PRODUCTION & POST-PRODUCTION: Matchmaking music

A new set of awards from the MPA aims to reward excellence in advertising soundtracks. Rachel Nouchi reports.

Selecting the right musical score is one of the most important creative decisions to make during the advertising production process.

The Music Publishers Association and its members have created their own dedicated music industry award that recognises the importance of music in advertising. Music industry aficionados argue that, while there are awards for best music in ads at most of the big advertising awards shows like Cannes, the BTAA or D&AD, there has yet to be a dedicated award that recognises talent on both the advertising and music publishing sides of the fence. The MPA therefore decided to take action and introduce a new accolade, the MPA Music in Advertising Award.

So how do you decide if a piece of music goes well with an ad? Both agencies and music industry experts say that it's hard to pinpoint one process.

Tessa Lawlor, a producer at Water Music Product-ions, explains that the agency contacts the record producer with its film, but very occasionally the music track is decided before the film is shot.

Early planning to allow time for creative mistakes is also seen as a major plus point for finding the right track. In the case of Lowe's Ice Night for Orange's "night night", the music was specially commissioned through Water Music Productions.

Peter Lawlor, who composed music for Levi's "creek" and "fall", was given a free rein. He disappeared into the country and composed two pieces of music for a demo, leaving the agency to select its favourite. "I was working outside of London and really missing my kids, so I went into the studio at 4.30 in the morning and put that missing emotion into my musical composition. I played everything apart from the drums and recorded it all in one take."

He adds that he will never take a brief before the ad has been shot.

"I want to see how it looks with editing and words. Is there something emotional in it and if so, what is it? You can't do this by staring at a piece of paper. How will the editor cut the film? What will be the mood and the pace?" In fact, Water Productions advise that it's more efficient to work 24 hours with a film than a whole week without the film.

Even so, while composers may be asked to pass judgement in terms of what makes a stronger or weaker piece of music, it's ultimately up to the agency to decide what will make its ad a best-selling one.

But how do you know you've got the right track? Music publishers advise that it's important to try more than one track right from the start. While a demo fee can cost up to £1,500 and then if used, a full fee and a licensing fee on top of that, it's dramatic how two different pieces of music can completely change the emotional impact of an ad.

It's worth knowing that if you have your heart set on a famous costly track, publishers can often find something that sounds similar. For example, when Barbara Zamoyska, the head of production at Universal, had a client interested in using The Mamas and The Papas' California Dreaming, she sourced the agency a little known Bobby Womack version for a fraction of the price.

In terms of trends, music publishers observe that they are increasingly asked to concentrate on creating tracks that create an overall mood for a brand and work as good creative pieces of music, rather than being bound to hitting every move in the visuals. "They don't want a piece of music scored at every moment in the ad, like the old fashioned jingles," Sophie Taylor, the managing director of Adelphoi Music, the publishers behind Vodafone's It's In The Air, says. The ad, nominated for best use of music in the Specially Commissioned category, came about because Vodafone needed a change of sound, so the music production company suggested putting together a band especially for the score. As a rule of thumb though, most agencies try to find the right track first and if it doesn't appear, then go the specially commissioned route.

Any creative director will admit that tracking down the right musical genre, let alone attempting to wade through vast musical archives is a daunting prospect. It's totally apparent that use of music in ads is dictated by what's in fashion, often created by ads that have broken the mould.

According to music publishers, classical music, for example, is often held at arm's length by many creatives. This is partly down to a lack of familiarity with the genre, and a lack of understanding of how flexible classical scores can be. So when Bartle Bogle Hegarty wanted take the classical road and contemporise a classical piece it was quite groundbreaking, because a trendy brand such as Levi's had never used classical music before.

Stephen Butler, BBH's creative director, explains the creative thinking behind the radical choice of music for the brand. "The starting point was the twisted side-seam of the jeans, based on the famous old story that Levi's 501s naturally twist the side seam. When "odyssey" came about, it became apparent at an early stage that this ad needed an epic, emotional feel and we approached everything from a strong filmic perspective." However, Butler says that it was very important not to create an exaggerated, overdramatic sensation. "We struggled with the idea of how to elevate the piece, make it feel like a piece of theatre, suspend a sense of reality, yet still make the plot believable," he says. The creative team decided to turn to classical music because they agreed it has an interior, more human sound than other forms of music. "In the past, classical music has been associated with dreary brands and we broke the barriers by rerouteing it to the youth genre. All of us come round to classical music eventually. It takes a musical maturity, a kind of serenity to appreciate it, but this ad resonated and reinvigorated that sector of the market."

And that's exactly what happened when the newly orchestrated track shot straight to number one in the Classic FM charts after the ad had aired on TV. Music publishers say that one of the common misconceptions associated with using classical music is that agencies often don't realise a classical score can be manipulated to fit the ad. This simply isn't the case, and there are plenty of hidden gems just waiting to be tapped into. If you are man-ipulating something that's out of copyright, the material becomes easier and you can do it a million different ways. For example, when John Altman was orchestrating Handel's Sarabande in D minor for "odyssey", turning it from a harpsichord solo into a piece for 40-part orchestra, he cut back on repeated bars and the process became similar to composing itself. There are, of course, some pieces of music where you can't deviate from the original, so make sure that there are no hidden claims in terms of re-recording.

For instance, John Taverner's sacred choral work, The Lamb, in Lowe's Orange ad, had been spotted on a CD sampler featuring religious music for ads sent to the agency. Lowe immediately identified the piece, and the music production company re-recorded it especially for the ad. Unlike Handel's Sarabande in D minor, this was done mainly in an editing suite, with just a few technical tweaks. But as Karen Price, the creative manager of Chester Music, points out, the problem with using classical music is trying to make it fit a time-frame of 30 seconds, given the length of time for which most of the compositions were original written. Unlike pop tracks, classical music needs longer to edit into the ad, and creatives constricted to tight post production turnarounds often just don't have the luxury to invest in such experiments.

Whatever the creative process or musical choice, most agencies are now wholly aware that you can create a life for your commercial beyond its airtime period, and selecting the right piece of music is intrinsic to the success of any campaign. Universal's Zamoyska explains that Hyundai's I'm Sticking With You, a track by The Velvet Underground, went out across radio around the same time as the ad went out on TV. Within a few weeks, the track had shot up the charts, which is not unlike what happened with BBH's ad for Lynx featuring the track Make Luv - Francis Royle, BBH's head of TV, explains that once they had found the track, a synchronised release was orchestrated across Europe. The ad came out first to promote the single, and the track was then released on the back of the ad.

Whatever the budget or your specific creative brief, always consider how you can best be bringing together contrived images with music to make them look as if they've combined naturally. "Remember that music feels like an ad or a jingle when it loses the romance of collision with the visuals and music," Butler warns.

THE MPA AWARDS: NOMINATION LIST

POP CATEGORY

I'm Sticking with You - The Velvet Underground, Hyundai, Leagas Delaney

Make Luv - Room 5, Lynx Pulse, Bartle Bogle Hegarty

Release the Pressure - Leftfield, 02, St Luke's

CLASSICAL CATEGORY

Sarabande in D Minor for harpsichord - Handel, Levi's Odyssey, Bartle Bogle Hegarty

The Lamb - John Taverner, Orange, Lowe & Partners

SPECIALLY COMMISSIONED

Ice Night Water Music Productions, Orange, Lowe & Partners Burst Pipe Chester Music, BT Broadband, St Luke's

It's In The Air - Adelphoi Music, JWT, Vodafone

THREE CREATIVE DIRECTORS CHOOSE THEIR FAVOURITE AD SOUNDTRACKS

ROB BURLEIGH, creative director, Leagas Delaney

My favourite music in ads has to be Wieden & Kennedy's campaign for Nike: Instant Karma, from John Lennon, and Revolution by the Beatles. At the time it was a huge statement of intent by Nike, not only because the ads encapsulated the whole 'Just do it' philosophy, but also because it made sport sexy and empowering. Rather than creating an ad then searching for the music, this campaign started with the track and built the entire concept around it. Shot by David Fincher, Instant Karma features everyday people playing sports with no sign of living sports legends.

If you have a cracking idea like Honda's "cog", you don't always need music, but could go with natural sound effects. You must be careful not to dress up ideas that aren't that great by just sticking on an amazing soundtrack at the end.

My shortlist of favourite music in ads broke the rules in terms of what one could achieve. Music in advertising used to be nothing more than a series of jingles before Hamlet's use of Bach's Air on a G String broke the mould. For the first time, an ad was accompanied by an orchestral piece of music and, of course, it became so memorable that people associated the Hamlet brand with the piece of music long after the images in the ad were forgotten.

Levi's I Heard it Through the Grapevine was also revolutionary. For the first time we actually saw a pop track being used for an ad. Coupling this with such risque, cool imagery worked brilliantly. This ad taught people about the power of music in advertising.

NICK GILL, creative director, Bartle Bogle Hegarty

It's extremely hard to select a favourite piece of music in an ad because I don't draw inspiration from how other ads have used music, but from celluloid heroes such as Stanley Kubrick. Using the Strauss waltz The Blue Danube for spaceships docking in his movie 2001, Kubrick transformed the scene into one of the most memorable and beautiful in film history. Music is what really makes the ad stick in people's minds. Just imagine if you were to turn down the sound of a horror movie - it no longer works, it no longer holds the same haunting grip over the viewer.

We tried to think about this in Levi's Drugstore, and I think it worked.

It may be unorthodox to choose your own ad, but Drugstore, shot in 1995, is one of my all-time favourites. What you are looking at is a black and white film that comes straight out of John Ford's movie The Grapes of Wrath if you turn the sound down, but as soon as you hear the techno beats, arranged by pop band Biosphere, it reminds you that what you are looking at is something contemporary.

It was so modern and so in your face because the techno sounds completely changed the mood and context of the black and white footage.

In our KFC campaigns we put interesting, edgy soul music alongside images to make the brand more appealing to a happening audience who would otherwise switch off. Often though, music in ads is a hollow, sparse experience and fails when the vibes work too hard to pick up on every nuance in the ad. But if you get it right, it can be a magical moment that totally transforms what you are watching.

JASPAR SHELBOURNE, global creative director for Nestle and European creative director for Kraft, J. Walter Thompson

Selecting music for your ad is one of the most exciting parts of this job even more so than finding the right voiceover-often the hallmark of a fussy creative director.

One of my all-time favourites has to be a commercial out last year from Bartle Bogle Hegarty called Controlled Bull, for Audi. There's such a mad fusion of sound and image, but there's a superb balance struck between the footage and use of music.

A pulsating beat builds the drama to such a point that once the music starts, it grips you, like the first two-and-a-half minutes of Terminator, and there's absolutely no way you can leave the room. You would be hard pushed to find an agency as successful as BBH at finding the winning music in ads - just look at its track record.

This is, of course, helped by working with brands such as Levi's.

Finding the right director who understands the intrinsic value of music in terms of creating a success for your ad is essential. Chris Palmer is one director who really understands musical value and it shows in his reel. It's important to be emotionally drawn to a showreel and that's often because of the music. Tom Carty's films also reveal an ability to keep sound optimal while fitting perfectly with the visuals.

One trick to finding the right piece of music is to keep an open mind.

You seldom end up using the track you originally thought you were going to use because it's all about feel and tone.

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