Sidetracks

As advertisers look beyond television, music companies follow suit.

By Published on .

As client budgets shift money away from television and into technology, music companies are following suit, writing tunes for a plethora of non-traditional projects and diversifying in the name of both creativity and longevity. While it once was daring to record a full-length version of an ad song for downloading on iTunes or make a branded mix CD, the following companies are showing that today's music company hasn't outgrown the :30—it's evolving along with it. Spots are still in the picture, but the landscape also includes live events, ringtones, web projects and more. Here are some initiatives that caught our attention.

Endless Noise
"Now is the time to do work in evolving technologies," says Jeff Elmassian, creative director at Santa Monica-based music company Endless Noise. "Because it's new, there is less bureaucracy and more freedom because the collective of creatives are all working in small, nimble groups." Though the company is known for scoring spots for Nike, Citbank, Verizon and Audi, Elmassian and his partners have entered the world of ringtones in a partnership with record label Def Jam and American Greetings' AGMobile division. Their first task was to create 40-50 rhythmic hip-hop inspired basketball themes similar to a track written for Nike's "Freestyle," the award-winning 2002 spot composed of bouncing balls and sneaker squeaks. If the number seems baffling, it's because writing a ringtone has a different technique than scoring spots. "It's not ABA form and there's no 30-second arc," says Elmassian. "It's got to be noticeable enough as a ring and easily identified." Endless Noise also worked with Microsoft's Xbox group on a job that Elmassian says was one of his fastest and funniest. It involved composing and recording the soundtrack for a short film presented during the unveiling of the new generation Xbox at the E3 gaming conference in May.

Ten Music
When Ten Music founder Sarah Gavigan recently looked back on some of her company's jobs, she realized that the shop's role hadn't been just about hooking her artists up to spots, which is the foundation on which she's built her company since its inception in 2000. "We found ourselves on more concept calls than ever, working very closely with creative directors and directors to help them make different ideas doable through music." So last April, Gavigan decided to launch Ten's Extended Branding division and make her company's "extracurricular" activities official. The lion's share of fertile ground for EB applications has been online. In March, Ford interactive agency Wunderman enlisted Ten to help them create and serve as music programmer for "Mercury Radio Online" part of the marque's "New Doors Opened" branding campaign. Last winter for Target, Ten culled together a collection of indie music for a series of webisodes for the brand-sponsored Xtreme sports athlete Shaun White (freestylelivin.com).

The shop recently completed its first official project under the Extended Branding banner, in which Ten artist RedCola composed various tunes to complement the different components of the Virgin Atlantic website, which is divided into a series of branded Virgin flights like "The Trance Atlantic" and "The Higher Flier" (virginatlanticflights.com). As for compensation, which is always a huge issue when recording artists do commercial work, Ten came up with a method by which the agency could pre-pay for downloads of RedCola's tunes, which it can continue to purchase after the download supply runs out. "It's just twisting the business model a little bit," says Gavigan.

Yessian Music
The latest obsession at Yessian music has been with the gaming console and not just for that typical downtime fun. "Video games are probably the longest alternative form and the most involved, because it draws you into the games and many times involves peer groups," says executive producer Michael Yessian. Working with composer Danny Beckerman, the shop scored two video games released in 2004, Atari's Transformers and Terminator 3: The Redemption. According to Yessian, games can be complicated projects to score, with an average game lasting for a dozen or more hours and elements including opening and closing scores, character themes, cinematics, sound design and background music. He also says that games are long projects, but satisfying ones creatively because the musicians get involved in the process early, in discussions with game programmers.

Yessian composers also worked on two high-profile web-based projects recently. The first was a collaboration with interactive firm Organic on a pre-TV web launch for a new Jeep model. For the second, Yessian composer Chris Plansker worked with Mother/N.Y. to score one of the online films seen on the site of 10 Cane rum (10canerum.com), a brand launched entirely online.

Machinehead
"We are primarily a commercial house," says Machinehead founder Stephen Dewey. "We'd always had our eye on other activities, whether video games, short films, long form, art installations, whatever. When [composer and music supervisor] Jason [Bentley] came in, he was already in that video game world and so that door opened itself. We've been ready." Now working on a much-anticipated game in The Matrix franchise, Bentley is a busy man, composing and music supervising the huge game The Path of Neo. "All of the signature moments in the three films are represented, and all kinds of twists that aren't in the films," he says, adding that the game also propels the characters further and gives them life after the film trilogy. Music will be a big element of the game and its marketing, as Atari and Shiny Entertainment plan to promote Neo through fans of the artists as well. Games are a natural move for Bentley, an active member of the electronic music scene. "All of my creativity comes from my work as a DJ in the community," he says. "It keeps my finger on the pulse."

JSM
When advertising first started getting cozy with the music industry, JSM founder Joel Simon partnered with a record label, creating Artemis JSM. Now as mobile phones are equipped to deliver near MP3-quality sound, he has partnered with Decent Xposure -- a company that promotes emerging artists and sells ringtones for their songs -- in a recent deal to make ringtones for commercial clients. "Ringtones are so valuable because of the Pavlovian response that advertisers covet," says Simon," citing mnemonics for Intel and McDonald's. "If you can hear that on someone's table three seats away at a restaurant, then you automatically think of the brand," he adds. "It's an asset that should not be overlooked. As soon as marketers have a sonic identity, they should diversify into things that are unrelated to television and radio."

Ear Goo
Paul Goldman's 11-year-old music company Ear Goo started composing and mixing ringtones three years ago when cheesy MIDI files were de rigeur. "Try making a 50 Cent song with a Casio keyboard -- that's what it's like, and it's hard," says Goldman. But "In Da Club" became one of the first blockbuster ringtones and was used in the media as an example of the booming new multi-million dollar industry. "As composers, we could make them sound so much better. We were taking arrangement into consideration and testing them and mixing them on each phone. It's not like we were making a lot of money, but I was excited about the technology, and it's been good for us internally." Now armed with better technology, their history and musical expertise make them well-poised for the growing market. Other Ear Goo greatest hits include Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me," Ludacris' "Roll Out," Sir Mix a Lot's "Baby Got Back" and the theme from "Will and Grace."

Hum
When GM signed on to be an official provider of vehicles for the 2005 Grammy awards, the automaker looked to create a memorable sonic experience for the event's celebrity carpet-strutters.Through McCann/San Francisco, Hum Music provided ambient music in the backseat as well as along the press line for its influential guests to set the tone for the event. Large screens lining the carpet showed an animated film about the vehicles and blasted the tune, by Hum composer Rob Lopez. "The agency was thinking of it as a new way to show off the car to a specific audience," says Jeff Koz, executive producer. "I like to leverage opportunities that involve music, and you have to think differently. I think there needs to be more strategy to get the achieved result." Hum was also behind the music for the buzz-stirring Paris Hilton car washing ad for Carl's Jr. and Mendelsohn|Zien, and now hopes to work with them to continue to promote the single and its artist, Eleni Mandell.

Q Department
From the day Bosnian-born composer Drazen Bosnjak launched Q Department in 2003, he's applied his craft to a wide spectrum of musical canvases. "I wanted to have a healthy, diverse balance of commercial work and absolutely non-commercial work because I deeply believe that's the only way we'll be able to continue doing the commercial work tomorrow," he explains, noting how having a mixed project base not only keeps him and his fellow composers creatively inspired, but it's also allowed Q Department to build "cultural capital" and establish legitimate roots as a truly multi-tasking music player. The company's shamelessly extra long reel sports not just memorable spots for Brawny and Nintendo, but also a string of branded content projects for brands famous for setting the creative bar high. The shop, which recently opened an Amsterdam outpost, has composed music and sound design for a film from the Diesel Dreams' showcase, My Dark Horse is Horny, and for a slew of Tronic-directed projects like Nike's Art of Speed, Sharp's "Bloom" art installation, and the recent GE-sponsored traveling installation for it "Ecomagination" campaign. Bosnjak and crew also recently collaborated with hip hop clothing designer Marc Ecko on a trailer for an upcoming video game, and last year, his shop produced music for the adidas-sponsored Bronx Soundwalk, a CD guide that provides a walking tour of the borough's graffiti and hip hop landmarks, as well as Yankee Stadium. "These brands are putting out this [content], feeling like there's value to them," Bosnjak notes. "I feel the same way and want to be supportive of people who are pioneering this."

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