01. September 2022

Sounds of Bonn Turned Into Music for the University Sound design students mix background music for the University’s own videos

Sound design students mix background music for the University’s own videos

Anyone who makes videos can quickly get into a legal tangle when it comes to the music. A partnership with the Sound Design course at the University has now produced a solution, enabling administrative staff to access legally watertight pieces of music for teaching and training videos, for example. The tracks have been composed by University students based on the collected sounds of Bonn itself.

Max Alt with Charlotte Koch and Lily Hußmann inside the studio of Sound Studies
Max Alt with Charlotte Koch and Lily Hußmann inside the studio of Sound Studies © G. Hübl / Universität Bonn
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On the one hand, you have a desire for legally watertight music. On the other, you have Sound Studies students who mix and sample pieces of music with catchy vibes. Put the two together, and you get some fantastic tracks for the University’s own videos.

The University makes the most of its own students, and the students can put what they have learned into practice directly in a project— a good idea, thinks Max Alt from the Department of Musicology/Sound Studies. He had been approached by Human Resources Development at the University, who were looking for legally watertight background music for training videos. “My doctoral supervisor Dr. Jens Gerrit Papenburg and I were delighted that the University was thinking of us for its projects.”

It wasn’t long before he’d secured the services of six creative minds from the bachelor’s course, because the students were already composing pieces on the computer as part of their exams. “So they simply developed them further or reworked them,” says Alt, who took charge of the mixing and mastering.

Lily Hußmann and Charlotte Koch are two of these students. Armed with recording equipment, they scoured the University on the hunt for sounds, which they turned into so-called samples. “We were tasked with collecting 20 sounds. I walked along the Rhine and, when I was in the Hofgarten, used the ‘pop’ of a beer bottle being opened, for example.” She also incorporated the sound of her cello into the song as samples. “It’s sometimes hard to decide what I need for the melody and what as a shaker.” Her aim was to convey summer vibes with Breeze. “It was a whole lot of fun. I’d definitely love to be part of it again next time,” she says confidently.

“Many sounds from outside also ended up in the piece,” Hußmann reveals, including the sound of a spray can. Her guitar was repurposed as a drum kit, and the spray can served as a hi-hat, while birds tweeted in the background. Her track Late Night Study Vibes is more lo-fi. “I’m quite proud to have managed it.” It was also a real challenge during a semester of online teaching, she admits. “Of course, we had tutorials on the software, but you still had to teach yourself a lot.” 

It’s a good exercise, Alt thinks: “Writing music for videos or ads is actually a relatively standard job for creative artists, and it’s a perfectly normal work assignment for our students too.” Of course, he says, a certain amount of practice and knowledge of software and music production is required. “Some of the students who were involved already had previous experience.”

It’s not all about music theory, about harmonies and notes. “Music also has to be seen as a media technology product,” Alt says. “You don’t necessarily need a classical understanding of music. Rather, it’s helpful if you’re good at sounds, sampling, sound synthesis, effects and arrangement.”

The University of Bonn’s legal counsel is also happy with the solution, particularly since it has been plagued by official warnings in the past. “From a legal perspective, the project’s a win-win situation: the music comes from a reliable source, where we can follow the chain of rights, and with proper license agreements,” says Thomas Rütten. However, he says, it’s important not to create any dependencies. “And it’s a good sign: the University can say that it’s making use of its own students, boosting their creativity in the process. And we’re not buying the music in from elsewhere, we’re getting it from them instead.”

If you’re a University employee and want to use the great music for a training or teaching video,  you can find the tracks and license agreement at the new confluence space of Bonn the University Communication.

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