otherwise! It’s a lot of pressure to record a take without any mistakes and this was a new experience for many.
It was at this point that I set about recruiting a Sax Wizard. I had intentionally left space in the arrangement for a solo to mimic the sax solo which. I knew would be the perfect man for the job! I was originally put in contact with Snake the previous year through one of our Sax Bandits members who is a super-fan and had become good friends. I had exchanged some emails with Snake during lockdown, mostly chatting about live streaming and other geeky things. I mentioned this project, sent him a demo, and he was sold!
Three weeks later the submission deadline arrived and I had 70 videos sitting in my inbox (and I started having second thoughts)! Now the hard work began; once I had downloaded each video I had to separate the audio, bring it into Logic Pro X and manually sync it all up, which looks something a bit like this…
The sections of the band ended up remarkably balanced which made the mixing and video editing a lot easier later on. I spent 4-5 full days listening and tightening up the 70 audio tracks – you don’t need to know the ins and outs (it all became a bit of a crazed blur). When I was happy that I had made everyone sound as good as possible I sent the whole project over to Laurel Sound Studios to be mixed and mastered.
Meanwhile, I set about tackling the video editing itself which probably took another 4-5 full days. Whilst I consider myself a fairly competent video editor I had never worked on something of this scale, certainly not fitting 70 videos into one frame! Armed with DaVinci Resolve, I decided the best course of action was to assemble and export the band in rows of five people, this way my laptop had a chance of avoiding meltdown! I manually cropped and positioned each video into place. Before starting this process, I already had a clear idea of the sax sections we would need to see at various points in the video. Snake was the last video to be added but I had left a nice spot for him centre stage.
With some colour grading and subtle transitions the whole thing was assembled and looking pretty smart… in theory. Throughout this editing process I hadn’t once ‘watched’ the edit as my laptop was unable to render such a large project in real-time (and also I had no clue what I was doing). Once I had exported the video (which took 1.5 hours) and watched the final product I was relieved to see I only needed to make some minor amendments.
The intro and end credits were one of the final things to be added. I was talking to my Dad and mentioned that I wanted to start the video with a quote from the movie. This quickly resulted in me wearing my Dad’s bike helmet and leather jacket, my Grandad’s original 80s Aviators, sat in front of the TV monitor with a YouTube video playing behind me. This was old school movie making… I wasn’t about to start messing around with green screens! The end credits was actually a video sent in by one of our members – it was so good I had to include it somewhere!
From start to finish, this mammoth project took about 2 months of planning, worrying and editing. I am really pleased with the end result and felt a massive sense of pride, achievement and relief. It was so rewarding to bring the band together at a time when it is not possible in the real world. The video premiered on YouTube on Wednesday 3rd June and it was lovely to read everyone’s comments in real time – Snake Davis even dropped into the live chat!