You can win an Oscar for music, (best original score, best original song). If the Academy Of Motion Pictures and Sciences feels it is necessary to recognise music’s contribution to film it must be pretty important.
Where would ‘The Sound Of Music’ be without music? What about ‘Jaws’? How good is Tarantino at employing music to enhance his storyline and visuals?
When it comes to television commercials the audio part of the creative equation is often an afterthought.
There are exceptions. The ‘Dumb Ways To Die’ campaign by McCanns Melbourne comes to mind. Mo & Jo of MOJO fame used their inimitable music style with great success for brands such as Meadowlea, Toohey’s, AMOCO and Viscount Caravans. The Red Agency put Status Quo to work for retailer Coles and polarised critics. Sting provided a soundtrack for Jaguar.
But creating popular music is an inexact art. Many of the world’s greatest songwriters don’t profess to know how their ‘babies’ were conceived. Often the success of one tune over another is completely dependant on chance.
In an article titled “Write Me A Hit By Teatime: the world of professional songwriters,” Alexis Petridis wrote:
“Two years ago, Al “Shux” Shuckburgh found himself catapulted straight into song writing’s premier league. The Londoner hadn’t expected much from the track he’d produced and co-written at a songwriting session with American tunesmiths Angela Hunte and Jane’t Sewell-Ulepic, about how homesick the pair was for Brooklyn. Later, Hunte sent it to Jay-Z‘s label, Roc Nation, but received a frosty response.”
“Then EMI’s head of publishing overheard it at a barbecue, and decided it would be perfect for Jay-Z. The following night, the rapper wrote his own lyrics, recorded them, and then excitedly told Alicia Keys he had “a song that was going to be the anthem of New York” and asked her to perform on it.”
“Back in London, Shuckburgh wasn’t even allowed to hear the track. “Well,” he says, “I could have heard it if I’d flown out to New York. But they were being so careful about anything leaking. At that point, I didn’t really have a track record, they didn’t really know who I was, so they didn’t know if they could trust me.” In fact, the first time he heard Empire State of Mind was when The Blueprint 3, the Jay-Z album it appeared on, finally leaked online. “It was very weird. I remember listening to it in my studio thinking, ‘Is this for real?'”
IF OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS, OPEN THE DOOR:
If you think outside the box and keep an eye out for the main chance, then sometimes the music can come first as was discovered by Miles Copeland when he managed superstar Sting. How it happened was spelled out for an article in Advertising Age by Scott Donaton entitled “The Story Behind a Landmark Music Commercial”
“The story begins with the video shoot for Sting’s “Desert Rose,” the second single from his late 1999 album Brand New Day. The video called for Sting to be driven through the desert to a club. The director chose a Jaguar S-Type as a cool, contemporary vehicle.”
“When Copeland saw the finished video, he says he realized, “My God, it’s a car commercial.” He sent a copy to Jag shop Ogilvy & Mather. They were intrigued, more so by Copeland’s proposal: “If you will make the commercial look like an ad for my record, I’ll give it to you free.”
“The label had earmarked $1.8 million to market the single, Copeland said, including $800,000 to make the video. By contrast, Jaguar spent $8 million to air the spot, which visibly promoted the artist and album. Copeland’s blue eyes still sparkle when he recalls the figures, almost unheard of in music marketing.”
“Before the commercial, Sting got little radio play for the exotic single, and sales ambitions for the album were a modest 1 million. After, Copeland says, “Desert Rose” played on 180 Top 40 stations and sales soared. It was Sting’s biggest solo album, selling 4 million copies in the U.S. Jaguar sales also skyrocketed as younger buyers flocked to dealers.”
In an attempt to get a feel for music as it is today ctl avoided talking to superstars, (truth be known we don’t know that many, alright, none). We thought it might be more relevant to speak with someone who is at the sunrise of their career, someone who is immersed in music and has made it their way of life. His name is Alexie Pigot. He hails from Coffs Harbour on the fabulous NSW North Coast. He recently moved to Sydney for career purposes. When I caught up with him for lunch and a chat he was fresh from a three-day trip up north to busk and play at the Nambucca Hotel in Macksville.
ALEXIE ON GETTING STARTED: “I’ve always loved music. I used to sing in the choir at school from very early on. While I’ve always had a good ear for music the first time I tried playing guitar, at about 13 years old, it just didn’t click. I don’t know why. It was my dad who suggested playing drums and that’s how I got started playing in bands.
(Save the jokes about drummers not being real musicians.) About 1 year into learning the drums I was getting pretty comfortable on those and something inside my head said have another go at the guitar. I did and this time everything fell into place.
“Now I like to combine drums and guitar for my live act and I experiment a lot in the studio with different combinations of tempos, timings and styles. My big thing now as well as performing live, is song writing and recording my material and producing/engineering for other artists.”
ALEXIE ON SONGWRITING: “No one really knows where great songs come from. Not even the people that write them. Leonard Cohen once said, “If I knew where great songs come from I’d go there more often.” Paul McCartney says he wrote Yesterday in his sleep and Carol King only wrote natural Woman because Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler suggested the title to her. When I write, I pretty much feel the song comes through me, not from me. I don’t really know what that means but that’s how songs happen for me. It can take weeks or years to finish a song but it can also take just 15 minutes. However you do it, when you come up with a great tune it’s the best feeling you can have.”
ALEXIE ON PERFORMING: “I like to perform as much as I possibly can. Getting on stage and meeting and connecting with new people, a new audience and expressing yourself in real time is a huge part of what I think music is all about. Yes of course sometimes things go wrong but you learn and you refine your stagecraft. I like to introduce a bit of comedy between songs and if a disaster does happen you make it a part of your show. Feel the crowd and what they want. I think if you have a preconceived idea of what the audience wants that’s when you fail to connect. After a good night on stage I find it hard to sleep because I’m buzzing from the memories; that’s one of the main reasons I love playing music.”
ALEXIE ON GETTING PAID: “Like everybody in this business I’d like to find a publisher and get a record contract but on my own terms. If that never happens that’s OK, I’m happy doing what I’m doing but if hard work has its own reward I’ll make a bit. You know if you play your own songs live and register the performances with APRA (Australasian Performing Right Association) you get paid some extra pocket money. I worked out that for last year I probably earned $150 by this method, and I wasn’t playing my originals as often as I am now. At first glance it can seem like it’s not worth the hours of time to do it. It took me 2 hours to fill in the forms. But when you crunch the numbers that’s $75 per hour! Plus, I was still working out how to do it for the first time; so next year should be a lot easier as I’m updating the list as I go.
I’m not worried about fame but I am ambitious if that makes sense…? I want to succeed but that doesn’t have to mean being famous, as long as I’m loving doing it and I can put food on the table… *chuckles* That’s really important because I really like food you know… Someone said if you love what you do you’ll never have to work a day in your life. That’s me I love what I do.”
ALEXIE ON FILM & MUSIC: “Made for each other, every time a get the chance to work with a film maker I jump at it. I also think film is so important in this day and age because you need to have something visual to catch people’s eye on the very crowded internet. The most valuable commodity these days is people’s attention, they have done studies to conclude that pictures and videos get a substantial amount more attention & clicks than a soundbite or plain text in a medium like the Facebook newsfeed etc.”
We finished eating. (Which Alexie liked a lot.) I picked up Alexie’s guitar case and handed it to him. I remarked how heavy it was. He laughed. He said it was full of the money he had made that morning busking. He hadn’t as yet had time to go to the bank.