How it Started
I am an online college teacher, so I need to continually upgrade my skills for professional development. In 2011, I decided to learn Audacity, a free sound editing program, and add sound editing to my technology skills. I also thought it would help with digital storytelling projects and/or educational podcasts for my students.
This next part is interesting because each piece of the process led me to find the music that would start this whole project. After I installed the Audacity program, I experimented by narrating short story I had written back in the 1990s—“The Boy Who Was Loved by the Wind.” Next, I decided to lay a track of background music just to see how it would work. I remembered seeing a YouTube video made from one of the lost films of Mitchell and Kenyon depicting everyday people in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. The video had this hauntingly beautiful background music, so I located the video and found out who had written the music. It was a piece called “Arco Noir” by composer Richard Allen Harvey. I went to Amazon.com to see if it was available. I found several CDs by Harvey because he is a movie composer, so his short orchestral pieces for movies were compiled on various CDs. I listened to all of the pieces and then purchased four that I thought would work well for my story.
I inserted the four pieces of music on separate tracks and then listened to the narration over the music. I was utterly astonished. The music fit the story so perfectly it could have been written specifically for it. I admit that I did have to repeat a portion of the first piece four times to make it long enough to fit the first part of the story, but that is the only tweaking that was done. Everything else was just extraordinarily perfect—I mean down to exact words or phrases fitting the music perfectly. Note that I did not even know the length of my narration, so the random choice of music pieces of various lengths was just that—random and unplanned. It was just mind-boggling.
I decided to the story online so that my friends and family could hear it, so I created my stories2music website. However, I later learned that the music had to be licensed to be online (or sold), so I found the company that licensed Harvey’s music—-West One Music in Britain--which was co-founded by Richard Harvey. APM Music handled the U.S. licensing. Each piece of music is called a needle drop, and each one had to be licensed. There were various types of licensing—all very expensive. Bruce Amdur was my representative at APM Music, and he gave me an educational pricing deal so that I could put it on a website for listening but not for selling. (Since that time, West One Music opened U.S. offices, so Harvey’s music is licensed there now.) One good perk was that I had access to Harvey’s orchestral movie music to download for free for experimentation as well as other composers.
Expanding My Skills
I wanted to improve my sound editing skills, so I decided to record an excerpt from my Edwardian mystery novel, which became "Kate's Dream." In addition to the background music, I wanted to insert some sound effects on a third track. I located the sound effects on Amazon and purchased the tracks. I then found another Harvey piece that seemed to fit the story. Again, the music fit the story perfectly just as if it had been written for it. It was astonishing. The more I listened to it, the more I was amazed. It was uncanny that the first story's four random pieces of Harvey’s music would fit perfectly, but it was beyond coincidental that the second story’s music also matched perfectly.
I became intrigued. Now I had to see if it would happen again. I decided to use my story, “The Shadow Dragon.” Again, I chose another Harvey music piece, and it fit the story perfectly. It was unbelieveable how this kept happening with every story.
Discovering Flash Fiction
By this time, I had discovered that short, short stories were now called Flash Fiction. As a college writing teacher, I was intrigued and began to learn more about this form of writing. I realized that I had been doing it back in the 1990s in a series of stories called “True Love Imagined.” Two of those stories (“The Fire” and “The Secret Room”) worked well for my next projects, and the Harvey music chosen matched them perfectly as well. An excerpt from another Edwardian novel of mine (The Plea) became a flash fiction story, and the music also matched it perfectly.
Foley Sound Effects
I read that audio book publishers were moving from narration-only audio books to audio dramas that used voice actors, music and Foley sound effects (like the old radio shows of the 1930's and 1940's), and there was a growing renaissance of radio dramas being produced as podcasts. Therefore, I began to experiment more with sound effects.
For my next stories, I chose another excerpt from my Edwardian novel because the dense, vivid imagery of the cemetery scene really fit the flash fiction model. Again, Harvey’s music piece fit perfectly. For this story, I added some sound effects (a thunder clap and rain, a dirt thud on the casket, a carriage door closing and a carriage moving off), which really enhanced the story, “Aurora’s Secret."
I extracted the duel scene from one of my longer stories, "The Awakening," to create "The Duel," where I used sound effects for the horses walking, gun shots, painful grunt, carriage leaving and horse galloping to enhance the story. For "The Rescue," I used quite a few sound effects such as rain, thunder, car horn, car screeching to a stop, running on gravel road, snipping of barbed wire, horse screaming, and horse breathing hard.
To Use or Not to Use Sound Effects
I learned that the correct choice of sound effects and the timing of where they occur in the story are crucial to creating sounds that enhance the stories but do not distract from them. I discovered that "The Fight" should not have sound effects other than rain because they were distracting to the story itself.
Stories Written to the Music
By 2017, I ran out of previously-written stories, so my process shifted. The stories are now written to the music. Film music is written to tell a story, so I listen to see what the film music was saying. It ignites my imagination with characters, scenes and plots, so I write the words to fit the music. Now stories2music is just that--stories written to the music. It is a unique process that surprises me with every story.
By this time, I realized that the film music was no longer simply background music. The music became an integral part of the storytelling. The words and music were intertwined and interdependent--they needed each other to tell the listener how to feel about the story--which is exactly what narrative film music does for films. It enabled the listener to experience immersion and transportation into the stories. This was similar to how radio dramas used music and sound effects. This led me to do research about audio stories, film music and sound effects.
In fall 2017, I took the History of Multimedia class at Palomar College and did a small research survey for the final project: Media Grammar and stories2music. The purpose was to survey how film music and sound effects affected the listener's imagination. There was not a large sample size, but there was evidence that music and sound effects changed the listener's perception and emotional reaction to the story. This led me to research done by Dr. Emma Rodero, professor and researcher in the Department of Communication at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain. We connected via email. It is rare to find people who understand sound design for audio stories/books and radio dramas.
The Blog and Podcasts
In spring 2018, I took Writing for Online Journalism and had to research and write five blog articles. I was able to apply my research on audio stories, film music and sound effects in these blogs, which launched the s2m blog. One blog topic was converted into my first stories2music podcast.
As part of my professional development courses at San Diego Mesa College, I took an Adobe In-Design class, so I was able to do an e-book of “The Boy Who Was Loved by the Wind” as my final project for that course. I now have companion e-book available on Amazon Kindle. The Boy Who Was Loved by the Wind books is also an Amazon paperback.
In fall 2018, I took two professional development classes at Palomar College: Social Media for Business and Broadcast and Media Writing. As final projects for these classes, I completed a social media marketing plan for stories2music and started to expand the s2m story, "The Plea," into a radio drama!
In spring 2019, I took Multimedia Writing/Reporting class at Palomar College and had to write a 500-word feature story with three interviews. I decided to write about full-cast audiobooks and found three terrific people to interview. Michele Cobb is the Executive Director of the Audiobook Publishers Association. Dr. Emma Rodero is a professor of communication at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain, who is currently doing research on sound design for audiobooks. The delightful William Dufris is a voice actor and producer for audiobooks and audio dramas. They agree to let me post the feature article on my s2m blog site. They also allowed me to post their interviews on the blog. I had a great experience working with these three, who were so generous and helpful. The two audio interviews became podcasts!
Short Film Script
In spring 2021, I took Writing for Film & TV at Palomar College and had to write a short film script. I adapted "The Fight" story as the main plot, and I also used "The Rescue" and "Ordinary Day" in the script to flesh out the story. It was a great learning experience.
The Unexplainable Mystery
I cannot explain the mystery of why my stories match so perfectly to the music, but it has certainly been an astonishing and extraordinary experience. There is something magical about the way the music brings the words to life in a rich, emotional way that narration alone doesn’t produce. I love putting on head phones, closing my eyes and getting lost in the words and music. I still get teary-eyed at the end of “The Boy Who Was Loved by the Wind.” I hope you enjoy listening to them as much as I do!
Be sure to use headphones or earbuds when listening to the stories because the sound does not blend well on computer speakers or SmartPhone speakers. You cannot hear the incredible nuances of the music without headphones.