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Disney’s Executive Music Producer: – “There must be something in the water up there”

By Tina Brodal Posted: 17. Dec, 2019

For the sequel of the multiple award-winning film “Frozen”, AURORA’s voice caught the attention of Disney’s executive vice president of music. Music Norway had a chat with Tom MacDougall about the sounds of Scandinavia, Frozen 2 and AURORA.

MacDougall oversees all aspects of music in Disneyand Pixar’s animated films, and is constantly on the hunt for new, fresh and interesting voices. It all began when a Disney research team went to Norway in relation to the first Frozen movie to map out the sounds of Scandinavia. The team returned with different music, one of them which was a CD of Norwegian producer Frode Fjellheim recordings with the choir Cantus. They instantly took a liking to the piece “Vuelie.”

– Vuelie had all the elements we were looking to capture for what might be their first exposure to this beautiful region for some of our audience. The haunting vocals, in a native tongue, with just enough magic, emotion and mystery to fit into the world of Frozen and now Frozen 2, Tom MacDougall tells Music Norway via email.

Recorded in Trondheim
After the success of the recording for Frozen, Fjellheim and Cantus became part of the Frozen family. Not long after Disney found another opportunity for them in Frozen 2.

– I actually went to Trondheim to record with the singers and it’s one of my favorite recording visits ever. I love going to places that I may not have found myself going without a work purpose, and the beauty of the location and warmth of the people still stay with me, MacDougall says.

As an Executive Music Producer, Tom MacDougall oversees all aspects of music in their films, from hiring the songwriters, score composers and performers, to discussing music and song opportunities in the film.

– These animated films take years to craft so I’m fully hands on for the entire journey, he explains.

AURORA: “A new and important voice in music”
Singer-songwriter AURORA was one of the discoveries made when MacDougall and his team were looking to capture the sounds of Scandinavia. In Frozen 2 she joins Idina Menzel on the soundtrack “Into The Unknown” and appears as the ethereal siren call that can be heard throughout the film. The soundtrack recently climbed to No 1 on Billboard 200 albums chart, and it’s the only soundtrack for an animated film to claim the number one spot on the chart since the soundtrack for Frozen, which hit the box office in November of 2013. At the time it remained in the number one spot for 13 weeks in 2014.

MacDougall first became aware of AURORA through his friends at Glassnote Records, Daniel Glass and Bianca Bhagat.

Read more: Aurora: – I feel accepted

– They sent me her music and I was instantly transfixed.  One thing I’m constantly on the hunt for is new, fresh and interesting voices that also have something grounded in the familiar.  AURORA is clearly a new and important voice in music, but she is grounded in pure emotion which is fuel for films.

In November 2016 MacDougall hosted AURORA for a live showcase at the Disney Animation Building in Burbank, which was the introduction of her work to the studio. Based on her performance and connection she made with the creative there, he pitched her for the Frozen 2 team, which he says was an easy sell as already loved her.

– For Frozen 2 we had the idea that there would be a character that calls to Elsa, an undefined haunting voice that speaks through the terrain of Norway.  Who better to capture that voice than AURORA? he says.

MacDougall says that the exposure AURORA had through the showcase performance may have led her to other unique opportunities, like the cover of “Baby Mine” used in the 2019 “Dumbo” trailer.

“There must be something in the water”
As far as future opportunities for other Norwegian artists in more films, MacDougall can’t tell for sure, as it is never known where the film’s needs will take them.

– But between AURORA, Frode and Stargate (Stagate co-wrote with Sia and Produced “Try Everything” for Shakira in Zootopia) there must be something in the water up there that produces musical geniuses that have what Disney animated films crave, he concludes.

Update: «Into The Unknown» just made the Academy Award shortlist for Best Original Song for Frozen 2. The final list of nominees will be officially announced on January 13th. The Academy Award for Best Original Song is presented to the songwriters who have composed the best original song written specifically for a film.

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