The 20th Century fanfare. The THX Deep Note. The MGM lion’s roar. Iconic sounds have long been part of branding in the film industry. So when Netflix started creating original movies and shows, executives knew creating a sonic logo would be a crucial piece of their efforts — one that almost resulted in the company being forever associated with a bleating goat.
A recent episode of the “Twenty Thousand Hertz” podcast took a deep dive into the yearlong effort to create what Netflix terms the “ta-dum” sound — the short piece of sound that plays along with the Netflix logo before the company’s original series and films. The project was headed by Tod Yellin, the streamer’s VP of product, who said he sought to commission a sound that “makes you think of ‘Wow, I’m going to get a treat, I’m about to get an amazing story, that’s relevant to me, that’s — most importantly — cinematic in my home.”
Unlike those comparatively lengthy cinematic examples above, Yellin said in the “age of click-and-play,” Netflix’s sound needed to be short. But he still wanted something that would build up tension and release it. Despite Netflix’s straddling of the tech and entertainment industries, it couldn’t be too electronic, like the Xbox sound or the Mac startup chime. And it should make the audience think “Netflix” without actually saying the company’s name, a la the PlayStation sonic signature.
After many unsuccessful attempts for such a tall order, Yellin tapped Oscar-winning sound editor Lon Bender (“Braveheart,” “Drive”). He tried a bunch of sounds, ones based on music boxes, ones that expressed the passage of time, doors opening, using strange instruments, and actual sounds from filmmaking. For a time, one of the finalists was a version of the “ta-dum” that resolved with a goat bleating.
“If we were going to do that call-and-response, that creating tension and then resolving it really quickly, I liked the sound of the goat,” Yellin said. “It’s funny, I thought it was quirky. It was our version of (MGM’s) Leo the Lion. For a while we were stuck on it.” The goat was eventually scrapped, but the “ta-dum” remained.
Here’s how Bender made it the two percussive sounds.
“It’s a combination of music and of the sound effects of these knocks, which are my wedding ring, which I’m wearing, knocking on the side of a cabinet in our bedroom,” he said. “In order to add different qualities to it, I sweetened it with other things, which is normal for us in the film-sound industry.”
Those other sounds are a deeper anvil sound and some muted hits. But Bender wasn’t fully satisfied. The sound still needed something else to create a “lean-in” feeling, something that became the final tonal swell in the signature — which he calls the “blossom.”
That came from Bender’s colleague Charlie Campagna (“Blade Runner 2049”), who took the “blossom” out of a longer recording he made in the 1990s. The sound comes from a 30-second phrase of guitar that was digitized and reversed.
“I’ve always had it because it was so beautiful, but I’ve never been able to use it,” Campagna said.
Netflix also has a second sonic logo, a longer one that’s based on the “ta-dum” that’s played before the streamer’s films when they’re screened in theaters, such as at film festivals. That longer sound was composed by legendary composer Hans Zimmer.