How can music create the atmosphere of a podcast? A Composer’s Manual


“For me, the composer’s job is to soak up an atmosphere,” says composer Sandy Lavallart. It is this artist from the Kwoon group that Europe 1 Studio called on a few months ago to create the music, which is called “musical dressing” in technical terms, which accompanies and amplifies the story of Alain Jakubowicz on the Maëlys case in “Le Coupable”, a Spotify production. Sandy Lavallart looks back on this experience and gives all the keys to designing a musical background that will plunge the listener into the heart of the story that we want to tell, in this case, that of a particularly strong criminal case.

What is the composer’s work?

“From the ‘brief’ [le résumé du podcast, d’un point de vue éditorial notamment, NDLR], we have to find the right musical ‘colour’”, sums up Sandy Lavallart. ”Are we going to go towards sounds that evoke a magical universe? Are we going to release Christmas bells? Or, on the contrary, are we going to shoot serious things?”, he caricatures. Here, for a “true crime” podcast, a first direction is almost necessary. But no question of unnecessarily magnifying the line. Once we have identified the overall atmosphere of the story and the sound universe associated with it, we must indeed manage to find a balance. That’s what Sandy Lavallart explains: “You have to make sure you set the pace. There, it’s like cooking: you have to try to spice up the dish. For example, if we start with very low chords, we will have to ‘spice it up a bit’ with lighter sounds. In the music, as in the image, we must succeed in captivating the attention without putting too much on it.”

Then comes the time to create the sounds themselves, the different musical tracks that will make up the overall “sound design”. To do this, the composer of the podcast “Le Coupable” went through three stages: “First, we look for a chord chart that will determine the tone. Then we decide on the instruments to use to best transcribe it. And then we create a melody that will come back as a kind of refrain throughout the episodes.

Noémie Schulz, journalist specializing in justice and author of the podcast, bounces on this last idea of ​​a refrain: “The first time I listened to the theme composed by Sandy, I found that it stuck really well with the story: this n It was neither too anxiety-provoking nor too light, knowing that the facts we are talking about in the podcast are already serious. And immediately, I thought that if we placed this melody in the introduction of each episode, it would allow the listener to identify the entry podcast, like the familiar credits of a series like Game of Thrones for example.”

What inspired the sound universe of the “Le Coupable” podcast?

The “Le Coupable” podcast includes the testimony of Alain Jakubowicz, the lawyer who agreed to take up the defense of the most hated man in France: Nordahl Lelandais, accused of the murder of Maëlys as soon as the disappearance of the little girl in 2017. From this subject, Sandy Lavallart broadened the reflection: “Inevitably, the idea of ​​Nordahl Lelandais and the atrocious crimes he committed first evokes darkness. But in ‘Le Coupable’, the camera is elsewhere: it does not follow the criminal, but his lawyer, to whom we may want to give a chance to explain himself. It’s like a painting canvas: if it’s all black, it’s not interesting. Alain Jakubowicz is deeply human, he has something that requires a note of light.”

Also discover: behind the scenes of the “Maëlys” affair, the crucial moment for the defense of the pleading

So, to illustrate this nuanced point of view in music, Sandy Lavallart let himself be carried away by the mental images created in him by the story of the criminal lawyer, at the microphone of the journalist Noémie Schulz. He says: “When I listened to the voice of Alain Jakubowicz, I visualized a very serious man, sitting in his small office, working conscientiously. And I said to myself: this is it. I want to transport the listener into this scene: a room plunged into a certain half-light, from which the face of the lawyer emerges. I wanted to support the confined and intimate side of the office with music, which creates something a little disturbing.”

Are there advantages, or on the contrary constraints, when composing the music for a podcast?

Compared to other forms of storytelling, the native podcast has very specific codes. For Sandy Lavallart, who has often had the opportunity to compose for advertising, for example, this highly narrative and time-consuming format has a great advantage: “When you compose for a commercial, you have a maximum of 45 seconds to so that something happens musically. But when you compose music for a long format, like a documentary or here a podcast, you can really take the time to set up an atmosphere, to stretch a thread over several sequences.” The composer concludes with an image: “In fact, it’s as if we were creating a menu with starter, main course, dessert, rather than if we were satisfied with a tequila bam!”

Discover the work of Sandy Lavallart by listening to “Le Coupable”, an original podcast produced by Spotify and Europe 1 Studio, available free and exclusively on Spotify.

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