Hip Hop Documentary ‘Knocturnal’ Gets a Soundtrack to Match the Action

By in Music Creation, Timeline Tuesday, Video Editing

On a Monday a few months ago John J Miller IV aka “Jack” (@johnjmilleriv) told me he was going to test out a new brushless gimbal setup at Snug Harbor. Monday’s at Snug are known as Knocturnal; a weekly hip-hop event featuring cyphers from Charlotte’s own MC’s and break dancing from the local BBoys and BGirls. It’s a prime opportunity to get up close to some intense and free flowing creativity—and Jack did just that honing in on the movements of the breaking cyphers.

John J Miller IV aka ‘Jack’. Photo Credit: Brian Twitty Photography (@shootbt)

After Jack had combed through the footage and got a rough edit together, what was meant to be a simple test of gear quickly grew into a short form doc featuring insights into the community, the art, and highlighting personal stories from the BBoys and BGirls.

Getting in close! Photo Credit: Brian Twitty Photography (@shootbt)

And what does every good doc need? Some appropriately tailored music. It needed to be hip-hop, but Jack and I both agreed it needed to feel organic and natural to match the action on screen. So I started laying in the music—I’m a drummer at heart, so that’s where it typically begins for me.

Me, at my home studio desktop

The percussion section is comprised of a roomy four piece kit supplemented with some standalone floor toms backing and djembes backing up the kick and snare with head hits and rimshots respectively on certain sections. A 55Hz sine wave is also utilized in an 808 capacity, pitch being automated up and down. The melodic elements stayed very earthly, but in a cyclic sample style arrangement. French horns, trombones, a tuba, marcato celli and double basses, some Rhodes piano, and lastly a very chopped, screwed and distorted upright piano sample.

Full timeline with dialogue on top, music in a submix below

When music and picture edit were finally solidified together we moved in on the audio post work. Since this was a run and gun, one man, one camera, one mic job, the audio that we had to work with for dialogue was sonically not ideal—but that didn’t matter since the content of it was exactly what it needed to be. The edit was simple since it was an interview style dialogue layout, but the mixing was a little more involved.

A little over 30 tracks in total for the final bounce

With a little bit of metaphorical elbow grease (some manually setup feedforwarding and filtering keys into gates and expanders, and about 15 more notch filters than I would like to admit to using), I was able to pull out most the dialogue and mitigate the background noise a bit and get a good blend between music and dialogue. It may be due to the fact that I’ve been using Pro Tools since 7.4, but I can’t even begin to imagine how to set that up in any other DAW.

BBoy Tron

BBoy Ryu

When the last cut was bounced and proofed, we couldn’t have been more ecstatic with the result. Jack had the idea to submit it to a festival and see if we got any bites—and we did indeed!

BBoy Jo-e Motions

Snug patrons checking out some gravity defying feats of movement

Knocturnal will be screened at the annual Charlotte Film Festival happening September 25th thru October 3rd—so if you’re in the area, come join us and check out the screenings! Learn more about the festival at www.charlottefilmfestival.com. Meanwhile, enjoy Knocturnal on Vimeo:

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I’m the owner-operator of Guhrilla Productions and a composer and post audio engineer. I started in L.A. as a recording engineer and somehow ended up a composer and audio post op back in my home city #CLT. Check out my site at Guhrilla.com.