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Thinking in Sound: Joss Ifan Brightwell


The senior creative producer at MassiveMusic Berlin details his various processes and philosophies when it comes to collecting, making and selecting music

Thinking in Sound: Joss Ifan Brightwell
Joss Ifan Brightwell is a senior creative producer at MassiveMusic Berlin. Originally from southeast London, Joss previously worked at Soundtree Music and 750mph in the UK before relocating to Germany in 2019. He joined Massive in 2020 to create music for film, advertising, and sonic branding projects.

When you’re working on a new brief or project, what’s your typical starting point? How do you break it down and how do you like to generate your ideas or response?

As soon as I’m done watching a first edit, reading the storyboard, or simply having a chat with the creatives, I like to jump on Spotify and start throwing together a playlist of every track that comes to mind that, regardless of genre or style, might inspire the musical direction in one way or another. Whether that’s a cool beat, a relevant lyric, or a certain era of music that somehow fits to the concept of the story we’re trying to tell. I then delve into my vast number of existing playlists organised into different moods and genres to find more inspiration for the music we want to create. I often find myself going down a rabbit hole of musical discovery, listening to things that I would never normally come across.

I also keep a random playlist of weird and wonderful pieces of music - complete wildcards that wouldn’t typically be considered for a commercial project. Just to try and push the boundaries of expectation a bit. Even if we end up pulling the direction slightly back to a more ‘safe’ territory, I like to think that presenting a more radical route had an effect on the final outcome.

Music and sound are in some ways the most collaborative and interactive forms of creativity - what are your thoughts on this? Do you prefer to work solo or with a gang?

Coming from a background of live performance, and having spent countless hours in jam sessions and rehearsal rooms, for me music is all about collaboration. I thrive on bouncing creative ideas back and forth with people. Whether that’s directing a vocalist in the recording booth, digging into a nice groove with a drummer (I’m a bassist), or even working with a composer remotely (singing melodies down the phone, or beatboxing a voice message). I’ve done a couple of solo projects, but I prefer creating as part of a team.

What’s your favourite part of your job and why?

One of my favourite parts of the job is the process of tailoring and refining a musical brief. Describing in detail what is required of the music, and providing a variety of references for inspiring bespoke composition. I usually then leave the composers alone in the studio for a few days, eagerly anticipating the results of how they interpret my brief. First demos are often rough and rugged (and always need to be tweaked and refined) but to hear how another musical mind responds to my direction is pretty exciting, and often completely surprising in a fantastic way.

And when it comes to your particular field, whether sound design or composing, are there any particular ideas that you go back to frequently or that really influence your thinking about the work you do?

Music for the moving image is all about storytelling and supporting the narrative. In campaign work the music supports the plot of the film, however within sonic branding the process of defining a specific brand’s story leads the process of creation. We delve into a brand’s history, image, products, and customers to develop and refine the recipe that will lead us to the sonic identity of that brand. When we arrive at the purest form of the brand sound we have already written the tale by means of the process, and this identity can then be distilled into the various sonic assets. Process is storytelling and I’m a huge advocate of this creative technique, making sure that every stage of the method is as musical as possible.

When you’re working on something that isn’t directly sound design or music, are you the sort of person who needs music and noise in the background or is that completely distracting to you? What are your thoughts on ‘background’ sound and music as you work?

At the Berlin HQ we have always have music on in the background and take turns to choose what we’re all listening to. Which gives us the chance to listen to each other’s new finds, or put on a playlist of a genre that we wouldn’t typically choose to listen to. Like an afternoon of New Orleans jazz, or South African gqom.

On a typical day, what does your ‘listening diet’ look like?

I typically start the day with a quick news update on my HomePod, and then some energetic music (most likely techno) to work out to. Then it’s a podcast for my cycle to the studio. Two of my favourite shows are Broken Record with Rick Rubin, and Soundtracking with Edith Bowman. I always dedicate a few hours a week to listen to new music. It’s really important for me to keep my ‘listening diet’ fresh and not just listen to the same tracks on repeat.

Do you have a collection of music/sounds and what shape does it take?

Spotify is my primary source of music and my library is pretty well organised from my time as music researcher. At home I have a nice vinyl collection. I’m passionate about putting a record on the deck, sitting down, and committing to the listening experience. I still get excited about the upcoming release of an album from my favourite artists.

Outside of the music and sound world, what sort of art or topics really excite you and do you ever relate that back to music?

I’m a huge fan of cinema, and studied it before my career in music. Of course it relates to music, and not just because of the soundtrack. Narrative and storytelling, structure and dynamics, and editing / pace all have parallels with music creation.

Let’s talk travel! It’s often cited as one of the most creatively inspiring things you can do - I’d love to know what are the most exciting or inspiring experiences you’ve had when it comes to sound and music on your travels?

I spent a few months on volunteer projects in Japan, which included teaching elementary school music lessons in a tiny town in Nagano Prefecture. The kids and I couldn’t understand each other’s spoken language, but we communicated through music. They showed me how to play Taiko drums and of course we played some Beatles songs.

As we age, our ears change physically and our tastes evolve too, and life changes mean we don’t get to engage in our passions in the same intensity as in our youth - how has your relationship with sound and music changed over the years?

I play much less live music than I used to, even pre-Covid. I occasionally reminisce about the hours spent in a sweaty rehearsal room, or sleeping in the back of a splitter van. But since moving to Berlin I have learnt to collaborate on music remotely, for MassiveMusic and my own projects. It’s a fascinating process to receive a beat from a drummer in London, record a bass line over it and send it onto the guitarist, keyboardist, singer etc. After a few rounds you have a full arrangement, and we then all pool our ideas on the production and mix.

As the advertising industry changes, how do you think the role of music and sound is changing with it?

Sound is being implemented and embedded into more and more aspects of our interaction with ourselves, our devices, and other people. As the music experts we have to be radical in our concepts about new applications of audio. The boundaries between what is music and what is sound are becoming even more indistinct and we can’t just be reactionary in our approach.

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MassiveMusic Berlin, Fri, 07 May 2021 11:24:53 GMT