What makes a good musical theme? In this episode of Digital Media Insider, we ask Emmy Award-winning composer BJ Leiderman, the melodic mastermind behind NPR's Morning Edition, and PRI's American Public Media's Marketplace. We'll also digitally deconstruct an original theme song to see how it works. (DMI 02-23-2007: 14 minutes 0 seconds)

Production Notes

As usual, I recorded my voiceover with the Rode Podcaster USB mic into BIAS Peak as a 16-bit, 44.1kHz, mono AIFF file. Next, I used Peak's editing tools to delete the false starts and mouth noises.

I recorded the BJ Leiderman interview through a JK Audio QuickTap telephone interface into a Korg PXR4 digital recorder. I then converted the PXR4's MP2 file to an AIFF in iTunes so I could edit it in Peak. There, I snipped out false starts and background noises and adjusted the balance between our voices. I spent quite a bit of time trying to remove the horrendous telephone noise, settling on a combination of BIAS SoundSoap Pro and Izotope Ozone.

Leiderman's music examples started as MP3s; I imported them into Peak, tightened them up with cuts and fades, and then normalized their levels. Because I wrote the Distributing the Future theme, I had access to the original multitrack arrangement (see screenshot), so I rendered AIFFs from the individual tracks.

Distributing the Future Theme

In this closeup of the Distributing the Future theme in Ableton Live, note how the volume envelopes "duck" certain sounds so others can be heard. The melody (bottom track) is played via MIDI on a sine wave sound. The blue dashes represent note duration and pitch. (Click to enlarge.)

Next I imported everything into Ableton Live, where I arranged the music examples around my voiceover and theme music. I compressed and enhanced the voiceover with Ozone. Finally, I rendered the mix to an AIFF file, converted it to an MP3 in Peak, and then used iTunes to clean up the ID3 tags and add artwork.

I produced the Digital Media Insider theme music in Live as well. The opening sound effect is a compressed mouth noise spliced onto a tone cluster I generated in Native Instruments Reaktor. The main groove is from Steinberg Xphraze. (Jim Aikin turned me on to both virtual instruments in his article "My Five Favorite Soft Synths.") The piano is from the Garritan Personal Orchestra, which I discovered when we interviewed Gary Garritan. Then there are a few percussion samples dredged from my hard drive. Altogether, the theme took just six tracks. Effects processing was courtesy of Live's default plugins and Freeverb.

BJ Leiderman

BJ Leiderman composes a new peace.

Source Articles

BJ Leiderman: Rocking the Bottom of the Dial

Emmy Award-winning composer BJ Leiderman shares his insights on NPR, podcasting, and making music with technology. Includes two previously unreleased demo songs—with commentary.


Some of the resources and people mentioned in the podcast:

  • "The Art of Podcasting" My cover story for Electronic Musician magazine includes a section called "Creating a Podcast Soundtrack" that describes how the Distributing the Future theme came together.
  • Distributing the Future Daniel Steinberg's weekly podcast featuring the technology and the people behind what you use now and what you'll use next.
  • BJ Leiderman The newly revised site features photos, musical examples, and more.
  • Take Me to Your Leiderman Hear my original interview with BJ Leiderman, including "What Makes a Good Podcast?" "Secrets of Composing Theme Music," "Surviving MP3 Audio Quality," and "Producing a Memorable Radio Show." Also available as a four-part podcast.

David Battino is the audio editor for O’Reilly’s Digital Media site, the co-author of The Art of Digital Music, and on the steering committee for the Interactive Audio Special Interest Group (IASIG). He also writes, publishes, and performs Japanese kamishibai storycards.

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