Music In Advertising

Music In Advertising

This is a re-post of an interview originally published in spring 2010.

 

Bill Meadows is the Executive Integrated Producer of Music, Celebrity Talent and Public Works at the very successful advertising agency Crispin, Porter & Bogusky.  He began his career as a frustrated lawyer and offset his discontent by being in bands and DJ-ing. He has been working with the agency’s creatives and clients to integrate music, celebrity and brands for the last eight years at Crispin and has placed music in far too many successful campaigns to list here.

 

Music Supervisor Bill Meadows

 

 

Music Consultant:

 

Tell me what a day in your life is like. You do more than just music. You’re really looking to incorporate music celebrity with the brands the ad agency’s clients – correct?

 

BM:

 

Yes. My job involves everything related to music and then I do celebrity talent negotiations as well. To a degree I get involved in events with the “Public Works Team.” If the event involves music or celebrities, or if we want to book a band or a DJ or a new venue owner, I might get involved with that. I’d say 99% of our content has music or sound involved with it and I’m involved in procuring the appropriate music for TV spots, interactive work, etc., everything from national campaigns down to award shows. There’s a creative element to working with the ad agency’s teams that are involved, to try to find what they’re looking for and perhaps make suggestions, but ultimately get them what they’re looking for, because it’s their baby. I’m there to help them and hopefully help them make their work better under their guidance, as it’s their creative project. Certainly a big part of everything I do is the business side to negotiating the terms of the deal.  That can be anything from hiring a music house to compose a musical score or licensing a track by an existing artist from labels and publishers or even stock library music.

 

Music Consultant:

 

Could you estimate what percentage of the music you use is by original artists?

 

BM:

 

I hesitate because it’s cyclical. It’s rather unpredictable. This doesn’t exactly answer your question, but my instinct is that the more dialogue-driven the spot is, the less chance there is we’re going to use a known artist.  I am fortunate to work at a highly creative agency, and there is a lot of dialogue-driven content. Certainly less than half of what we use is from an existing artist – meaning a vital, working artist.  Yes – more than 50% of our stuff is composed for the spot.

 

Music Consultant:

 

You’ve been a musician, so you know about running around with a demo and trying to get arrested with it. What would you say to somebody who is an aspiring artist or an artist who is a work-a-day artist and not a known quantity yet to get your attention?

 

BM:

 

I’ve never worked at a major label, but it’s probably not too different.   I get loads of demos and stuff in the mail every day.  I fully respect everyone that’s sending me stuff and the music they’re sending me, but it’s just that there aren’t enough hours in the day to give the stuff I get the appropriate attention. Blindly sending stuff isn’t necessarily the worst thing you can do, but it’s hard to prioritize listening to things when there’s so much coming in. I think one comment I made on a panel last year was that basically think about what would you do to get on the radio before? People nurture their relationships with radio. An artist would go to radio and get interviewed and play a song in the studio and nurture that relationship on a personal level. I think in a way I’m contradicting myself because I certainly may not have enough time to meet everyone personally but there are a lot of people like me out there.

 

There are a lot of ad agencies and a lot of ad agencies that don’t have music producers. Letting people out there know about you and that you’re great is best done in person. I think touring artists should certainly make efforts. For example, I’ve had a lot of people – even platinum artists – perform in our lobby for people at the agency because they want to get to know us. It’s certainly well appreciated and starts a dialogue and a relationship amongst the parties. Even if something doesn’t happen immediately and we don’t license a song the next day, those people are always at the front of our mind because you had a personal connection with them. If I were in a band right now and my focus was to promote my band, I’d figure out where there were advertising industry conferences and try to go play shows on site during the day acoustic or try to play the after party and get in front of the decision makers and influencers in the system, with reasonable expectations of the results – not expecting necessarily that there will be a meeting within the next week to bag a giant national ad campaign. But starting a grassroots network of those people and staying in touch with them and working it on a personal level is really important.  So, say you’re at a show and you’re playing at a show in Atlanta. Figure out what ad agencies are in Atlanta and figure out who are the creatives there – the writers, art directors and the producers or people who have music in their titles.  Try to go by there during lunch and bring five pizzas and an acoustic set, and invite everyone to your show that night. Put them on the guest list and send them all zip files of your tracks. Nurture that network of people, because it’s not likely that you’re going to get on the radio. You have a much better chance of getting exposure through the platform of advertising and media buys than through the platform of radio. Also, there’s nothing speculative about the cash flow. If they like the song, in 30 or 60 days you get a check. It’s not like, “I’m going to make an album and hopefully someone downloads a song or buys the album.” It’s real money in your pocket. It’s really mostly about the personal relationships and developing that network, in my opinion.

 

Music Consultant:

 

Tell me about third-party aggregators. The companies out there like Pump Audio who is part of Getty Image and there seem to be more of them every day. Do you ever use aggregators like that who develop relationships because they have a wide catalogue and stuff that’s easy to clear? Is that a viable way to get heard?

 

BM:

 

If you want the honest truth, I did business with Pump Audio for the first time this week. I think we licensed a song from there. Nobody’s ever promoted it to me. I’m aware they are a big entity and do tons of business so I’m sure they must have something great going on. To a degree, I tell people that come to me – make no mistake, I hope you print this – I don’t hold myself up as some music industry expert, because I’m not. I’m just an educated outsider to the workings of the industry of selling music. But a couple people have come to me – artists I know – and have said, “Hey, I got a publishing deal with a big publisher. What do you think?”  If someone is asking me that, I want them to get the most attention they can from the people that are working on their behalf.   My instinct would be to assume that if you are with big aggregator with hundreds of thousands of songs maybe you would get lost in the shuffle and not the individualized attention that you need to promote your music. But I don’t know that to be the case, because as I said, I’m not on the “music industry” side of the equation.

 

Music Consultant:

 

My philosophy is, if they’re non-exclusive and you still promote yourself, sign up.

 

BM:

 

Yeah, I like the idea of non-exclusive but I don’t think you can rely on aggregators alone. If it’s part of a number of things you do to promote your music, then that’s the call. Perhaps it leads to other things. Someone likes the songs, and maybe the person that licenses it comes back and says, “You know who was great? So-and-so.” And then they go back to it and it opens the door to a relationship.  So perhaps to that end, have a comprehensive approach with the aggregator being one part of that.

 

Music Consultant:

 

Tell me about the decision-making process. You like a song, and how many people chime in at the ad agency? How does that decision usually come about?

 

BM:

 

There’s a creative approval process that has multiple levels. I might suggest certain songs, but ultimately it’s somebody else’s creative project, I’m there to facilitate someone else’s creative vision. My role is slightly creative and deal making and hustling. I want to be creative, but you’re always deferential to a creative’s opinion, because in their mind they see it a certain way or hear it a certain way. I’m there to try to interpret what they’re saying and to get what they want. There are various levels of approval. When the agency has an agency-approved, internally-approved song, it is extremely rare that the client has ever disagreed with our music choice. There’s only one time in eight years that  a client ever brought up a discussion about music we had chosen. The only way it may be an issue is if after we’re in the process we decide we really like this one song that’s by a super famous artist that exceeds our budget, and we have to go back to rework our budget and get more money to get another song. They might push back on that because of budgetary issues, but creatively it just never happens that a client pushes back. It’s strictly an internal process.

 

Music Consultant:

 

Speaking of budgetary constraints, how often do you have a call for sound alikes? How often do you conversation with someone and say, “Hey, I need something that sounds like ACDC because I don’t have the two million dollar budget?”

 

BM:

 

The term “sound alike” is problematic and is never a term I want to hear anybody use at Crispin. When you’re creating a sound alike, presumably you are trying to create something that sounds like something you can’t afford, and you’re asking for a whole list of legal issues. It’s a creative and legal minefield. I never endeavor to sound just like any other song. First of all, I want to open up our minds to different types of music and not say, “We have to have one thing.” By the same token, you don’t know what people are going to do. If you made the mistake of saying, “We’re looking at certain song A.” It’s really easy for someone to go into the studio and try to rip that song off and say, “Oh, we had this song lying around.” I don’t want that kind of situation. I don’t want to be put in a situation where I’m involved in trying to get close to sounding just like any other song so I do everything I can to avoid tainting the process.

 

Music Consultant:

 

I commend you, because there are a lot of people who are in the knockoff business.

 

BM:

 

There are. It must’ve been five straight years of Coldplay “Clocks” rip-offs on the air. How have they not sued any number of places for ripping that song off? I felt like every time I turned the television on, there was something with that exact same stuttered drumbeat and piano. There’s so much music and so much great music in every genre that is available to be licensed that there is no reason you should have to create a sound alike. It’s creatively narrow minded to say, “We really love this Beatles or Led Zeppelin or AC/DC song, and we have to have that or something that sounds identical to it.” That’s just lame and means you’re lazy and not open to listening to other music and creatively exploring what options there are to make your spot great. That’s just lazy. There are too many great artists that are known and unknown and too many great pieces of music that are available to be licensed at reasonable prices that you can get that can make that spot great without going to the originals. It’s just lazy and lame to rip songs off.

 

Music Consultant:

 

Are there places you look online for music? When you’re not looking for a human being, is it random Internet search, or … ?

 

BM:

 

Having been at this for a while,  I know a lot of people with a lot of great music.  When I know styles of music or budgets of music or whether we’re looking for big artists or mid-sized artists, or we don’t care which type of artist and know what the task at hand is in my mind people will pop up to contact.

 

Music Consultant:

 

Which archetype of person?

 

BM:

 

In interest of efficiency, I trust if someone’s pitching me music, they know their catalogue of 20,000 songs a lot better than I do.  People have organized their music and know how to navigate their catalogue and find what I want a lot faster than I can look online at their catalogue. In that type of situation, I’ll go to publishers or labels or third parties. There are third-party individuals or companies that will take a whole label’s catalogue or have ten labels they represent.  I like those people, depending on what it is, your regular catalogues and labels. I’ll also contact bands’ management directly. Sometimes if I know an artist and I don’t know who their management is, but I know the artist and I will contact that artist directly. All of the above. As you might imagine, I have thousands of CDs on my shelf. Once in a blue moon I’ll be on the shelf looking for something, but the reality is the person out there who’s pitching music knows their catalogue best. If I go to them and say, “Hey, this is what I’m looking for, etc,” and then I reach out to a number of those people I get a lot of music in and filter through stuff and figure out what’s appropriate and filter out what’s not appropriate. You don’t want to give a creative too much stuff. You don’t want to give them 100 songs, because they don’t have time to listen to it. I like to give them about fifteen songs around, so they can rip through it pretty quickly and maybe pick five things from that they want to put to picture.

 

Music Consultant:

 

Any parting words of advice you might have for people trying to get your attention? How about don’ts? What is the most common don’t?

 

BM:

 

Please don’t take this the wrong way, but if you’re just going to send me something in the mail, I have to have a reason to open it up. If I get ten padded envelopes or CDs a day in the mail and they’re all that manila color and there’s a printed out label with my address on it, I need a reason to open it, not because I’m a snob, but I get a lot of mail and while part of my job is to open mail I also have many other tasks.  If I open something and there’s a CD with a magic marker or sharpie-written thing that says, “Bob’s Music,” it gives me a reason to not listen to it. If you don’t take enough pride in your product to represent it properly, it’s hard for me to spend the energy to check it out. Present your product as if it’s the only shot you’re ever going to make. In no way take that as that I am too snobby or cool to listen to it.   Just the sheer volume is such that you should take pride in all aspects of your work and career. If you’re not confident and passionate enough in what you’re presenting then it’s hard for me to get psyched about it.

 

I think blindly sending mail doesn’t do anything. You need to call, e-mail and be patient. And calling me isn’t ever annoying. I respect the fact that people are trying to hustle and make a career. It’s not at all annoying to me to receive an e-mail once a week or two from someone or a phone message. I shouldn’t be the only person you’re doing it to. You should be doing it to 100 people. I’m one guy at one agency. I think people see it as just the fact that they got me on the phone means they’ve reached the finish line. “I got him on the phone, I sent him my CD … now the money’s going to start rolling in.” Maybe there’s a letdown when a month later they say, “Hey, what’s up? You haven’t licensed any of my music yet.” I tell everybody who I deal with pretty much that if you’re patient with me and have an on-going dialogue, at some point we’re probably going to hit on something.

 

There are people I’ve known for years that I still keep in contact with, and for whatever reason it’s never resulted in them getting cut a check. There are other people that have hit me up on Facebook, and I’ve met them somewhere and had lunch, and a month later, we hit a deal. There are a lot of factors beyond their control and my control that determine whether or not we’re going to connect. So, work your network, stay on top of people. There’s a fine line between it being a little over the top and staying on people’s radar. You have to stay on people’s radar because of the amount of people that are calling. Even if I love someone to death, and they’re super cool, if I haven’t talked to them in five months, it’s not in the front part of my brain to get in touch with them.

 

I think another interesting thing is that some of the most influential music people by the nature of the process are editors. A lot of time stuff comes because an editor starts cutting some music as part of a demo spot and it may influence the director as to where the music goes.  So, if you have any friends that are editors, definitely give them your songs. I think one thing that’s super important too is to have instrumentals at the ready, and also to have your stems at the ready as well. Lyrics can be a great thing and make something really hit, but more likely than not you have a better shot at placing something instrumental. Don’t just try to push your version with vocals, but have the instrumentals with them. Its’ hard for things to sync up lyrically with a campaign, and additionally, if it’s a dialogue-heavy spot, creatively it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have vocals conflicting with the dialogue, because it distracts from what you’re trying to do with the dialogue. Frequently I say, “Can I get an instrumental of this?” And the person says, “Oh, I don’t know. I have to find my producer” or “I have to find my engineer.” Having those versions ready is vital. Having your stems available is also definitely important. A song may be great for something, but there might be some issue with timing or how it times out in a spot. You want the song to come in at a certain point and you need someone that’s mixing it and editing it on the sound side to hit the transitions in an exact spot, you can’t do that with someone’s MP3 with vocals on it. You need instrumentals or splits so they can chop them up to get really specific. Having those is really important.

 

You can learn more about Bill and the work he does with artists on the Crispin Porter & Bogusky website.