The Artist Explains: Syne - 'Midas'

Singer songwriter Syne talks to us in depth about his animated visuals for current single, ‘Midas’, and the impact of art and music on culture and society as a whole.

Could you give us a step-by-step breakdown of your creative process for producing your music videos?
I'd be happy to.  First comes the song.  Usually, the music comes first then the lyrics, as I am very melody-driven, but the process is not always the same.  I usually spend time on the piano improvising until I've come up with a melody, or several, that I like.  I'll create a basic recording, and then I'll start elaborating and adding different elements.  I'll add strings, some synths, percussion, etc. bit by bit until I have an elaborate arrangement.  Then I'll often come back and tweak many things.  Once I finished producing and recording the song and doing some preliminary mixing, I'll send it off to get it mixed and mastered.  I've had the pleasure of working with some amazing and talented creative who've helped me bring the quality to a much higher level.  For all of my current songs, Sean Carey has done the mixing and Kathy Naunton has done the mastering (and they both live in Australia). 

After the song comes the video.  I'll listen to the song endlessly.  I'll let it sit for a while, and then I'll listen again.  Eventually, I start forming a rough storyline in my head, or maybe only some rough scenes or a general setting at first.  I'll start trying to map these out visually through rough sketches, and from there new ideas and scenes start forming and I continue to build on the storyline.  Eventually, I have enough bits and pieces to sketch a rough storyboard.  It's almost like building a puzzle, except you're trying to create your own pieces and then fit them together.  The more pieces I have and the more I keep listening, the more I can refine the placement, chronology, and timing of the scenes.  Throughout the process, as the storyline evolves, I create characters and settings and props.  

I also create concept artwork of the general art style that I envision.  For example, in "Siddhartha", the style was more "flowing lines", while in "Midas" everything was a bit more "boxy" or "squarish", though both videos had a similar "swirly" style.  

It might be interesting to note that I created the main "Midas" and "Siddhartha" characters before deciding to make the videos.  Before deciding to do the videos, I still wanted to illustrate characters for each song.  

Once I have sketched the storyboard, written the storyline, illustrated the character, prop, and art style concept designs, I'll send everything off to the animation studio.  Originally, I had considered learning animation and doing the animations myself, as it's an art form that I find really fascinating, but it's one of the most technical and complex forms of art and it's very time-consuming.  I've been studying animation on my own for a few years now and I've been learning and exploring the open-source animation software, Blender, creating 3-D models and things like that, but for my music videos I decided to focus on my strengths and to delegate the animation to the pros, to get the best result possible.  But maybe eventually, sometime in the future, I'll try my hand at animating one of my songs. 

I have to say, the animation studio that I have been working with is truly amazing and the team there has really helped me bring these concepts and ideas to life.  The studio is called All4Band, the brilliant Graphic, Motion, and Animation artist that has worked on my videos is Maria Goruleva, and the video project supervisor who I've corresponded with and has helped me organize everything is Vladyslav Tsarenko, and they deserve a huge spotlight and a lot of recognition.  They take my material as a foundation or reference, but then they add their own creativity and magic to it and create the animations from start to finish.  Throughout the process, there might be some feedback given and a few tweaks made, but they've done such an amazing job of capturing and enhancing my vision from the first go.  Of course, on their end, the process is no doubt very complex and involved, and I wouldn't really be able to comment on the specifics of their own process, but I am actually planning on interviewing them because I'm really interested to know more about their own creative process, and I think that the work they do should be shared.  If I could sit in with them during the process, I would, but they actually live in the Czech Republic!  Funnily enough, they specialize in music videos for metal artists, and I'll admit, when I was searching for animation studios, I was a bit unsure about how the results would turn out with them, but I believe that creativity isn't confined by genres, and choosing to work with them turned out to be really rewarding.  

Are there any artists or creative minds who inspire your work? 
There are many creative minds who I admire that inspire me.  Tim Burton, Walt Disney, John Lasseter, Shigeru Miyamoto, J.K. Rowling, Hans Zimmer, the list could go on.

You'll notice that these names include visual artists, animators, authors, musicians, game developers, etc.  Of course, I admire their unique skills, such as writing, animating, storytelling, composing, or drawing.  But the thing that they all have in common, which I admire the most, is that their ideas go beyond just creating a product or a piece of art; they use their art forms to shape their ideas into new worlds or universes that are filled with memorable characters, stories, and/or moments.  That's what I enjoy most, creating my own creative "worlds" and that's what my goal is with Syne, with music playing a central role, but also by combining and connecting music with different art forms.  

How closely does the animated video connect with the message of the song? Could you talk us through the storyline there?
The animated video is directly connected with the song.  The song uses the story of Midas to allude to humanity's greed and the destruction of our own environment.  However, I wanted to give the traditional story of Midas a twist, a different or deeper mythology.  The song lyrics themselves don't necessarily have a solid storyline; they are comprised of a series of rhetorical questions, presumably being directed at Midas, who represents us, or human society.  Then the chorus brings home the point that we don't need gold, but we do need Mother Earth.  

The animated video, on the other hand, explores a deeper storyline.  It begins with a humble forest hermit who enjoys spending time with his animal friends in the forest.  As they explore the forest, they come upon a mysterious castle.  Midas enters the castle by himself and finds a golden scepter, which brings the golden castle to life and turns Midas into a king and gives him golden powers  For a while, he enjoys his newfound wealth and comfort, but soon he remembers his forest friends and decides to go back.  

But by that point, his greed has changed him, and everything around him turns to gold until his golden greed has consumed everything.

There are a few details that add to this deep mythological sense, like the portrait of the "Yun Yan Lords" with the golden scepter.  Some of these details hint at the fact this golden curse is a cycle, that this has happened before and will happen again.  For example, there are several statues of previous golden kings in the throne room, and there are also several empty spaces for future kings.  I thought about having a final scene where we see a new statue of Midas next to the statues of the golden kings, but I decided to leave that to the imagination.

I really enjoyed the process of creating ideas for the video.  I've always loved cinematic scoring, and for me, these songs are a chance to create mini cinematic moments, except the process is in reverse: I create the song and then I plan the video concept according to the music, by listening to the song many times and letting ideas flow gradually and organically.

For me, the video is an extension of the song.  Often, you'll find that music videos have nothing to do with the song, or they are used to add some cool but random visuals to a track.  But I see the video as an opportunity to create a different sensory experience of the song, to add depth and meaning and give it a new dimension.  

I don't necessarily plan to take the same approach for every single track, and I won't be doing animated videos for every song, but it's definitely something that I love doing and that I'll keep doing as much as I can.  And I definitely plan on continuing to be as closely involved with the video creation process as I can.

What do you hope people take away from watching your music video?
I do want for people to think deeply about what we're doing to the planet, to our only home, and to all the other beautiful living beings that share it.  However, I think most people are already in some way aware of the fact that we need to change, and I don't think one song or one video is enough to permanently change the behavior of many people.  

My greater hope is that people will listen to my music and realise that music and art can (and should be) be used to communicate and express an endless amount of stories and messages.  The possibilities are endless, and yet we limit ourselves; an overwhelming amount of music is written about the same things (especially in the pop realm), often about things with little substance, worth, or meaning.  I'm using music to talk about other things, cultural topics, social and environmental issues, the human condition, etc. and I hope that this will inspire others to do the same.  I hope that it will become more normal to hear a song about a philosophical idea, or an environmental issue, or a scientific concept, etc.  

Don't get me wrong, it is good and important to have music and art purely for entertainment purposes, but we need more art and music that also serves a higher purpose. In order to change our collective behaviour, we have to change our culture, and there aren't many driving forces that can help create a shift in paradigms as much as music and art can. Just as we try to improve the creation and consumption of our food, we should create and consume our art and music more consciously, more responsibly, because art and music are what feed our culture and our values as a society. 

Why did you choose to release your music video around Earth Day?
Well, my song is really a call for change and a dedication to Mother Earth, and so releasing it close to Earth Day was a natural fit.   However, I hope people won't limit themselves to just a single day of the year to dedicate attention and awareness to Earth and to environmental issues.  

I do think that awareness and effort towards the cause is spreading, which is good, but if we want to change the actions of whole governments, societies, and giant corporations and not just our individual actions, we need to shift our entire culture, and as I said, that starts with what we consume, which includes art, music, products, services, and information.

Still, Earth Day is definitely a good time to bring up the conversation.