The hard work of making simple magic
Music should ring true, says Tracker Boogie creator
MUSIC is sometimes regarded as the Cinderella of the marketing communication industry: a cute jingle or a catchy tune as a background to the work of clever copywriters or art directors.
Yet, at its best, music can lift a commercial from good into the realms of memorable – and ad music has sometimes gone on to find popularity in the mainstream music world.
In really great adverts, music is not simply a tacked-on “nice to have”; it is an integral part of the communication, emphasising a brand story or its values.
Joburg musician and composer Adam Howard is one of the leading local exponents of music for marketing communication.
“Music has to be appropriate for the message being conveyed or the story being told – and if it is helping to recreate an era or a feeling, then it must be absolutely historically accurate.”
For example, if you’re telling a story that has components of 1960s rock, then don’t chuck in riffs more appropriate to the disco decade that followed, says Howard.
A classically trained musician, he came to South Africa – after completing his studies in London – to play first trumpet in the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra.
“Just because I come from a classical music background does not mean I don’t appreciate all other genres… but having that rigorous professional training and discipline means I can not only analyse music technically, but that I can get my head down and work to difficult deadlines when I need to.”
Howard says members of the South African music community who are producing work for commercials are the equal of any in the world.
“You may not always see them fronting a band, but we have some amazingly talented people.”
Howard relishes a challenge in a music brief, and says he tries to understand in detail the marketing message conveyed in the ad and the place of the music within that.
He will also often be called on to produce a composition similar in style to that of an era.
Such was the case when he was briefed by commercials director Kevin Fitzgerald of 0307 Films for the current commercial for Tracker car recovery.
The ad, conceptualised by House of Brave, echoes Tracker’s campaign line, “To care is to protect”, and tells the story of a young Ray Charles, the blind pianist and singer who went on to become one of the most influential musicians of his, or any, generation.
The story of Charles would be nothing without Wiley Pitman, the man who discovered the piano-playing ability of the young genius.
The ad shows Pitman at first chasing the young boy away and then, later, helping him to play some boogie-woogie riffs.
Pitman, the ad says, took the time to nurture and protect Charles’s love for music and inherent talent.
Howard was briefed to compose two pieces of music.
First was to compose a typical “boogie-woogie” piano piece.
Says Howard: “Wiley Pitman was proficient in the boogie-woogie style of piano playing. Most boogie-woogie pieces are in the traditional 12-bar blues form – all having a distinctive ‘hook’ that gets repeated over the 12-bar form.”
The result was the “Tracker Boogie” – which is virtually indistinguishable from the boogie-woogie music of its era and which the young Charles would have started out playing.
But it is that distinctive “hook” that runs through the whole spot – and which was, says Howard, “the instrument of change for Ray Charles”.
At the end of the commercial, we see the young Ray Charles, just before he becomes famous, performing for a small audience.
“I had to compose a piece that would sound typically like a piece Ray would have performed at that time – and typical of the rhythm and blues-soul sound of that time.
“But the crunch was to weave musically the hook of the boogie- woogie into the new piece – because this is the point in the commercial where he pays tribute to his mentor – those few notes he was taught in the beginning and which changed a life for ever.”
The music production itself was, as it turned out, comparatively easy, because finding someone who could do the unique Ray Charles voice was a huge task.
Howard recalls: “We initially auditioned a few voices in South Africa… and to most people, the result was close.”
But most people are not director Fitzgerald, who was not happy with the singers found.
Howard adds: “We looked overseas and got our choices down to four singers – from the US, UK, Italy and Slovenia. Yes – Slovenia. Through connections in the UK, Howard was advised to check out Uros Peric, a 39-year-old jazz singer. “We all couldn’t believe how close Uros got to Ray Charles.
“Uros just gets that style – and of course is deeply influenced by the music of Ray Charles and has his own tribute show.
“He was an absolute dream to work with – and the result is a piece we are all proud of and a piece that hopefully stays authentic to the music of Ray Charles.”
Musical director and trumpeter Adam Howard believes in music for communication, even in advertising.
Jazz musician Uros Peric from Slovenia produces the authentic Ray Charles sound in the Tracker ad.