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.
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)).
do NoT UNdEr aNy CIrCUMSTaNCES CoNFUSE MUSICaL IgNoraNCE wITH aNy LaCK oF INTELLIgENCE
Mitch regales us with more tales from the world of the session player