PRODUCTION & POST-PRODUCTION: Sound control

Pippa Considine looks at the realities of selecting the right soundtrack music for ads, and describes the ventures set up by advertising agencies to help curb the costs involved.

In an ideal world, every ad would be a Tony Kaye or Frank Budgen production, with unlimited access to state-of-the-art special effects and a sound track by The Beatles or The Stones, or even a specially commissioned piece by Robbie Williams.

In reality things are different, especially given the new century's ongoing recession. Not only can many established artists still be a bit snooty about featuring on commercials, but they are often very expensive.

Although clients generally understand the value of the music to the ad's creative whole, they also appreciate a bit of hard negotiation or smart thinking by their agency on any aspect of the budget.

One agency, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, boasts a particularly strong reputation for finding the right music for the right commercial. To make the most of its expertise, the agency recently launched a new music publishing division called Leap. One of the many practical motives for launching such a venture was to help to bring down some of the high costs that go hand in hand with sourcing backing music for commercials.

By cutting out the middleman - in this case the music production house - the agency can now buy original compositions at cheaper rates. It can also buy the rights to tracks from unsigned artists. BBH buys the copyright to music and licenses it to the client with a share in revenue streams.

This has the added advantage of simplifying the process. There's no need to go back to renegotiate at the end of an agreed term or for new territories.

It also helps that, as the agency, they know more accurately what the usage will be.

Leap was designed by Frances Royle, the head of TV production at BBH, together with the division's managing director, Richard Kirstein, who was formerly the head of film,TV and media at Zomba Records. Kirstein's experience can also have a direct cost-saving effect. "Because he's been on the other side, he knows the games they play," Royle explains.

BBH has a track record on hand to help drive a harder bargain. Apart from the infamous hit tracks from the Levi's ads, the agency recently produced the Lynx Pulse ad, which saw the classic 80s club remix used in the spot go to number one in the charts for four weeks. The track release was carefully synchronised with the timing of the ad. "We actually managed to plan that one,"Royle says.

Leap works with a core of composers and is always on the lookout for other opportunities, but that doesn't necessarily help if what's wanted by the team is an existing piece of music. "You still get them saying that they want to use a particular track," Royle says. Leap can bring its experience to bear in negotiating for a track, but if the cost is still excessive it can find composers to come up with something similar instead.

Although times are hard and some artists can be sniffy about their tune being used as a soundtrack for an ad, most agencies still like to begin the creative process with a feeling of carte blanche when it comes to the choice of music.

Even though a major ad campaign can clearly give a track great exposure, the costs haven't changed much over the years. There's certainly no such thing as a ratecard and, although it is possible to do a deal with new artists, established names will still hold out for large sums of money.

Tracie London-Rowell, the director of film, TV and advertising at Universal Music and the brains behind matching The Dandy Warhols to Vodafone's campaign in what she describes as "a textbook example", comments: "Abba or The Stones will hold out for substantial fees, whereas with new or upcoming artists or someone with a new single there's a promotional aspect."

Yet this promotional aspect doesn't necessarily have to be attached to a new single; it could be a greatest hits album. This was the case when The Cure appeared on an ad for the first time: In Between Days was used to advertise the Fiat Punto.

In the past decade or so, record companies and publishers have become more proactive in approaching agencies. They now send regular samples of old and new tracks to agencies in the hope of getting something picked up. Universal, for instance, has set up a service specifically for ad agencies offering a free of charge search service. But although record companies understand the PR benefits for a new band or of a revival for a lower-profile artist, that doesn't make them a pushover on price.

"There have been so many campaigns that prove that if you're the owner of a copyright, what you want is to get it on an ad, but equally the costs have not gone through the floor," Jaspar Shelbourne, JWT's global creative director, says.

Original composition is coming a bit cheaper these days, however. "There's such a glut of talent available to creative teams in London," Shelbourne says. And agencies need to make the most of this for budget-anxious clients.

"There are so many people willing to negotiate even from the established music houses," Kate Male, the head of TV at St Luke's, says. "Original composition is by far the cheaper route. The rate is totally negotiable and you will make that fit within your budget."

St Luke's, like many agencies, is trying to address the potential problems of choosing music at the 11th hour and therefore leaving no room for bargaining over a track. "We start to think about it earlier in the process, certainly at pre-production stage," Male says.

But none of that means that St Luke's would ever willingly stint on the right track for an ad. Al Young, St Luke's executive creative director, believes that, even if the market is throwing up cost opportunities and recession makes budget-tightening inevitable, clients are increasingly prepared to fork out for a great track. "I think clients are really aware of how valuable music can be to them."

As an example,Young quotes the British Airways soundtrack, Delibes' Lakme, which has been rearranged over and over again to refresh it and to give it renewed currency with each new ad for the airline for more than a decade.

"Every time you hear that music it reminds you of every great ad you've ever seen," Young says.

It's not just artists and music companies who can now see what an ad might do for the success of a track - there's also a realisation on the part of clients. "It can really remind you of brand values," Young adds. "Music can create massive equity."

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