SES­SIoN shenani­gans

In which our fear­less free­lancer floats upon the flot­sam of Fanta, free foot­stools and fre­quent flier of­fers. As re­lated to us by Mitch Dal­ton. This month: stu­dio sur­vival part four - The Com­mer­cial.

Guitar Techniques - - IN­TRO - For more on Mitch Dal­ton’s Stu­dio Kings and other mu­sic projects go to: www.mitch­dal­

The World Of Com­mer­cials (or Jin­gles, to we in­dus­try hep cats) is a lot like its near name­sake, World Of Leather, in that it isn’t ac­tu­ally a ‘world’ at all. If any­thing, it’s more of a nether­world. Be afraid. The un­sus­pect­ing gui­tar-tot­ing trav­eller will dis­cover a land in­hab­ited by life forms that have cloned them­selves to repli­cate mem­bers of Homo Sapi­ens with vary­ing de­grees of suc­cess, but with noth­ing to pay for 24 months be­cause Mum’s gone to Ice­land and ev­ery lit­tle helps. Eer­ily, all the men sound like David Mitchell and all the women like Olivia Cole­man, with sub­tly mod­u­lated, voice-over tones. Which may be in large part be­cause that’s pre­cisely who they are.

Typ­i­cally, you will be booked for one hour to record the mu­sic for a com­mer­cial that runs for 30 sec­onds, al­though there may also be al­ter­na­tive ver­sions such as a 60-sec­ond item and-or a fivesec­ond snip­pet to nail. In the case of a ma­jor global cam­paign you may well be re­quired for two or even three hours. Think multi-na­tional foot­long sand­wiches or car­bon­ated Clas­sic, Diet and Zero bev­er­ages. These guys gotta lotta wonga and they’ll gladly toss you a few ex­tra oc­tag­o­nal coins to help flog their wares. And since no one watches TV any more, they’ll re­luc­tantly cough up ex­tra for add-ons like cin­ema, In­ter­net and gam­ing con­tent (or even that old-fan­gled wire­less that my great-granny told me about).

This is global cap­i­tal­ism, baby. Best to check your con­science in at re­cep­tion. This is Au­dio Al­ca­traz, and no one leaves in­tact.

Hav­ing signed your self-re­spect and artis­tic iden­tity (hark at him) in at the desk, cer­tain rules in­vari­ably ap­ply. Un­less the brief is a tad es­o­teric – “We’d like you to per­form the theme from Shaft but on a ukulele” – you will have been given lit­tle prior warn­ing as to which brand of com­mer­cial com­edy, fate is about to fling in your di­rec­tion. Of course, you may find your­self part of a full or­ches­tral en­sem­ble, where the stress of record­ing a per­fect take is di­min­ished by the col­le­giate pres­ence of 70 other newly pur­chased souls.

Mi­cro­phones are set, then re-set. In­di­vid­ual in­stru­ments and sec­tions are au­di­tioned. And parts are checked for copy­ing mis­takes. All of which al­lows time for set­tling into a re­laxed frame of mind, for those for­tu­nate still to pos­sess one. On the other hand you could well find your­self in soli­tary con­fine­ment, over­dub­bing your con­tri­bu­tion un­der the in­quisi­to­rial gaze of the com­poser, the en­gi­neer and his as­sis­tant, two or three pro­duc­tion com­pany rep­re­sen­ta­tives, the ad agency en­tourage (any num­ber up to 10 - it’s a jolly away from the of­fice for the af­ter­noon, af­ter all) and even the client, on a very bad day.

And therein lies the rub for we pick­ers. Never lose sight of the fact that your au­di­ence is ex­cep­tion­ally in­tel­li­gent, per­cep­tive and driven. The guys and gals from the agency are not known as “cre­atives” for noth­ing (£200K p.a. and we’ll throw in a 911 Turbo, more like). And they are deadly se­ri­ous. There is big, big money rid­ing on the cam­paign and in­tense com­pe­ti­tion to pitch for and win the ac­count in the first place.

Now’s prob­a­bly not the time to re­gale them with the one about the Scots­man, the nun and the con­fused taxi­der­mist. The at­ten­tion given to each and ev­ery one of those 30 sec­onds of sound-based sell­ing is foren­sic, fas­tid­i­ous and not a lit­tle fright­en­ing.

We are now at the in­ter­sec­tion be­tween mu­sic, vis­ual cre­ativ­ity and big busi­ness, and they each ar­tic­u­late their needs in dif­fer­ent lan­guages. Over the years, I have been asked the fol­low­ing ques­tions:

“Can you get the gui­tarist to echo the words?” (do I look like Peter Framp­ton?)

“Can we have those swishy things?” (note to the drum­mer – please use brushes.)

“Can he do some­thing to em­pha­sise the vis­ual of the toi­let seat go­ing down?” (not with a gui­tar, no).

But do not un­der any cir­cum­stances con­fuse mu­si­cal igno­rance with any lack of in­tel­li­gence. It’s your job to in­ter­pret, sug­gest and pro­vide so­lu­tions. And pack up and leave to grate­ful thanks and the ad­dress for the in­voice. Still, an hon­est hour’s mind read­ing for a dis­hon­est day’s pay? It’s not so bad, eh?

(Ex­cept for this one – “I just keep hear­ing this noise in my head. If I sing it can you play it?” (No, but I do know the name of an ex­cel­lent otorhi­no­laryn­gol­o­gist)).


Mitch re­gales us with more tales from the world of the ses­sion player

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