A Conversation with Joel Saunders
Ever wonder how the many individual voices and faces of My Pop Choir come together into one community for our amazing videos?
The magic of “We Rise Again” happened through the talents of audio producer, videographer and performer, Joel Saunders. You may also know Joel as guitarist on our videos, and in concert.
Sixty-seven of us recorded ourselves for the winter 2022 My Pop Choir video. We each sang alone, listening to our voice tracks and watching Director Alex Fiddes conduct. Inevitably, there were a variety of backgrounds and lighting, and, yes, the occasional blooper in timing or pitch. After varying degrees of agonizing over our attempts at perfection, we sent in our individual files. The result: “We Rise Again.”
How does he do it? Joel explains the My Pop Choir video process:
“The first step is downloading and organizing. I want to make sure I have everything backed up. I have nightmares of misplacing somebody’s video and then making the whole video and I’ve left somebody out!”
Then Joel brings in the audio from our videos into his recording software.
“I start by lining everyone up by the original clap, which creates a visual spike. The next step is to clean up some of the audio. A lot of it has fridges or furnaces or fans. If you live with a furnace, sometimes you don’t even think that there is a furnace on!”
After that Joel does what is called blanket tuning – nudging people together a little bit. In this stage he can smooth out some of the issues, particularly pitch. “And with anyone who is just wrong, I can delete them for that one word.”
Then there is time aligning. Joel can cut out just one word if necessary and move it. For instance, in “We Rise Again” there is a lot of sibilance and if people aren’t singing quite together, the “s” sounds way off, according to Joel.
“I spend a long time making sure that the edit is good – the timing and tuning are good. It all boils down to how good the song sounds. That’s more important than how flashy the video is,” he says.
Next comes mixing – making everything sound full, boosting frequencies, adding reverb. One of the last things Joel does is add dynamics. Then it’s over to Alex for some suggestions and tweaks.
And that’s just the audio process. For the video itself, Joel begins by using the introductory “clap” once again to line up all the choir members. Then comes colour or exposure correction. “I can make the image appear brighter, or add some contrast if necessary.”
Creating the characteristic grid shape can be a difficult process. “Sixty-seven singers are hard to fit into a perfect rectangle!” he points out.
The resized and cropped grid images become the ingredients for Joel to work with.
“Then there’s the more fun and creative stuff,” he says. For instance, using Apple Motion, he can place 2D objects into a 3D space. For the “tunnel” effect in “We Rise Again” he created a fake virtual camera and told it to move down that space.
Two to three weeks of intensive work from Joel and the result is a choir video we are proud to share.
Joel met Alex years ago when they were both involved with the Uxbridge Youth Theatre. He plays piano, sings, and plays bass guitar, ukulele, and drums. But his first love is fingerstyle playing on the acoustic guitar.
“Fingerstyle is playing several parts - it’s like being the whole band,“ Joel explains. “You can play the bass line, as well as a drum track, chords, and melody. It can be a bit of a mystery to a lot of people, but basically it’s incorporating any sound that can happen on the guitar and playing them all at once.”
Fingerstyle guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer – clearly Joel is the magician behind “We Rise Again.”
While he teaches a handful of online students, he says his focus now is on studio services. He works as a session musician, and does videography, audio producing and mixing.
Check out Joel at: