Andy McLennan says that sound is crucial to making a good ad.
Sound is probably the most ignored technique when it comes to making a
commercial and this annoys Andy McLennan, a sound designer at the Tape
Gallery. ‘People will spend thousands of pounds on filming and a couple
of hundred quid on a bit of music for the background,’ he complains.
When you think of the ads for Barclaycard and Guess Jeans, it’s easy to
overlook the soundtrack and, to McLennan’s credit, he is aware that
people don’t take as much notice of his work as they might.
It’s only when you listen to one of his favourite ads, the ‘chemist’
execution for Polaroid, that you understand just how much difference
sound can make, and why McLennan believes it is important. ‘The ad is
effective and very funny. It’s nothing without the sound effects,
because there’s no talking whatsoever on the ad. Those are the jobs I
like, working on a blank canvas,’ he says.
The ad shows a man with a terrible hangover going to a chemist’s shop to
pick up some photos. When the shop assistant sneaks a look at a
particular picture, a rock and roll soundtrack blares out, with
devastating effects on the hero’s headache.
Although the ad uses stock sounds such as creaking boards, everything
sounds louder than normal, getting viewers to sympathise with the
The Music Gallery, a music composition company within the Tape Gallery,
was responsible for the party music that explodes when the pharmacist
and the shop assistant look at the photos, and also for the ensuing
soothing music when the man finally gets his medicine. The final burst
of music at the end includes a horse whinnying and McLennan explains
that this was only put in originally for a laugh, but sounded so good
that it was retained.
Another of McLennan’s all-time favourite ads is for Domestos, filmed
from a germ’s viewpoint. ‘It was strange. We were sitting in this
meeting with the client, asking each other ‘hmmm, what would a germ
sound like? How would noises sound to a germ?’. I was happy with how it
In the ad, the germ is given its own noise - an echoey, futuristic horn
sound - and when the word ‘germ’ appears at the end, the sound crops up
Although McLennan works on his own, there are times when a client tries
to tell him what sound should accompany a film, putting his diplomatic
skills to the test. ‘In a situation like that it’s up to me to do what
they want. I’d try and dissuade them from something that doesn’t ‘fit’
with the ad, but they generally realise themselves when they’ve made a
McLennan worked on the Barclaycard ads featuring the comic, Rowan
Atkinson, as the bumbling secret agent, Latham, and in particular, was
responsible for the sounds in ‘wedding’.
Most of the ads were shot on location, with McLennan post-synching
dialogue on to the film, and adding special effects noises. For
‘wedding’, the ambience of a church was created by including organ music
and the sound of the vicar’s voice in the background. When Latham
accidentally sits on a fragile gift, the sound of breaking china was
added by McLennan, and repeated when the broken present is thrown into a
The effect was created by taking boxes of glass and china, breaking
them, recording the sounds and mixing them. This is quite a traditional
technique in sound design. ‘Now a lot of sound effects are available
from libraries,’ McLennan points out, ‘but these effects, which are
known as ‘Foley effects’, are more fun.’
The Tape Gallery is one of the pioneers of a new sound technique known
as sound-sculpting. McLennan explains: ‘The sound morphing in films such
as Terminator, hasn’t been possible before.’ The Tape Gallery has done
sound-sculpting for a radio campaign for Smirnoff Vodka, sampling a man
speaking and then morphing into a woman’s voice. The Gallery does the
same with a cat’s meow, changing it into a scream. The technique
involves a computer breaking sound waves down to their basic components.
Until recently, it was only possible to record two sounds at the same
pitch, or voices talking at a similar pace, then fade them away before
mixing in new sounds.
‘Sound design is not just about taking three or four stock sounds and
adding them to a film, it’s combining sounds to make a realistic noise,’
For a Lynx ad, he mixed different sounds to emphasise the noise of
people eating and also highlighted particular sounds, such as when the
male character spits out an olive which bounces off another man’s bald
The Guess ad doesn’t feature particular sound effects, but the entire
dialogue was pre-recorded and had to be matched to the film once editing
McLennan is one of six sound designers at the Tape Gallery and although
his studio isn’t the largest, it is one of the more expensive ones at
pounds 275 per hour (prices go from pounds 175 per hour up to pounds
The Tape Gallery is a blossoming company and includes the Music Gallery
and the Voice Gallery (the brainchild of Lloyd Billings, one of The Tape
Gallery’s founding partners and managing director). The Voice Gallery is
a CD-Rom that enables clients to cast actors for voiceovers from the
privacy of their offices. The Tape Gallery Multimedia creates CD-Roms,
and its recent credits include putting the Creative Circle Awards on to
the medium. Finally, there’s McLennan’s own baby, Tape Gallery
Productions, which produces radio programmes.
McLennan’s studio is a mass of gadgets but McLennan makes it all look
effortless as he demonstrates how to make a seagull sound like a dog.
His favourite technical tool is a Synclavier, capable of holding
thousands of sounds on magneto optical discs. The Tape Gallery has seven
Synclaviers in the building - when McLennan joined the company in 1987,
there was one.
McLennan enjoys meeting celebrities through his work and often
introduces them to visiting friends from his home city of Manchester. He
says that success depends to a large extent on his ability to get on
with people. He has the kudos of being the only sound engineer that
Alex Winter, the Brave Films director and co-star of Bill and Ted’s
Excellent Adventure, will work with in London. It also helps to explain
why he is chairing the jury for the craft section of the forthcoming
British Television Advertising Awards.
Andy McLennan had no formal training as a sound engineer, leaving New
Mills School in Derbyshire at the age of 16 and joining a local company
as an engineering apprentice.
The job wasn’t very challenging. ‘I spent all my time making small bits
of metal out of large bits of metal,’ he says.
At the same time, McLennan was also working as a DJ in a local club
where he was spotted by his boss who told him that basically, I couldn’t
keep on two jobs, so I left’.
Luckily, someone from Piccadilly Radio had also spotted him and
suggested he apply for a job there. McLennan worked as a programme
assistant for four years, absorbing as much technical knowledge from his
colleagues as possible, before leaving to run the commercial production
department at Hereward Radio, where he became interested in making ads.
During this time he was still working as a DJ - and after the managing
director saw him working at a club over the weekend he was given the
chance to cover for a Sunday evening presenter.
After two more years at Hereward, he went to the Manchester studio,
Pluto, to run its commercials production side, but left after 18 months
when the owner scaled down the commercials business.
At the same time a friend saw an ad for a job at the Tape Gallery and
urged him to apply.