Creativity Brand Strategy

‘Music should never be an afterthought’: advice for spinning the right song in your ad

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By Kenneth Hein | Editor

August 17, 2022 | 7 min read

For The Drum’s Audio Deep Dive, we are treated to a choir of expert voices. They share eight tips for selecting songs that should be taken as gospel.

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There is so much craft that goes into producing an ad, from concepting to casting to scripting, animation and much more. But arguably, nothing is more important than the music. Here, eight experts share tips for getting into the right groove when it comes to song selection.

Samira Ansari, chief creative officer, Deutsch New York:

“I find that music can sometimes be an afterthought. We forget about it until we are in the edit suite and, often, we are left with nothing in the budget to spend on it. I am a true believer that music can change a piece of film entirely. It can take it from forgettable to memorable and, if we do our jobs right, it can also be part of the concept from the get-go.”

Matthew Scott, creative director, The Badger Agency:

“Your track should never be an afterthought. Some of the best music moments happen because there is an authentic fit between the brand, the ad concept and the artist/music. Try to start with the emotion you want people to feel after seeing your ad rather than picking the hottest song of the moment. When you are concepting, writing your scripts, crafting the boards – have that vibe or reference in mind for the music so that, when it comes time to pick or compose a track, you know what emotion you are going for so the ad serves as a vehicle for the music and vice versa. Just be careful not to fall in love with a temp track – nothing will break your heart faster.”

Jack Epsteen, senior vice-president and director of production, GSD&M:

“Well, I’m a producer, so the first thing I’ll say is make relationships with trusted publishers, record company folks and music supervisors. There are so many great people in the business who have your back when you need to find a track in three hours… But, most importantly, dig deep and try as many tracks against the picture. Dig into Spotify (or your music streaming service of choice) and try 1,000 tracks against your cut. Nothing beats that moment when magic happens and the music works perfectly. Strive for that. It will always happen if you let it.”

Robyn Tenenbaum, creative director/copywriter, Butler, Stern, Shine and Partners:

“Music is such an underrated element that’s more than just the cherry on top. It can inspire or actually be the entire concept if done well. Not to mention, it plays an integral role in how something is edited. Sometimes I’ll hear a song out in the wild, completely out of context, and add it to the ’4commercialz’ playlist on Spotify I started in 2014 because it made me feel something in that moment. Then, when I’m writing or concepting, I’ll actually start there and see where it takes me.”

Matt MacDonald, chief creative officer, BBDO NY:

“I’ve learned my personal taste in music is too messed up to pick songs for ads. I used to spend days on music searches. Days! I’d try anything and everything in search of that one track that moved me. That one song that would fill my heart with joy or wonder. Or if we were making a Sad Ad about Sad Things, the music that brought tears to my eyes, surfacing feelings of loss and sorrow from some deep well inside me.

“And when I found that perfect track, I’d run to share it with everyone so they could feel it too and we could share these emotions together, knowing we had made something perfect. And then I’d play the ad and they would watch, and usually someone – the account person – would say: ’What the #$%& is that? Tibetan throat singing? This is a commercial for baby wipes.’

“So, now I delegate the music stuff. Trust other people to make music decisions. It saves everyone a lot of time in post.”

Neil Cleary, music supervisor, Team One:

“Expectations kill opportunity. If you go into a music search like Cinderella’s prince, looking for the perfect foot to fit one specific glass slipper, all you’re going to find is disappointment. The best music is unlike other music, so don’t search for a copy – find an original.”

David Baldwin, founder & chief executive, Baldwin&:

“I treat music in advertising the same way I would select an athlete. Michael Jordan for sports made perfect sense on all levels. Michael Jordan for undergarments, not as much. Tailor the music not just to the mood but to the brand.”

Lucas Mayer, co-founder, DaHouse Audio:

“A recurrent way of choosing the wrong song for your ad is thinking that music is only about melody, harmony and rhythm. There is another layer that goes beyond. Pierre Barreau, the co-founder of the first AI composer, said: ’An AI can create beautiful pieces of music and the best part is that humans can bring them to life.’ Only humans can add the texture needed to the song to bring the required emotion.”

For more on the power of sound, check out The Drum’s Audio Deep Dive. And don’t forget to sign up for The Drum’s daily US newsletter here.

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