1 December, 2021Print
Twenty Thousand Hertz Releases Part Two of Special Series on HBO, Revealing Untold Stories Behind the Network's Sonic Brand:
Today, the Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast shares the second half of its two-part series revealing the untold stories behind HBO's sonic brand. In the first episode of "It's Not TV, It's HBO," host Dallas Taylor broke down the creation process for the bombastic Feature Presentation theme, which the channel introduced in the early 1980s, as well as the ever-iconic "Static Angel," exploring how the five-second intro noise has become one of the most famous audio logos of all time. Since the "Static Angel" debuted in the 1990s, however, the internet has taken over the world, leading the television network to reinvent itself and reevaluate the sonic brand that helped define its identity for the past several decades. In Part 2, Taylor speaks with HBO and HBO Max's SVP of Brand Marketing, Jason Mulderig, in addition to Made Music Studio's Mickey Alexander, former HBO Executive VP and "Static Angel" pioneer Bruce Richmond, and "Feature Presentation" composer Ferdinand Jay Smith, to explore how the age of streaming has both altered and strengthened the sounds of the network, and why the "Static Angel" was almost changed forever.
For tens of millions of viewers, HBO's epic Feature Presentation theme signaled that something important was about to happen. By the time HBO Go launched in 2010, bringing the network into the world of streaming, audiences weren't as interested in hearing a 90-second song before each movie. Jason Mulderig realized how important the music was to the brand, though, and understood the magic, excitement and emotional connection it brought to the programming. In overseeing brand marketing for HBO and now HBO Max, he wanted to find a way to update the theme, repackaging its power and memories for the next generation.
In 2016, Mulderig approached Mickey Alexander at Made Music Studio, with the opportunity to refresh HBO's sound for a new era. In his interview with Dallas Taylor, Alexander explains the ways he updated the musical style while retaining Ferdinand's beloved melody, landing on an arrangement that mixed a blockbuster-invoking orchestra with modern electronics. It delivered the same emotional experience and reached viewers like never before, as HBO distilled the track into bite-sized segments that were sprinkled across their programming in the form of 3, 5 and 10-second promos and bumpers. Keeping the core melody intact, HBO took the nostalgic composition that people used to hear before movies once a week, and made it something they'd connect with multiple times a day, underneath various animations that tell viewers what's coming up next, what's playing tonight and more.
In the transition to the internet age, the Feature Presentation not only survived, but thrived, turning a single piece of music into an entire sonic brand. The "Static Angel,"on the other hand, was originally designed to transport viewers from traditional television into something truly special, as it cued up shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm, Game of Thrones, Sex and the City, The Sopranos and beyond. But the sound and animation were both based on analog TV static, a phenomenon that is essentially nonexistent in the era of streaming. Bruce Richmond began testing out all kinds of new versions through three months of boards and meetings, but no one could figure out how to recreate the magic of the original sound. They decided the angel was perfect just the way it was. As Mulderig describes, it encapsulated the ritual of sitting down to watch something, triggering a Pavlovian response of emotion and anticipation.
Even as HBO has spread around the world, the "Static Angel" has stayed the same in every single country. It's used almost everywhere, with the exception of Max Originals, which encompass the shows and movies that are only available to stream via HBO Max. For this content, HBO designed a new logo that was heavily inspired by the Static Angel, delivering a similar choral rise and hum that stimulated viewers in warm and accessible ways.
Dallas Taylor concludes, "After all these years, that classic theme and that iconic logo are still the foundation of HBO's sonic brand. And it's not hard to see why. On their own, these are both great pieces of sonic branding. They're catchy, they're memorable, and they're just satisfying to listen to. But the nostalgia that people have for these sounds is just as important as how they were designed. And nostalgia isn't something you can manufacture, and it's not something you can buy."
Twenty Thousand Hertz is the leading, award-winning show about the world's most recognizable and interesting sounds. Produced out of the sound design studios of Defacto Sound, the podcast has previously revealed the origins of Netflix's "Ta-Dum" for the first time ever, in addition to dissecting the 20th Century Fox Fanfare, the McDonald's "I'm Lovin' It" jingle, the sonic worlds of Star Wars, Looney Tunes, Seinfeld and more.
About Twenty Thousand Hertz
Twenty Thousand Hertz is a lovingly crafted podcast that reveals the stories behind the world's most recognizable and interesting sounds. With 20 million+ lifetime downloads, 125,000+ listeners per episode, and 3 Webby awards to its name, Twenty Thousand Hertz is the world's leading podcast about sound. Episodes of Twenty Thousand Hertz have been featured on 99% Invisible, Endless Thread, and Every Little Thing. The show has also been covered by The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Salon, Popular Science, and many others.
About Dallas Taylor
Dallas Taylor is the host and creator of Twenty Thousand Hertz, a lovingly crafted podcast revealing the stories behind the world's most recognizable and interesting sounds. Dallas is also the Creative Director of Defacto Sound, where he has led thousands of high-profile sound design projects - from blockbuster trailers and advertising campaigns, to major television series and Sundance award-winning films. Additionally, Dallas is a TED mainstage speaker, a regular contributor to major publications, and a respected thought leader on the narrative power of sound.
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