Songs That Sell

Welcome to the world of syncs, music imaging and sonic branding– a constantly shifting universe of buzzwords and ad-speak. Gordon Masson sifts through the jargon to discover what the evolving ‘sync’ business can offer songwriters and publishers in 2011.

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 19 Apr 2011
  • min read
Welcome to the world of syncs, music imaging and sonic branding– a constantly shifting universe of buzzwords and ad-speak. Gordon Masson sifts through the jargon to discover what the evolving ‘sync’ business can offer songwriters and publishers in 2011.

While the recorded music industry backs away from using television advertising to market new albums, the value to publishers and labels looking to sync their music in ads has never been greater, and the market for original music is generating significant revenue for writers. Research from media trend analyst ESP Marketing has revealed that the increasing cost of television ad slots is pricing them out of most album release budgets, while evidence suggests that the number of people buying albums on the back of TV advertising remains static.

But with music still an integral part of nearly all adverts, the importance of sourcing appropriate soundtracks for branded messaging is turning up the heat for sync specialists, and competition to win lucrative ad contracts is intensifying. Despite a couple of years of recession, television, radio, online and mobile platforms are combining to provide growth areas for the advertising industry. And with a business worth more than $600bn per annum, specialist companies that act as rights clearance houses for agencies and brands have become commonplace.

One such operation is London-based Ricall. ‘We have well-established relationships with key advertising agencies and they use our website to get quotes on certain songs, or they’ll contact us and tell us about a specific brief so that we can do some research and help them source a piece of music for their client,’ explains Phil Bird, Ricall’s VP of commercial development. He says there is anecdotal evidence that advertisers have been turning to more production music during the recession, while others will sometimes want a cover version of a track. ‘That’s usually down to budgetary reasons, but sometimes it’s because the client will want a different version of a song to better suit their product.’

EMI Music Publishing senior sales manager Nick Oakes says that using cover versions still requires songwriter permission. ‘We work with lots of ad agencies as well as music supervisors and companies like Ricall and Sound Lounge,’ says Oakes. ‘Sometimes the briefs we get from agencies are very detailed and come with reference tracks, story boards or even an early cut of the advert itself. Other times they might come to us before any filming has taken place to ask advice on what we think might be the direction to go.’

And as the royalties writers earn from record sales continue to dwindle, Oakes reports composers are much more willing to work on advertising projects. ‘We’re signing commercial songwriters who are interested in writing music for advertising or film, outside of writing for their next single or album. Calvin Harris, for instance, wrote an original piece for Coke last summer.

‘Writers are lot more savvy than they used to be and realise that their music on adverts gets their music heard and reaches a bigger audience. At the same time, more acts are happy for their music to be used in ads because they’re better produced, directed and shot than they were 10 years ago.’
Among EMI’s recent advert syncs are Motorhead’s Ace of Spades (Kronenbourg), Tinie Tempah’s Pass Out (Assassin’s Creed) and Mercy by Duffy (Special K), while Universal by Blur has been used in British Gas commercials for some time now.

When it comes to revenues, Oakes says production music is rate-carded with set fees. ‘For other music it depends on how long an ad campaign is going to run for, which territories it will be used in and what platforms it will be used on – TV, radio, cinema, online mobile devices – so every deal is different,’ he explains. But Bird says that the process of selecting a track to sync in an advert isn’t as straightforward as people might think. ‘The more well-known an act is, the less likely they are to agree to their music being used in an advert, which can be frustrating. Conversely, new music tends to cost less to license than established older tracks, as the labels and publishers recognise the promotional value of having the music used on air.’

Although many brands opt for established hits, an equal number demand original music to accompany their campaigns. This demand has increased the number of composers and companies that specialise in providing such services, and the industry even has its own trade body, the Society for Producers and Composers of Applied Music (PCAM).

PCAM tries to moderate the fees and usage calculations across the business to create a level playing field for writers. ‘We let the advertising agencies know what they should expect to pay for music, while at the same time we guide composers on what they should be charging for their work. If advertising campaigns get used in other territories, for instance, we can provide guidelines on what the charges should be for that usage,’ explains the organisation’s CEO Jonathan Goldstein.

Delicious Digital, which was founded 10 years ago by Ollie Raphael, creates original music and audio products for brands, broadcasters, record labels and publishers. It distinguishes itself from other music houses by using its own internal composing team and studios to create a number of works for its clients to then choose from.

‘The way we deal with advertising briefs is that we’ll gather our team of composers and musicians together to talk about the brief and then send them off to their studios to work on the music,’ explains Raphael. ‘As a result, we’re often able to take a selection of music back to the agency, meaning a client gets a few ideas from one source, rather than having to deal with multiple pitches from lots of people.’

Delicious has made a name for itself by turning commissions around very quickly, thanks to its in-house set up, and Raphael contends that associating a brand with original music has many advantages. ‘If you have a bespoke track, then as a brand you’re not competing against that music,’ he says. ‘For instance, if a Beyoncé track is used to advertise a car, who is the star of the ad, Beyoncé or the car? With bespoke music, there isn’t that issue.’

Of course, using known tracks can work wonders too. Ricall’s Bird cites adverts for cars, perfume, mobile phones, clothes and electrical goods as the biggest users of music. ‘They want to be seen as cool and new, so those kinds of campaigns tend to spend more on music than others,’ he tells M. ‘That can range from a few hundred pounds to tens of thousands depending on the track and how it will be used.’

One of the most successful new kids on the block is New York-based Jingle Punks, which despite being less than three years old, is already supplying thousands of syncs every week and has opened offices in Los Angeles, Canada and Australia. ‘I spent 10 years editing television shows and saw that the way music was optimised for search-ability in the media space was done really poorly,’ says Jingle Punk co-founder Jared Gutstadt. The company’s Jingle Player allows clients to search the song library by using music and non-musical terms. ‘For example, one can find a whimsical acoustic lo-fi track by simply typing in the word Juno, which is a film synonymous with this type of sound,’ says Gutstadt.

‘My logic was that if you needed to explain how it worked to a client, then it was probably too complicated and they would never ever use it,’ he continues. ‘All the music in our system is pre-cleared so anything the client finds is fair game. Music publishing in the past has been more complicated than it needed to be so we try to make it easy and painless.’

Jingle Punks are also involved in the lucrative field of sonic branding, which are arguably the most profitable creations in the music business, with Intel’s five-note jingle, Nokia’s ringtone and McDonalds’ “I’m Lovin’ It” tagline among the more famous. Raphael believes the whole idea behind sonic branding is the same as the use of all music in advertising. ‘You want to create an emotional trigger that connects people with a certain brand as soon as they hear that sound,’ he says, citing such campaigns as the bugle in the Direct Line adverts and the development of the ‘ching-ching’ campaign for Asda. ‘You have got to try to understand what is at the heart of a brand,’ says Raphael. ‘If you can do that, then you can write music that can truly connect and be developed with the brand moving forward.’

With a background as a radio DJ and presenter, Mark Goodier established his company Wise Buddah to provide services in radio programme production, jingles and music imaging, audio post-production and talent management. ‘Advertising is a very competitive market to get into because you’re fighting on a number of fronts,’ says Goodier. ‘There’s the challenge of competing against a brand manager who might just want a song they know, but it’s also the case that certain agencies will have their favourite companies to go to, so it’s difficult to break in as a newcomer.’ Undeterred, Wise Buddah is aiming to fulfil its advertising sector ambitions through a simple, but effective, recruitment drive. ‘We’ve made the decision to bring in some new talent who are more active in the sectors we are not yet in,’ says Goodier. ‘We’ll be able to offer them more work through our Jingles and Music Imaging department and hopefully at the same time we’ll be able to get a foothold in other areas to help grow the business.’

Jingle Punks’ Gutstadt believes that the ferocious scramble to win business is ultimately improving the quality of service to ad agencies. ‘We’re seeing a lot of old players die off and the Darwinian nature of our business has shown us that only the strong and unique can survive in this poor economy,’ he says.

PCAM chief Goldstein, who is an experienced composer of advert music and recently worked on Sky Broadband’s commercials series, acknowledges that the marketplace has become increasingly congested. ‘There’s definitely a trend of more composers trying to get into advertising,’ he confirms. ‘We added 45 new members last year, some of which were music production companies representing multiple writers. It’s a highly competitive and overcrowded market, so the only advice I could give to anyone is to try to make sure their music is heard by as many people as possible - like anything else, if someone likes what you do, that’s where the work will come from.’

Raphael agrees competition is fierce. ‘You’re up against hundreds of guys in their bedrooms with computers who will work for nothing just to get a commission, but ultimately brands want quality to promote their products.’ But he doesn’t dismiss bedroom composers and reveals he is constantly on the look out for new talent to strengthen the Delicious team. ‘My advice for anyone trying to break into this sector is to ask themselves – what makes them stand out from everyone else? We’re always looking for exciting and new creative talent, but they also have to be able to react to someone’s direction and not everyone can do that.’

Case Study
Advert: Vauxhall Corsa Grafitti campaign
Track: Ooh La La by Goldfrapp
Agency: McCann Erickson
Licensing clearance: Ricall
Record label: Mute
Publisher: Warner/Chappell

Phil Bird, Ricall’s VP of commercial development, explains that the agency McCann Erickson had made the first contact in this deal. ‘They came to us with the brief for the Corsa ad and we identified about 20 songs which we sent to them using the Ricall website,’ he remembers.

The agency then short-listed three tracks, and asked Ricall to provide quotes from the relevant record labels and publishers. ‘The way it works is the labels and publishers speak to the artist’s management to get clearance on whether the artist is happy for their song to be used in the commercial,’ Bird explains, ‘and then they put together a price for using the track, so there are a lot of decision-makers in the chain. In the end, McCann Erickson chose Goldfrapp’s Ooh La La to provide the music for the Corsa advert, and we handled all the licensing issues for them.’

Have a look at the Top 10 advert songs: