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Music Essays: In tune with the ipod generation

Creating music with a glue-like association to a brand or product is a tough, but rewarding, act for producers and artists to follow.

If you are expecting a clever piece about the physiological effect of music on the human mind, then you may be disappointed. You can Wiki those facts, if you have the time or inclination to do so.

However, for a subjective thought from a composer/music producer on music in advertising, you've come to the right place.

I hear a lot of talk about how it is much more difficult nowadays than it used to be, but I'm not so sure. Yes, there are more people out there with facilities to make music and the sources for obtaining music are dizzying in their numbers, but surely all that does is raise the bar, doesn't it? Is that a bad thing? I think not. Actually, I think advertising music is in a very exciting place at the moment.

We've all had this conversation at some point, but I have to go slightly backwards to come forwards. Probably the most powerful advertising musical genre is what we label "the jingle". Now, those jingles of old are genius for many reasons but the resounding factor that I can see, or hear, is that they continue to serve their advertising purpose long, long - sometimes decades - after the campaign has ceased.

I arrive at the lemonade in the supermarket and see three or four brands all staring back at me, screaming: "Pick me! Pick me!" But, before I have the chance to think about which one to choose, I am the Secret Lemonade Drinker. No, really, I am! And at the next aisle, I keep singing the ditty in my head, or at least until I get to the crumbliest, flakiest chocolate, that tastes like chocolate never tasted before. That particular R Whites lemonade commercial ran more than 25 years ago. A quarter of a century ago. And yet, every time I shop for lemonade, it's back. I'm sure the other lemonade brands that are left jealously on the shelf had excellent campaigns, but they just simply can't be heard above R Whites.

Now, I'm not saying that we should all go back to jingles like those, but harnessing the power and success of that approach in today's advertising music is an exciting prospect.

Today, music is such an integral part of our lives. It has muscled its way back to the top of Christmas lists in the form of Apple products and access to music has never been easier. Ads now have to compete and excel sonically and musically to chime with the iPod generation's expectations. Dated elements of the jingle need to be left behind, but the qualities that deliver effortless, glue-like associations with a brand or product must be injected into our fundamental approach to advertising music.

A huge amount of time and expense is invested into developing songs and sounds for artists or bands and, having worked for many years in pop music production, this is an area with which I am very familiar. Hours upon hours are spent discovering who the artist is, how his or her personality will be brought into the music production and sound and how an immediate association can be created.

This attention is dedicated to each and every artist's release, yet I rarely hear it applied in such depth to advertising music production. When developing music for an ad, whatever the genre, I use that same approach; however, the brand or product becomes the artist. Is this part of the thought process behind the success of the old jingle? It feels like it could be.

The melodies that, like it or not, have found a place to reside in our subconscious for all these years are an obvious element of jingles' success. This is achievable in music without having to blast out a four-part vocal harmony of the product or brand name.

Take, for example, Britney Spears' Baby One More Time. The opening second of that song has you. It couldn't be anything else. The whole package flashes through your mind in that split second and you're drawn in. Just with the simple piano hook. Without singing a word. Then, as the song continues and the vocal hooks are introduced, it embeds the memories deeper and solidifies its connection with her. The sound and style match Spears' persona perfectly and the track delivers all the melodic hooks and motifs.

Duffy's song Mercy is, again, instantly recognisable right from the top with its musical and vocal hooks, and it's uniquely true to her throughout. You'd be right to say that all music has, to an extent, unique compositional and production hooks within it, but a small percentage, such as the examples above, have triumphed over all of the rest in their ability to slip effortlessly into our awareness. Along with ads for Um Bongo and Club biscuits, they will live on in my mind for a long time to come.

To consistently reach this potential in advertising today, it is essential for music to be included at the early stages of the production process. Creating a standout piece takes time, and time is often a luxury we don't have in this industry. However, communicating early concepts will allow us to get under the skin of a product and the vision for the campaign, and to create music that solidifies a long-term relationship with the brand.

Mother's superb "here come the girls" campaign for Boots delivers in this way. OK, not written specifically for the ad, but not a song from a well-known artist either. The retro production and sound is as much a part of why it works.

The military feel of the drums at the start is a perfect match, conceptually, for the make-up ritual portrayed and the sound is instantly recognisable. The killer vocal hook doesn't sing the name of the product or brand, but delivers the same result. A song that's also strong enough to then be covered by the Sugababes. Home run!

Honda's "hate something, change something" campaign works similarly well. I love this song. Composed specifically for the ad, it captures every nuance of the brand perfectly and with its unique sound and extremely strong melodies, it sticks like Velcro. Making Honda the artist, again. Immediate recognition. A modern-day jingle?

Lloyds TSB is another example. This time it's a classical piece, in which the sound and feel are exactly matched to the brand. And the hooks are all immediately absorbed. Although this was not a commissioned piece, a similar thought process appears to have been applied to its selection.

In today's "instant gratification" society, we get exactly that. A quick fix without the longevity. A big in-your-face approach that leaves just as fast as it came.

Making music more collaborative and allowing the depth of thought that lies behind the success of musical greats can reintroduce that incredible longevity to advertising music. We'll have consumers humming our campaigns for the next 25 years. How refreshing ... Anyone for lemonade?

- Lee McCutcheon is a composer and the founder of Red Custard Music.

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