the commercials music primer

Published on .


Best known for their expertise in composing/sound design/mixing specifically for the commercials medium, can be small to medium boutiques or shops with several composers on board.

Admusic, Ant Music, Asche and Spencer (also does film), Bang, Barton: Holt, BigFoote Music, Big Science, Comma Music, Endless Noise, Fluid (also graphics and editing), Hest+Kramer, Human, Marshall Grupp, Mophonics, Music for Picture, Musicvergnugen, Tequila Mockingbird, tomandandy, tonefarmer, Tonic, Ripe Sound, Sacred Noise, Primal Scream, Pull,Spank, tomandandy, Wojahn Brothers, Wow+Flutter, Yessian Music

Andreini Sometimes you just want great original music and you don't need all the other services some shops offer. In this case the people who work and have worked in the commercial music arena for some time and understand the medium are sometimes your best bet.

Mason Good creatives and good producers know when a film needs to have a piece of music written for it. Licensing is not always the answer. Sometimes a film needs to tell a story with music and this is where these guys come in.

Meadows Flexibity with price, ability to turn around work quickly, give you an idea of what they have in their catalogue in line with your direction so you can give creatives the vibe of what they do, etc.

Andreini You don't want to end up with "traditional" ad music. Ultimately spots compete with every other form of pop culture, whether it's movies, TV shows, etc. Your music needs to stand out and if you are targeting the young market, it's hard to fool them with rip-offs of the real thing. The music has to be inspired.

Mason The decisions about who actually gets to work on our commercials can be clouded with political nonsense and that can be very frustrating but nevertheless there is a small world of exceptional talent available to us to work with. I've said small world for a reason. For the vast numbers of commercial music houses that exist, it's amazing how many of them simply aren't good, or they are just good, not great. Very few companies blow me away these days.

One-Stop Shops

Mostly big shops that have in the past few years expanded their offerings to include, among other things, hookups to talents outside the traditional commercials music world (record labels, music supervisors, DJs, recording artists/producers) Amber, Crushing, Duotone, Elias Arts, Face the Music, HUM, JSM, Machine Head, Megatrax, Stimmung

Andreini You have the flexibility of working with one company if you have multiple needs, i.e. doing original music, recording a new version of a licensed track or help in finding a licensed track that would be appropriate for your project.

Sitley The larger facilities have all the resources at hand. Amber music falls into this category. They have a great advantage with creative talent in New York and London.

Mason Great when there is a budget and a schedule flexible enough for people who don't typically work within our industry. Machine Head did some kick-ass music on Heineken with DJ Junkie XL, currently running in Europe. We explored music for six months to get it right! We never have a schedule like this.

Andreini Some of the companies out there that specialize in searching for licensed tracks may offer more expertise than some of the so-called one stop shops. It seems like a lot of music companies are offering to search for licensed tracks because they want a piece of that pie, but it's difficult to tell if they really have the right people with the proper skills for doing these searches.

Sitley Traditionally more expensive. Being so big and busy, some of the smaller yet still important projects can get placed on the back burner.

Kaplan It's like going to Wal-Mart. Most creatively and commercially viable artists would not want to work through one of these places.

Music Supervisors, Independent

These music mavens, many of whom have extensive experience in film or as DJs, put their ears and experience to work to help find the perfect tunes to license for spots.

Agoraphone, Ten Music, Deep Mix, Big Cheese and Associates, Jonathan Halfter/Big Sounds International, Renee Travis/Cheryl Churchill, Media Creature; Sanne Hagelsten/Zync; Randy Poster/Stephanie Diaz-Matos/Search Party

Music Supervisors, AFFILIATES

(linked to a commercials music company) Tricia Halloran (Hum), Jason Bentley (Machinehead), Liza Richardson (Stimmung), Paul Heck (Duotone), Patrick Oliver and Rohan Young (in-house Amber); 35 sound (Amber affiliate)

Andreini I've worked with Machine Head, Jerry Krenach at Big Cheese and others and they can really turn you on to some songs, old and new, that you never would have thought of.

Mason These are great for extensive music searches. Jerry Krenach of Big Cheese & Associates has come through with some awesome selections for several of our Heineken campaigns. Ten Music and Deep Mix have really great catalog representation as well. Ten Music's HANK hard-drive is such a great idea.

Kaplan Agoraphone is great. Beth (Urdang) and Dawn (Sutter Madell) have a nice aesthetic. They champion the artists they promote. And, they have an ethical and logical business plan.

Andreini Everybody has a different expertise or taste in music and you tend to get a certain style of music from each company/researcher. This makes it difficult to home in on the right style of music for your project.

Kaplan Some music supervisors look to exploit agency and record label's mutual ignorance of how each does business. Make sure all fees are disclosed at the time work is commissioned. At the same time, agency producers can be reckless when hiring multiple music supervisors to source the same labels and publishers for one specific commercial.

Mason Sometimes it's hard to get money approved to hire people like this. Since I am the in-house music producer, technically this what they pay me to do. I imagine these companies do well with agencies that do not have in-house music people.


The talents aren't just about ads. The folks here have equal footing in spots and worlds outside of commercials, from spinning for fashion shows, composing for art installations, or their own recording projects.

Groove Addicts, Groove Shaman, Mutato Muzika, Metatechnik, NY Noise, Q Department, Rubberband, The Rumor Mill (J. Ralph), Squeak E. Clean Productions, ONDA, Pink Noise, Thwak!, Pulse Music, Sound Music Productions

Meadows Fresh, untainted artistic perspective that often results in tracks that don't sound like "music house music" or "ad music."

Andreini I'm not that familiar with this grouping. I suppose I just lump them in with other music companies. It all comes down to the reel and the people behind it. I suppose Mark Mothersbaugh's company Mutato Muzika would fall into this category. In his case he is the personality and style behind that reel. It always helps a company's reel stand out if it has a strong point of view to cut through the clutter. In Mark's case I think it works to his advantage.

Kaplan Individual attention is always nice.

Mason These companies are great (in theory) if the budget and schedule allow. Honestly I haven't had great experiences with companies like these. I've found it difficult to get large-scale writers to do revision after revision, which is often required to get an original piece of music right. Also in many cases, these writers will not do "work-for-hire" since they are often associated with major publishing companies. The agency basically has to "license" the original track from these companies and can only use the music for a limited time. This won't work for companies that traditionally own the music created for their commercials.

Kaplan How are these people different from Human and Elias other than being marketed differently?

Record Quality

Main hook is a direct line to recording industry producers.

Soundproof, Blueprint (out of Crushing), The Elements (Amber)

Kaplan You get to relive you '80s delusions of grandeur one :30 music track at a time.

Kaplan How much effort do you think Pharrell Williams is going to put into your Stay Free :25/:5?

Direct to Label

Agency works directly with record labels to get a recording artist on board a project, either with an original tune or a remix of an already recorded track.

Andreini If the band is into it, why get a commercial music company to mock their sound if you can get the real thing? You just have to make sure they understand it's only 15 or 30 seconds.

Kaplan Cut out the middle man, get a better deal and more authentic product.

Sitley They can sometimes push tracks that are way off brief. Just trying to sell their newest or most seasoned artist.

Major Publishers

BMG, Dreamworks , EMI, Sony, Universal, Warner/Chappell

Kaplan They will provide for free many of the services agency producers and music producers farm out to indie song searchers.

Andreini I get plenty of calls from the labels/publishers(i.e. Dreamworks, Sony, Chrysalis, BMG) directly and I have used them to do research for my projects directly. The good thing is it's free, the bad thing is they definitely have an agenda (i.e. pushing a certain artist) and aren't as close to the creative process.

Kaplan Most publishers has an unrealistic view of advertising.

Sitley Often too expensive.

Talent Negotiators

Middlemen who clear the path to a track you'd like to license.

Examples include Production Advisors, Creative License, License Music Now

Sitley You rely on the expertise and relationships of the negotiator to get the best creative track & the best price.

Kaplan When you're executing larger deals where music is one component (ie. A superstar artist is on-camera and creating a special track for the spot ), these people are necessary.

Mason Great for securing obscure or hard to find music and great for agencies that do not have a staff to handle music related responsibilities. Publicis has a business manager that handles all of our music licensing negotiations so a need for these companies does not exist.

Sitley Have to pick the good ones. Sometimes ballparks are way off the final negotiations. I do not understand why I should work with a negotiator who receives a commission on the final negotiated price. There's a conflict there.

Kaplan When you're dealing solely with music, many times talent people lack the sensitivity to music to understand the nuances of a deal, such as a copyright's true worth, an artist's credibility level and sub-genre specifics such as sampling related problems.

Online Search Services (affiliated withUniversal Music Publishing),, Megatrax Music Source, (affiliated with Groove Addicts),

Sitley A great resource and research tool.

Mason Great idea in theory but I never use the online searches. Too time consuming and too much unrelated music to sift through. It's like shopping at thrift store.

Sitley Some can be clumsy to navigate.

Sound Designers

740 Sound Design, Mit Out Sound, Machine Head, Marshall Grupp/Soundlounge, Bill Chesley (Amber Music)

Kaplan On a personal level, I like Bill Chesley. He's very creative and has a passion for sound.

Kaplan I'm a big fan of letting the editor do the sound design. It's cost and time efficient. And, the effects usually get buried in the music anyway. For spots with no music, hiring a dedicated effects guy makes sense only if the editor or mixer can't or won't do it.

Editing Houses

Andreini I always appreciate when an editor can bring some great music ideas to a project. Hank Corwin is amazing at this. He has great taste in music. David Webb, Mike Colao and Jonathan Simon are also very good with music.

Sitley They're intimately involved with the spot-pacing, attitude, style. Usually offer up the best suggestions, ideas that we'd never thought of. Some of the best music & sound design suggestions were from Mark Langley, an editor at The Whitehouse, N.Y.

Sitley When they're way off, you start to second-guess if the cut is any good.

Kaplan Where demo love often starts.

Your own iPod

Andreini I'm always keeping my ears open for music that I think would be great for spots. As a music lover I like discovering new music through commercials. At the same time I hate it when advertisers use great music badly in their spots. It can definitely work both ways.

Sitley The IPod & ITune Music Store are invaluable research tools for finding music, either license or reference.

mason Music ideas flow in from everywhere. Editors have a lot of influence with music because they see the film first. Directors, clients, account persons, you name it - everyone wants to find the track that lands in the commercial. The same thing goes for me. As the music producer it is my primary responsibility to be a creative resource to the agency, and the inspiration I provide is only as good as my own personal commitment to staying not only current with what's happening in music but staying ahead of it.

Most Popular
In this article: