16 Lessons You Can Learn From Disney’s 2017 Fireworks Show

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Dis­ney has been regard­ed as a com­pa­ny busi­ness­es and orga­ni­za­tions can learn from for years. Their com­mit­ment to excel­lence, peo­ple, and suc­cess pro­vide valu­able lessons to both free-agents and For­tune 500 com­pa­nies. After watch­ing behind-the-scenes footage of their new fire­works show, I could­n’t help but rewatch a few times.

I took my first to Dis­ney World in 2016 and was blown away by the guest-first atti­tude. I espe­cial­ly enjoyed the fire­works and the show “Wish­es.” On Feb­ru­ary 9, 2017, Dis­ney Parks Blog announced its new fire­work show “Hap­pi­ly Ever After” will replace “Wish­es.” As sad as I am to see Wish­es go, I’m look­ing for­ward to see­ing the new. The announce­ment video gives us a peak into how the new music was record­ed, and how the Dis­ney team works togeth­er to make mag­ic pos­si­ble.

This post high­lights 16 things I noticed about the mak­ing of Disney’s new fire­work show. I’m writ­ing this because I love Dis­ney. (I’m not paid or claim to own any­thing Dis­ney — just shar­ing some thoughts to encour­age you to make great art!)

Impor­tant for you to know before you read this: I real­ize there’s a lot here about the record­ing stu­dio itself, not exclu­sive to Dis­ney. That’s because Dis­ney uses tried-and-true tech­niques and ordi­nary peo­ple to achieve their excel­lent results.

Some peo­ple roman­ti­cize Dis­ney or believe the work is much more glam­orous than it real­ly is. I’m writ­ing this most­ly to cat­a­log the info for myself, but also to remem­ber that great results start with great per­for­mances and lead­er­ship.

There is so much to learn from in this short video. Take a quick watch (2 min), then read my 16 things.

1. Musicians perform while wearing “normal clothes” — not fancy tuxedos or etc

It’s true that you should dress for the job you want to have. Clothes and cos­tumes have a tremen­dous impact on our behavior—but they can be a mask or an excuse.

To per­form with excel­lence in all of your life and work, the clothes are not the whole sto­ry! It starts with you: your dis­ci­pline, your atti­tude, and what you con­sumed 24 hours ago.

Notice what the world-class musi­cians are wear­ing in this video. Some­times you don’t need the cos­tume to play with excel­lence. It’s not about what your wear­ing or how shiny your instru­ment is. It’s about how well can you play, lis­ten, and “music” (yes, a verb) with oth­ers.

Les­son: Don’t hide behind your cos­tume. Strive for excel­lence on and off the job.

2. There are a TON of microphones everywhere

I stud­ied stu­dio record­ing and helped mix live orches­tras. The one thing I learned is that there are lots of options and no “one way” to do things. There are a lot of mics in this room giv­ing the mix­ing engi­neer plen­ty of options to cre­ate a “full stereo pic­ture.”

Les­son: If you can cap­ture con­tent in mul­ti­ple ways, do it. Give your­self options for the future. You’ll be thank­ful lat­er if when some­thing goes wrong.

3. They’re using Neumann U67s in lots of places

This is a clas­sic record­ing mic that pro­ceeds the pop­u­lar U87. I’m not sure what the hype behind the U67 is all about, but my the­o­ry is this: because it’s around and avail­able in the stu­dio, engi­neers use it. It has prob­a­bly been kept in the stu­dio for years and cap­ture the expect­ed sound.

Les­son: Use what you have. Good enough is good enough.

4. They’re using Neuman U87s

To spot the dif­fer­ence, I usu­al­ly look to the con­nec­tor. I see a few U87/67 look­ing mics with XLRs as the cable, so I’m assum­ing these are U87 and not 67s. Place­ment is rel­a­tive­ly high up. Again, not a ton of close mik­ing going on. This is also the micro­phone used for lots of Dis­ney voice-over record­ings.

Les­son: Seri­ous­ly — use what you have and don’t throw a fit. Don’t over think it.

5. I can’t help but mention the music stands with the holes.

This real­ly isn’t that big of a deal, but they look pret­ty cool, right? Prob­a­bly what the stu­dio had avail­able. The holes make the stand light weight yet still sup­port the music.

Les­son: Cool stuff can inspire you.

6. Many musicians playing with one ear headphones.

Not sure if these belong to the stu­dio or are per­son­al. This is prob­a­bly for every­one to hear the click track to match the ani­ma­tion pre­cise­ly.

The one ear tech­nique tells me they are com­mit­ted to lis­ten­ing to oth­ers but also agree­ing to go the same place.

Les­son: Lis­ten care­ful­ly to oth­ers. Don’t tune every­one else out.

7. The Disney spokespeople wear name tags during their interview, but not while they’re hanging out in the control room

I can just hear the per­son direct­ing the short video let­ting each per­son know, “don’t for­get to bring your badge to wear when we film you!”

Les­son: Rep­re­sent your brand whether you have on your name tag or not.

8. There’s a TV in the main tracking room

This is prob­a­bly here so the orches­tra can glance over at the ani­ma­tion ren­der­ing as they’re play­ing. Even though the fire­works are not over their head, each musi­cian has the oppor­tu­ni­ty to future think their work and under­stand how their spe­cif­ic role plays a part in the end prod­uct. 

Les­son: Think about where your work will end up in 5 years from now. 

9. A piece of cardboard is placed on the stand to make it easier to read/play long sheets of orchestral music. Genius.

Les­son: Make inex­pen­sive adjust­ments to get the job done.

10. The conductor sees a preview of the animation and the measure number | beat number on a display above his score.

Les­son: Every­one plays their unique part. With­out the con­duc­tor’s atten­tion to detail here, the music would not match the ani­ma­tion.

11. Analog Mixing Console

This is a clas­sic ana­log mix­ing con­sole (cus­tom build Neve) used in many famous record­ing stu­dios. Leg­end Chris Lord Alge calls these things dinosaurs.

Les­son: Old stuff works just as good as the new. (Mix­ing engi­neers will debate this all day long. Just go with it.)

12. Lexicon reverb

Anoth­er old-school piece of ana­log gear. It’s 2017 and we’re still using a piece of gear from the 70s (or ear­li­er?). Google Lex­i­con 480L for more info.

Les­son: Tried-and-true works.

13. Protools session is one take — not overdubbed

On the com­put­er screen, you’ll notice that the orches­tra is being record­ed using many micro­phones, but the song isn’t over­dubbed (at least not yet). The entire song is played as one take. What you hear is what they real­ly per­formed.

Les­son: Con­trary to pop­u­lar belief, it is pos­si­ble to be THAT good. Strive for excel­lence.

14. In the control room, everyone follows along with their copy of the score in a colored binder.

Les­son: Have every­one fol­low the same map. Then, you’ll prob­a­bly reach the same des­ti­na­tion.

15. Slack is being used in Chrome on someone’s Macbook Pro

Les­son: Find pro­duc­tiv­i­ty tools that work. Use them to get work done.

16. Slack is in the dock of an artist’s computer

Les­son: Stan­dard­ize your com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels. 

Hope­ful­ly you enjoyed that that clos­er look. I could have gone on to talk about how the guy in #16 dri­ves a Hon­da and uses an iPhone. I could have talked about the Ikea fur­ni­ture all around. But, I’ll leave a few more east­er eggs for you to find.

[reminder]What oth­er things did you see in this video?[/reminder]

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