As advertising agencies have been forced to solve their music puzzles under the gun and on the cheap, important best-practices once religiously adhered to in the jingle era have been neglected.
This article originally appeared in The One Club, September 2013
There’s consensus among the commercial composers who came before us that in the world of advertising music, these are not the best of times. The old guard fondly remember the long reign of the jingle, an era in which entire campaigns, nay entire brands were identified by a single catchy tune. Between 1930 and 1990, music was held in the highest regard by agencies, and jingle writers became rich. This era is decidedly over.
Thankfully, my partners and I at Egg aren’t burdened by jingle envy. As songwriters and musicians on our own peculiar paths, we came of age during the years when the music industry collapsed. By the dawn of this century, the music business was no longer a reliable gatekeeper delivering to the masses the most interesting new music. Motivated by short term corporate interests, record labels and commercial radio stopped taking chances on groundbreaking artists. Fear and conservatism ruled our industry at precisely the time when our bands were reaching their creative zeniths. The music business had been turned on its head; suddenly it was the most creative and innovative artists who could no longer expect to be rewarded. So we broke up our bands and established ourselves in an industry where creativity and songwriting were suddenly in high demand. Advertising, far more than the music industry itself, was where we finally found support to do our best work.
The agency Egg worked with on this spot took music seriously, and in my humble opinion, it shows.
Jingles disappeared when consumers decided they sounded corny, self-conscious, and uncool. The new guiding principle in ad music became “authenticity.” Music was as important for branding as ever, but now agency creatives wanted “real music,” tracks from “real artists,” to bolster brand integrity. Since most projects couldn’t afford to license tracks from famous artists, and because recordings from those artists couldn’t be modified and customized, a new industry evolved to supply “authentic” and “cool” tracks for advertising. Songwriting was becoming the new sound of advertising, and hundreds of highly creative refugees from the failing music industry set up shops dedicated to making custom music for ads. The jingle and the enormous wealth it generated for composers might have been history, but music remained a high priority at agencies, and brands were still willing to pay solid prices to have the perfect piece of music made to order for their commercial.
Then 9/11 happened, and later a deep and persistent recession. The new economic reality meant that even as advertising quickly expanded into new platforms, and even as project volume increased, production and post budgets were slashed and timelines were tightened. Both agencies and their vendors were asked to do a lot more with a lot less, and for more than decade now, everyone has.
But as agencies have been forced to solve their musical puzzles under the gun and on the cheap, important best-practices once religiously adhered to in the jingle era have been neglected. Music has dropped a few rungs on the priority ladder and bad habits have made their way unnecessarily into project flow. Too often, these bad habits undermine the quality of the end product. So even when money and time are more limited than we’d all like, there are things agencies can do to ensure they get the most from their music vendors.
Music is a big deal, so make it a priority. While everyone knows that music plays a critical role in how a branding message is received, these days music is often the last thing to be considered on a project. Not only can this lead to hasty decisions about what track a spot requires, it can result in added costs when eleventh-hour confusion leads to missed deadlines, or when multiple suppliers are brought in to save the day. Agencies can avoid all this by discussing music when a project launches, first internally and then with a trusted vendor. The sole job of Egg’s creative directors is to ensure that our clients realize their musical dreams. When you let us know what you’re thinking early on, we’ll make sure you have the music you need at the time you need it.
Know your options. Dear agency creatives, the people who compose the music for your spots are nothing less than an extension of your own creative process. So get to know them. Research their work online. Attend music vendor screenings and ask tough questions to understand both their capabilities and how they like to collaborate.
When creativity is required, invest in creativity. Music libraries have played an important role in advertising for decades. Historically, stock music libraries have suffered (and often deserved) a reputation for being filled with uninteresting and un-customizable music, tracks one might hear droning on beneath infomercial voiceovers. Still, libraries have offered affordable music solutions when great creativity wasn’t required. Today, as a result of shrinking budgets, music libraries are regularly mined for even high profile ads. In response, the quality of newer music libraries has greatly improved. And a few libraries, Egg’s included, even offer clients the option of customizing the piece they like so it better conforms to picture. Music libraries do have their place; when a spot is driven by voiceover or dialogue, a track from a quality music library can do the trick. However, for a music-driven spot with little voiceover, no library in the world can beat music created by an experienced composer or songwriter who understands the story you want to tell. Producing a custom score costs more (though not nearly as much as a jingle!), but the end result is worth it. And again, when you decide a project requires a custom score in your initial creative discussions, your producer can budget for it and be sure overages in other areas don’t compromise your spot’s important musical message.
Even in the post-jingle era, even in the era of restricted budgets and quick turnarounds, everyone agrees that music is still one of the most powerful components of effective advertising. Egg is one of several highly creative companies that exists to elevate your message in the way that only music can. Thanks in part to the demise of the record business, today these companies are comprised of some of the most talented songwriters and composers in the world. Get to know these companies and choose the right vendor for the job. Establish your expectations for music at the beginning of every project and dream big. As much as the greatest jingle writers of old, we’re good for it.