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

Lessons you can learn from the recording and production

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.

Question: What other things did you see in this video? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. My vision for the comments section is to see a community of people come together and help one another. I want to hear what you thought of my post and how it applies to your work. If I left something out, please contribute in the comments section. I'd LOVE to hear from you and want to keep this a positive, intelligent, well-written comment section.

  • Jon Mauler — I know you’re going to read this! Tell me what you think here in the comments.

  • Jon Mauler

    Josh,

    Absolutely loved these observations. I am continuously blown away by Disney’s creative approach because it’s so normal! I really enjoy seeing animators STILL using pencil and paper, not fancy digital surfaces. It’s true that technology and digitally animating is an important step in the process, but I have a lot of respect for the traditional “analog” (not just audio) tools they utilize.

    My biggest take away from that clip is the humanness of the Disney team. Disney is a team of good people, with plenty of messy relationships like the rest of us, but they all have a like minded goal – create awesome stories and content. Everyone knows they play a small part in a larger picture.

    I especially liked what you said about having a general map. “Have everyone follow the same map. Then, you’ll probably reach the same destination.”

    I think that so true!