Local musicians Micah Smith, left, and Jordy Walker, sit on April 12, on a couch in the studio where they make ambient music together. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Whitehorse musicians offer film scores online

‘People know when they come to the site that there is a certain aesthetic and level of quality’

It began a year and a half ago, with a beer and an accidental brainstorming session.

Local musicians Jordy Walker and Micah Smith had been making ambient music together for a few years. They were enjoying the process, but weren’t really sure what to do with the finished product.

“We made an album and then we were kind of trying to figure out how to put it out and whether it made sense to do that because we’re not really in a position to tour or do anything and it’s not really the kind of music that lends itself to traditional music promoting,” says Smith.

That’s when a filmmaker friend encouraged them to put it online and gear it towards filmmakers looking to score their own projects.

Sure, there were websites that catered to that audience already, but they were huge, with tens of thousands of songs, say Walker and Smith.

“A lot of it, like our filmmaker friends were telling us, seems like fluff that you have to wade through, that you’re not that interested in,” says Smith.

That’s where the idea came from for incidentalmusics.ca.

At first, says Walker, the pair conceived of the site as a place for the music they were making together under the name Sauna Music. Eventually though, it expanded. They started asking for contributions from friends and musicians they’d worked with in the past.

Throughout the process of building the website, they talked to filmmakers about what they wanted in terms of searchability, site functionality and fee structure.

Licensing options, for example, range from $50 for, say, a student working on a project, to $1,200 for unlimited advertising use. Walker says there’s an 80/20 split, with 20 per cent of fees going toward site maintenance and 80 per cent going to the artists.

That’s higher than most similar sites pay, says Smith, which is also part of the point. While Incidental Musics isn’t quite co-operative in its conception, neither is it blatantly capitalist. The goal, says Walker, isn’t to profit, but to have a place to put their music, one that feeds itself by also giving them a reason to make more, and potentially leading to commissions down the road.

Andrew Connors, artistic director of the Yukon Film Society says commissioned compositions are usually something filmmakers can only expect when they’re working on bigger-budget films.

He says the tiered pricing structure of Incidental Musics provides a unique opportunity to students and emerging filmmakers who often have to turn to pre-recorded music.

“My experience with pre-recorded music is that there’s a handful of companies in North America that have sort of had the run of the market to produce canned music but it’s generally not very good,” Connors laughs. “It was never a resource that I found very useful. It really just sounded like television to me, like, in the worst way … just very sort of overly dramatic and sort of in your face.”

He says that’s not the case with Incidental Musics, which features music from artists across Canada including Balderston, Fokas, Franklin Matthews, Gemini Roommate, Jennihouse, Merganzer, Radars, Wainfleet and Will Moor.

Songs are tagged with descriptions rather than genres — acoustic, dark, dreamy, uplifting, unsettling. Both Walker and Smith say that’s because what they’re looking to provide through Incidental Musics is a mood, an atmosphere, rather than particular types of music.

Walker doesn’t see there being a lot of punk rock or bluegrass on the site, though there will be some rock and acoustic country. At present, the plan is to remain instrumental. Walker says it’s obviously not that there isn’t a place in films for songs with lyrics, that’s just not the focus of their site.

They say it’s tough to articulate what they’re looking for, but easy to identify when they hear it. It’s a gut instinct, largely. They want to offer a range of options, but for there to be a kind of consistency within that range.

“We kind of feel like we’re being careful about what we pick to put on the site,” says Smith. “And so people know when they come to the site that there is a certain aesthetic and level of quality of music that’s there.”

“Atmosphere,” Walker says. “Having a strong sense of atmosphere in it and whether that pulls specific emotions out or several emotions at once, I think that’s the main thing that we keep looking for.”

Incidental Musics will have its official local launch April 21 at the Elks Lodge.

A number of audio and visual performances will begin at 7:30 p.m. There will be short sets from the Jona Barr Band, Rob Dickson, Jeremy Parkin and Sauna Music. There will also be a selection of Yukon short films, live video projection by Andrew Connors and live visuals from Erin Corbett and Selene Sputnik.

Tickets are $22 and can be purchased online through the Yukon Film Society.

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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