The First Commission (Part 2)
Tony Hastings provides plenty of inside information as he concludes his tale of how a lucky break resulted in his first commission in the lucrative world of advertising jingles and soundtracks.
I began Part One by explaining why I had decided to try and break into the advertising and jingle side of music writing. If you recall, I had reached the point where, having just talked myself into an appointment with an Art Director of a major London advertising agency, I had hurriedly put together a show tape from 'thin air' to illustrate the range of musical moods and styles I was capable of creating. Here's what happened next...
Armed with my show tape, I arrived at the agency's main reception and was promptly ushered through to the Art Director's office. We sat down and - over a cup of tea - I explained the sort of tracks I had recorded and gave her a brief list describing each piece. We then talked for a while about the agency and the sort of things that she was up to at that moment. She explained that, between her and her partner, they were working on about four different projects at the same time and that it was quite normal practice to have many different jobs running concurrently, all in different stages of development.
Their main job at that time was a campaign for a new daily newspaper that was shortly to be launched. They were still working on ideas and I quickly established that there was no music written for it at present. So, having got a rough idea of the style of advert they were aiming for, I suggested that I could record a demo of some ideas for them - she agreed. We finished our tea and I went home, eager to start work. 'Strike whilst the iron is hot' seemed a very applicable saying.
The first thing I decided was that the music should be very 'pacey' and exciting as the newspaper would be advertised in that way, with fast edits and clever use of video techniques. I also felt that the sounds should be very 'hi-tech' to support the fact that the paper was going to be launched and operated in a very modern fashion. To me, 'hi-tech' means cavernous drum sounds and Fairlight-type voices and, luckily for me, the Mirage sampler I use has a large library of all the right sort of sounds I needed.
After a few hours I had some music that I thought was quite good - but it lacked a certain something that 'identified' it as newsworthy. Then I had a brainwave - why not try putting a sort of Morse code type of sequenced line right at the beginning, to lead it all in? That seemed to work perfectly for me, as if the music itself was coming out of a communication medium. I ran off a quick cassette copy and dropped it into the agency.
A couple of days later I got a call from the agency: "Yes," they had heard the music, "No," the project wasn't finished yet, so they couldn't tell me if they wanted it, and "Did I want a different job?"!
One of their producers had heard my demo tape and also the latest bit of music and wanted to use me for something else that had just come in. It was a four minute promo film for a new range of 'space' toys from America which was to be shown at different toy fairs around the world until the product was readily available. "Was I interested?"
They said the fee would not be large because the budget was tight and then proceeded to offer me a figure that seemed a pretty good deal. I explained that as this was my first job for them (or anyone else... ssssh, not a word), the fee was quite acceptable. The next thing to do was to have another meeting (as you might have gathered, a lot of meetings take place in the world of advertising) to discuss the format to be taken for the space toy advert and to read through a rough script.
The plan was to have approximately four minutes of footage demonstrating the various different features of each toy, with an extended look at each one towards the end of the film. There would be a lot of very fast cuts showing things like the cockpit springing open on a spaceship or the radar tower swivelling around on a space station. The Producer and Art Director both felt that the music should be "space like", but not in a Star Wars way - more like a Frankie Goes To Hollywood way?? Also, the music would have to be done 'wild'. That means it is recorded at a separate time to the visuals and the two are matched together at a later date. This can, of course, cause some problems because you don't know where the dramatic scenes are in the film, which makes it difficult to accent them with the music. On this occasion, all I had to supply was about four minutes of suitable music recorded on quarter-inch tape at a speed of 7½ inches per second.
For the first time I actually had to create some music that would compliment a selection of visual images. Unfortunately, the script I received gave only a very general idea of the shooting order of the toys - ie. at what point the 'Space Cruiser' would be demonstrated, or the 'Star Troops' would be marched out - but little else was there to help.
So I decided that the best way to approach the project was to divide the music into sections of either four or eight bars. This would let me easily lengthen parts or chop and change so that I could tailor the music to fit the duration of the film as closely as possible.
I intended the first four bars to set the scene somehow, so I hunted through my various synth sounds until I discovered a usable 'fanfare' type synthetic trumpet sound and experimented with simple three- or four-note phrases concentrating around the root and 5th of the chord (these notes sounding the most apt).
As soon as I had established this introductory theme I added a few harmony sounds to give it body. The next set of eight bars introduced the rhythm of the piece. I programmed a suitably funky drum pattern for this, mixing sampled drums from the Mirage along with the TR707, and kept the pattern repeating as I tried out various bass riffs on my ESQ-1 synth.
There is little point in describing the detailed process of creation that went on, as it was a very random affair with me trying out different ideas until one sounded right. Strangely, though, as soon as the first part of the music had been written (and I was happy with it) the rest started to follow on, and pretty soon (three to four hours) I had about two minutes of musical ideas arranged in a sort of logical order. I quickly ran off a cassette copy and went round to the Art Director's flat (it was the weekend) to play her what I had done. I didn't want to spend too long working on this music only to find that nobody liked it.
She put the cassette on and listened intently. As soon as it was finished she said that it was perfect, the only thing would be to ensure that the timings were right. She told me that they were filming the action the next day (Monday) and that I would be able to see a 'rough cut' Tuesday or Wednesday. I would then only have Thursday to finish the music and get a copy of it to the Producer because it was being sent to France on Friday for its first showing!
I actually got the phone call late Wednesday afternoon saying that there had been some hold-ups in the editing suite and asking if I could get to the office for 8 o'clock that evening to pick up a video copy to work from. I arrived at the office as requested and they showed me the video. As it transpired, they had done a little more than the predicted four minutes of filming. I watched it very carefully and realised that the music would need a lot of rearranging to suit the mood of the visuals. To start with, my idea of beginning the rhythm after only four bars was much too early. I took a VHS copy and drove home, trying to remember in my head where the major points of the film needed emphasising.
It was now 9.30pm and I had until lunch-time the following day to complete the music, so there was no time to waste! The first thing I did was to drag the video player into my music room and hook it up to the portable telly. Then I got my Pro-24 sequencer ready to play and started them both at the same time. It quickly became apparent that not only were many of my original 'mood change' points out of sync with the visuals, but also that the entire length was too short. It wouldn't be enough just to keep repeating sections, I needed to write some more bits, whilst retaining the same style and feel as the other parts.
Using a stopwatch, I timed the major points of the video. Then I did some calculation to work out whereabouts they would occur in terms of bar lengths. At a tempo of 128 beats per minute there would be 32 bars in a minute or 8 bars for every 15 seconds. Changing the tempo would allow me to 'stretch' or 'contract' the music as necessary.
I stayed up until 4 o'clock in the morning working on the length of the music, chopping out bits here, copying bits there, until eventually I had some music that followed the film pretty closely even though there was no 'locking' together using SMPTE (the industry standard synchronisation code). In a few places, little melody lines I had written matched the action exactly - purely by chance - but the end result really looked (and sounded) effective.
To finish it off, I programmed the synths to all play one big chord at the end which sustained for about 20 bars to allow a long fade-out in case the timing of the end was not spot on. I mixed it down onto my Revox, adding a dash of MIDIVERB for extra spatial effect (make no doubt, when used in moderation a good reverb is worth more than its weight in platinum for adding a touch of class to everything), then I went to bed!
I got to the video editing suite at noon with two copies of the finished music on quarter-inch tape and one on cassette. The first thing the engineers did was to transfer the music from the quarter-inch reel to one-inch video tape. In this way, they would be able to run the two video machines (one with visuals and one with music) together and dub the music onto the visuals as accurately as possible.
I explained to the girl operating the editing machine where the music should start. After a few attempts we got the point exactly right and she typed in the start time on the machine. Now the music would start exactly at the correct moment without the need to physically hit the 'Play' button. Four minutes and fifteen seconds later the music had been recorded onto the video tape and everyone was very happy with the results. We went to the pub, had a couple of pints, shook hands and said goodbye... That was it, all over.
On arriving home the first thing I did was to add the finished music to my showreel. Then I typed out a CV that explained who I was and described the contents of the showreel, including (of course) the music I had been asked to write for the BBC's Micro Live programme and the commission from a major advertising agency. Then I went and got a dozen blank cassettes and made them up into showreel cassettes ready to send to other agencies and interested parties. I even invented a company name to work under because I felt it created more of a sense of professionalism than just 'Mr A. Bloke, Jingle Writer'.
As you can gather from this article, I was lucky to get as far as I did. Meeting the right person (the Art Director) at the right time was vital, but having something to back it up was even more essential. I live in London and, generally speaking, this is where all the really big agencies (and big bucks!) also live. But if you live out of London there are still plenty of ways you can start to break into this field.
For a start, most major towns and cities have one or more local radio stations, so why not record some radio jingles along the lines of the ones that the station already uses and send them in? If the stations are commercial they will already broadcast adverts from local businesses. Those adverts will almost certainly have come from a local advertising agency so try and track them down (phone the radio station and ask them who produced a certain jingle), then send them your showreel and CV along with a brief covering letter. The more that you can offer in terms of facilities, the more attractive you will appear to the agency. If you can give them a finished master on tape that they can use, then it will save them hiring a studio and any costs saved can be spread in other areas.
Another avenue worth pursuing are hospitals. Many have an in-house radio station that more than likely plays jingles. If you are prepared to offer them finished jingles for free (remember: hospital radio employees are volunteers) and they use them, it can only go to make your showreel and CV look better.
Again, major areas of Britain have local television that advertises local products and they also need music. Someone must be producing it, so why not you?
One very important person to approach is an agent. To be honest, if I hadn't had that one chance meeting on New Year's Eve I wouldn't be writing about my escapade now. Even so, I might never get another commission because it's a big world out there and my contacts are still relatively limited, but an agent's job is to know everyone of importance. It's the agent who will be one of the first to hear of major new projects that are looking for music, and it's the agent who will be interested in getting you lots of work because he will make lots of money out of you if he does.
There are many agencies that specialise in music for films and adverts, so get hold of your Thomson's local directory or Yellow Pages or try speaking to large companies who advertise regularly and see who they suggest. Agents are like everyone else, they want to be impressed, so the higher the quality and variety of music you can offer them, the better.
So, to finish, if you are serious about entering this field of music (and it doesn't suit everyone) and you are convinced you have the talent and necessary equipment, then go for it in a big way! Knock at every door and really sell yourself - it might not happen tomorrow or next week, but if you don't keep trying you'll never succeed. Someone once said, "Perseverance without talent is a pain, but talent without perseverance is a crime."
Feature by Tony Hastings
Previous article in this issue:
Next article in this issue: