Ant Music's Emotional Antennae

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When it comes to creating music for commercials, Anthony Vanger, founder and musical director of New York's Ant Music, believes that any particular musical genre takes a backseat to the emotional content of a spot; indeed, he argues that both grunge and classical can generate happiness- "If I can get the people who wrote the ad to tell me the emotion," says Vanger, "then things are a lot easier."

For a recent high-profile project, a trilogy of spots for MasterCard and McCann-Erickson, Vanger knew that the agency was looking for a grand orchestral score to lend the story a cinematic quality (the ads would break during the Academy Awards telecast). Part of MasterCard's "Priceless" campaign, the ads follow a Boston terrier named Badger who is left behind while on vacation and must hitch home with various colorful strangers, while Spanish composer Victor Reyes' sweeping score lends a poignant but hopeful theme to his journey. Working on preliminary versions of the score, Vanger was, of course, playing up the emotion-but it turned out to be the wrong one. "We originally thought it was a tongue-in-cheek take on Hollywood," he explains. "The little dog was funny to me, so we made a big Lassie-style score to go with this little dog, and it was funny. But the agency thought of the dog as sad, and that changed everything."

Vanger and Reyes flew to Prague to record the newly-dramatized score with the 60-piece Czech Philharmonic Orchestra; Vanger wanted to use live musicians, and the Czechs were within budget. "I've been trying to get people to spend money on live musicians because they put the emotion into the piece," Vanger says. "You just can't get that with synthesizers."

Vanger produced and composed for advertising at L.A.-based music house B5 Atomic from 1998 until 2001, when he founded Ant Music. With a team that includes executive producer Chuck Kinsinger, the shop most recently scored spots for American Express, BMW, Hyundai and Rolex. "There seems to be a movement toward classical music again," Vanger says. "Strings elevate the sound; they makes things sound expensive."

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