When Ordinary Becomes Extraordinary
Sometimes extraordinary things happen from something quite ordinary. The story of how stories2music got started is just such an extraordinary occurrence.
How it Started
I am an online college teacher at several online colleges where I teach various writing courses. At one college, however, I teach educational technology to K-12 teachers who are pursuing their Master’s degrees in teaching. Therefore, I need to continually upgrade my technology skills for professional development. I had been hearing a lot about Audacity, a free sound editing program, so I decided to try it out 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.
After I downloaded and installed the Audacity program, I saw that it consisted of different tracks, which meant different sounds could be recorded on different tracks. I decided to get started by narrating a short story I had written back in the 1990s—“The Boy Who Was Loved by the Wind.” Audacity was easy to use and had a lot of fun features.
I then decided to lay another 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 then 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. This is what people said about it. (In May 2018, this story won the 3rd Place Fiction Award and was published in the Bravura Literary Journal.)
I decided to put it 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 (“Kate’s Dream”) from the Edwardian mystery novel I was writing. 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. The sound effects worked perfectly as well. It was astonishing. The more I listened to it, the more I was amazed. It was uncanny that “The Boy Who Was Loved by the Wind” 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,” which I had written from a vivid dream. Again, I chose another Harvey music piece, and it fit the story perfectly. It was uncanny how this kept happening with every story.
Discovering Flash Fiction
By this time, I had also discovered that short, short stories had now evolved into the current day’s version 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 period novel of mine (“The Plea”) became a flash fiction story, and the music also matched it perfectly.
Next, 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. This time, I also added some sound effects (a thunder clap and rain, a dirt thud on the casket, a carriage door closing and a carriage moving off) to the sound track, which really enhanced the story, “Aurora’s Secret.”
The story “Reckless Grief” is an excerpt from my Edwardian Adventures of Katie Browne book. I found luscious music by Sharron Farber on the West One music website, and it fit the story perfectly. Rain and a thunder clap were also added as sound effects. More recent stories include “The Reluctant Song” and “Tempestuous Dream,” which use captivating music by Christian Telford and Matthew St Laurent. Another story, “The Fight,” is from the “True Love Imagined” stories uses Harvey’s music again, which matches the story perfectly.
Foley Sound Effects
I noticed that audio book publishers were starting to move from narration-only 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. 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. 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.
As of May 2019, 15 stories have been licensed.
“The Boy Who Was Loved by the Wind”
The Edwardian Collection:
- “Kate’s Dream”
- “The Shadow Dragon”
- “Aurora’s Secret”
- “Reckless Grief”
- “The Plea”
- “The Duel”
True Love Imagined Collection
- “An Ordinary Day”
- “The Dance”
- “The Surprise”
- “The Fight”
- “The Reluctant Song”
- “Tempestuous Dream”
- “The Secret Room”
- “The Rescue”
There are five True Love Imagined stories waiting for funds for music licensing:
- “The Fire”
- “One Life”
- “A Grateful Heart”
- “The Golden Hour”
- “Heart to Heart”
Stories Written to the Music
By 2017, I ran out of previously-written stories. I am now using a new process where the stories are actually written to the music. This is an amazing process. I listen to the music a few times until I get a story line in my imagination. I’m pretty much letting the music drive the story. I then start listening specifically and writing short parts, doing this over and over again until the story is done. The following stories have been written this way:
- “An Ordinary Day”
- “One Life”
- “The Dance”
- “A Grateful Heart”
- “The Rescue”
- “The Golden Hour”
- “Heart to Heart”
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 the following companion e-books available on Amazon Kindle.
- The Boy Who Was Loved by the Wind
- True Love Imagined Collection
- The Edwardian Collection
The Boy Who Was Loved by the Wind books is also an Amazon paperback.
As an experiment, my friend Jean Noah, a Christian poet, allowed me to put one of her poems to music. “Terrible Love” was a success, and the music made the poem a deeper emotional experience.
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’ve connected via email. It is rare to find people who understand sound design for audio stories/books and radio dramas.
The Blog and Podcast
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.
During 2018, the stories2music project really expanded. It now has its own Facebook page and Twitter feed. The stories have their own YouTube channel. I’ve produced two brochures, monthly newsletters and a promo video. I’ve started this stories2music blog and, in October 2018, I’ve added podcasts. To help with music licensing costs, I’ve set up the Adopt-a-story program on Fundly and Patreon. Hopefully, I can get some financial support to license the pending stories as well as to eventually purchase “sell” licenses, so I can sell them on Amazon Audible.
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 expanded 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 will become s2m podcasts!
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.
Visit the stories2music website