After graduation, Westman moved to New York with sights set on the record industry, but instead found a job as a recording engineer at Times Square studio Counterpoint, where most of his clients were from the ad world. Soon after, O&M took him in as an assistant producer. He's spent 20 years at the agency, his tenure also interspersed with gigs producing at music houses Crushing and JSM, as well as a stint at McCann-Erickson and some time freelancing. The last three years he's been back at his original shop, where he says he'll stay put. Westman has worked on "just about every major brand you could think of," overseeing such memorable jingles as Diet Coke's "Just for the Taste of It," from Billy Alessi and Joey Levine at Crushing; to Kodak's "Share the Moments, Share Life"; and the still-running "The Touch, The Feel" Cotton theme. "The original idea was to have a very emotional and engaging 60-second piece of music that could be adapted in the future," Westman recalls of Cotton. The initial execution, from the late '80s, written by Zach Smith and performed by Woodstock legend Richie Havens, was a milestone in ad music, but its schmaltz wouldn't stand a chance in 2003. But thanks to Westman's serious shepherding - bringing on vocals by Aaron Neville, or ultra-cool instrumental facelifts from JSM using gritty guitar and, most recently, techno remixes that abruptly change stylistic modes - the tune continues to evolve and remain fresh to this day.
Westman notes that in recent years music has played an increasingly crucial role in the industry. "I'm busier than I've ever been," he says. He continues to sing the praises of traditional commercials musicians, especially when it comes to catchy tunes. "If somebody came to me and said, 'I want a song written,' you're missing an opportunity not to go to a Crushing or a JSM. That's their specialty." But with the ever-colliding worlds of entertainment and advertising, Westman can't ignore the musical opportunities provided by publishing houses and licensers. He worked with Stimmung music supervisor Liza Richardson on one for Motorola that featured European pop act De Phazz. He also collaborated with publishers to bring Jurassic 5 to Sprite and emerging artist Alana Davis to the American Express "Make Life Rewarding" campaign.
It's almost as if Westman has finally achieved his original pop aspirations on such jobs, but in the end he feels most at home in the studio working with live players. "I have a love affair with really smart, brilliant, musicians," Westman explains. "I grew up with them and I know when they're the real thing. You can see what they're doing is truly special and not just doing what's cool like everybody else. They're truly innovative." He also feels most comfortable doing big, orchestral work, a staple on his reel, which features a chilling abstract composition by Art of Noise's Anne Dudley for World Wildlife fund; playful accordion from Amber Music for mLife's "Bellybutton"; proud orchestral for AIG, out of London's Joe & Co; and a harpsichord gone askew on AmEx's "Superboy," via Mutato Muzika's Mark Mothersbaugh. The former Devo member, who also composed the music for Wes Anderson's Rushmore and The Royal Tennenbaums, immediately likens Westman to the director. "He really thinks about music, the orchestration and arrangement, which is Wes' forte as well. He loves to play with the way instruments fit together and create a sound." A fitting comparison, considering Westman's own assessment of his craft. "I approach music the way a director does film. I like to be in the studio, casting, knowing who the players are, framing the session with the proper attitude, guiding the musicians and the vocalists through the process and being the liaison between them and the creatives. I'm not just a guy who makes phone calls and seals the deal."