Feature

Music: Smooth synch

Choosing the right track can be the difference between making an ad iconic or wallpaper, but what's the best way to find one? Gareth Thomas charts the course to smooth synchronisation deals.

Ever since De Wolfe provided the music By Fountain and Stream by Kenneth Essex for the 1955 Gibbs toothpaste TV ad - the first aired in the UK - music has been an integral part of how advertisers get their message across.

However, a sense of disconnect between the music and advertising worlds has sometimes stymied ad agencies' best creative output.

"For years, we've debated the value of the campaign and the value of the song," Marc Robinson, the head of film, TV and advertising at Universal Music Group, says. "But we now realise that sitting down and working together is the most effective way to work for all involved. It's a question of bringing the two worlds together."

The growing importance of licensing, in what are lean times for the record industry, is borne out by the fact that the synch department at UMG has tripled in size in the past four years.

But, despite best intentions, there are times when the relationship between ad agency and music-rights owner is tested.

"It's still fairly common for us to get a panic call on Thursday afternoon or Friday morning for an ad that's on air on Monday, and for which they haven't thought about the music," Melanie Johnson, the head of sales and promotions at EMI Music Publishing, says. "Or the song they wanted has been refused, or they can't work the money out."

Johnson says that the earlier music is involved in the creative process, the better. "Ideally, it's good to talk to the producer about the music they have in mind before they shoot," she says.

"It's all about forging that relationship early on with the producer and director," Robinson agrees.

The ways to source music for ads are almost as varied as the brands that they advertise. As well as dealing with music publishers and record labels directly, ad agencies have a plethora of third parties or music-sourcing companies they can turn to. They deal with the time-consuming process of sourcing exactly the right type of music and getting pre-cleared, almost "off-the-peg" tracks available for immediate and unlimited use.

One such company is Ricall, which has been around for nine years. It claims to have the biggest music database of any sourcing company, following a deal it struck recently with Sony BMG for the right to use the whole of its back catalogue. It has four million songs in total (including every single which charted in the US and the UK from 1955 to the present day).

"You can search by act, genre of music, title, mood, era, lyrics," Ricall's vice-president of commercial development, Phil Bird, says. Once a track is chosen, the system automatically generates e-mails to all of the copyright holders, who can then respond with a quote. "The request is placed in a basket on the site, so you can organise all your music and licensing requests in one place, and everyone is aware of what's happening on that particular project at any time," Bird adds.

Ricall doesn't charge a commission to the agency, but rather takes it from the publishers and labels. "They recognise the benefits of having all their music in one place so people can search for it, and they pay us a commission for anything that's found and licensed," Bird says.

Similarly, a recently launched music search service - the result of a deal between the digital music company The Orchard and music technology company MusicIP - allows users to search under multiple terms. Branded "Trackdown", it features hundreds of thousands of titles from The Orchard's catalogue, with music ranging from international multi-platinum acts to new, emerging performers.

"Sometimes finding the right piece of music is like looking for a needle in a haystack," Greg Scholl, The Orchard's president and chief executive, says. "With more than one million licensed tracks, we needed a pretty strong magnet to find the needle."

Other agency-friendly music search options are provided by companies such as Q-Music and Audio Network, which offer pre-cleared tracks on a subscription basis.

"Clearing music rights is a complete nightmare," Andrew Sunnucks, a director at Audio Network, which provides commissioned music by composers and orchestras, such as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, says. "You have rights to the recording separate from rights to the musical work, and it is restricted by territory and term. The idea was to record a catalogue where we held all the relevant rights."

Although it has worked predominantly in television and film, Audio Network is moving into commercials. Composers, who include Evelyn Glennie OBE, Sir John Dankworth and Dame Cleo Laine, are also shareholders in the business.

"What we're doing is removing the synch fee," Sunnucks says. Advertisers or agencies which use the company's services know they have complete creative freedom. "They are cleared for everything; for multiple platforms, for the world, forever," he adds. "From a creative point of view, they can search for whatever they can think of."

Audio Network has pre-cut 60-second, 30-second and ten-second tracks to simplify the process for advertisers.

Conversely, Pump Audio provides royalty-free tracks, but made by predominantly unsigned acts. The New York-headquartered company, which has provided the music for the likes of Nike, Kodak and Mercedes, was recently bought by Getty Images.

Getty last week launched Soundtrack on the back of it, providing images, footage and music from one source for use in commercials and broadcasting projects.

Soundtrack claims to give customers direct access to more than 20,000 original tracks and is "just the beginning" of Getty's "commitment to develop dynamic and nimble new music platforms and tools," according to the Getty chief executive and co-founder, Jonathan Klein.

Then there are the music search companies that make an in-depth assessment of an ad agency's needs and come up with various options. This may prove more expensive, but can also reap big rewards. Industry knowledge and good contacts are vital in the effectiveness of the search.

The former artist manager Matt Fisher set up the music consultancy Squarepeg seven years ago. The company bought the library music company Tele Music in 2003, and around 60 per cent of its work is commissioned compositions, with the rest consisting of searches.

Squarepeg has a reputation for working with cutting-edge, break-through artists and was behind the music for one of the most recognised ads of the past year, featuring the Citroen skater-robot, which also spawned a number-one dance track.

Fisher says a good knowledge of the music business, and of hot acts, is invaluable for ad agencies.

"We worked very closely with Gut Records on that campaign," he says. "We have close relationships with labels, so we know when acts are breaking and we can create a synch situation around that."

Dom Caisley, the director of music at TBWA's Stream, previously worked at Telstar Records. He says a recent deal shows how knowledge and a close relationship with the labels help.

Mars wanted to use the track Together by The Turtles for a Twix ad, but found the original version too expensive. Instead, Stream scoured record companies' new-acts lists and discovered Peter Grant, who specialises in swing cover versions.

Universal ended up putting the ad track on Grant's album and plans to release it as a single to coincide with the ad campaign. There will also be competitions centred on it on Virgin Radio.

"So they've got this song with the biggest record company in the world promoting it on their behalf, all for a very, very small synchronisation fee, which they could have spent on a piece of library music," Caisley says.

Stream, which was born out of TBWA, services that agency and BBD directly. It is a move gaining currency and follows Bartle Bogle Hegarty's launch of Leap Music in 2003.

The idea behind Leap was to be the first UK music publisher based within an ad agency, with a view to retaining more control and acquiring the copyright to composed scores.

"As a publisher, we acquire copyright to the score and can collect royalties from the collecting societies and share that with the agency, which can then share that back with the client," Ayla Owen, the director of music services, says. "So the idea is to have a breadth of control and media rights in order to cover what clients want."

Leap, which was set up by Richard Kirstein, who previously headed the film and TV department at Zomba Music Publishing, has since expanded its role to become a music supervisor and a music consultant sourcing unsigned talent.

As well as putting on regular live showcases featuring unsigned acts, the company produces a Leap Unsigned CD, which it sends to agency clients, creatives and producers across the world.

"There's been a massive increase in interest in bands doing single-song assignments," Owen says. "The unsigned community realises it doesn't have to go down the record-label route. We can offer them guaranteed exposure, and sometimes a global campaign."

And Leap has moved one stage further - working directly for clients. It has set up a company for Vodafone, through which it can publish its own commissioned scores. Leap administers the catalogue, registers the works and makes sure royalties are paid.

"There are a lot more options now for sourcing music," Owen says. "There'll always be a demand for licensing existing music, but artist sponsorship and the co-sponsoring of deals will increase. We've all become much more hardcore consumers and that's reflected in the fact that artists are willing to be associated with the brand. It's a very powerful medium. With an established artist, it's buying into a fan base."

Robinson agrees that artists are more willing than ever to associate themselves with advertising. And getting them directly involved early can bring real rewards.

"If you can get the artist to be part of the creative journey of an ad, that helps," he says. "You can often get them to write for ads, or do versions of the tracks."

Like Owen, he believes closer co-operation with advertisers is the future. "The way branding has gone -which has helped the synchronisation side of things - is that more and more marketing departments at record labels are talking to marketing departments at brands, and it's a really strong force," Robinson says.

After Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R's series of anthemic ads for Marks & Spencer burst on to screens, featuring such classic hits as ELO's Mr Blue Sky, the previously lacklustre retailer posted its highest first-half profits in five years in December 2006.

As for De Wolfe, it is still going strong, and its Angel Studios is used frequently for TV ads.

"The whole landscape has changed enormously over the years," Warren De Wolfe, the grandson of the company's founder, says. "But in a way, it's still about forming relationships and working together to achieve the best results."

As Motown's The Four Tops once sang: it's the same old song.