Laundry detergent doesn't seem like the kind of product that would employ a cool spot musical score, let alone inspire musicians to come up with one. But the composers at Tonefarmer considered Bartle Bogle Hegarty/New York's animated campaign for All so fresh they couldn't help themselves. Raymond Loewy and his fellow 'Farmers came up with ideas ranging from a New Orleans marching band to a grunge track to something they described as having "an updated Gene Autrey vibe." In the end, the more electronic and goofy-sounding piece resembled none of those ideas, but that was OK. It was fun getting there.
"Last week alone, we created a heavy track with guitar and drums, the next day it was a very light orchestral tune," says Loewy, who founded Tonefarmer-no relation to the band-in 2001 with president/executive producer Tiffany Warin. "Variety's probably not a big deal with a larger music house, but as a smaller shop we look forward to the challenge of being inspired, mixing things up and changing hats often."
There are probably two examples that best illustrate just how Tonefarmer rises to the challenge. For Saturn's "Wedding" spot from Goodby Silverstein & Partners, Loewy sat down and played Pachelbel's Canon backwards and then took that recording and played it forwards to give the baroque track a little slur and texture. To simulate a Gregorian chant for an upcoming Andy Awards spot, Loewy tracked himself 40 times, to sound like a choir, using lyrics he'd written in Latin. Most recently, Tonefarmer's mixed bag has included some heavy-action sound design for a couple of the We Channel's new programs and an original track for We's branding effort. For Burger King and Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Loewy's team created more ambient-nature sound design tracks, while for Nike and Wieden + Kennedy/New York, composer Joey Spallina scored a classical cello piece for a spot featuring comedian Tommy Davidson. Probably no Tonefarmer composer has changed hats more dramatically than Spallina, whose musical talents were discovered when he was brought in as a general contractor to expand Tonefarmer's studio space. An 04 highlight was his score for a MasterCard spot, a new arrangement of the "The Bridge on the River Kwai" march.
Tonefarmer is housed in a 1911 former sewing machine factory loft in Chelsea, now expanded to include three new studios and a live room. In addition to Loewy, Warin and Spallina, the staff includes composer David Della Santa and office manager Casey Smith, better known in hip New York music circles as lead guitarist for the band Sexy Magazine.
Warin is a 12-year agency veteran whose resume includes both AE and creative stints at Goodby, Wieden and Deutsch. Loewy, described by Warin as a "musical genius," could play a rudimentary version of "The Star Spangled Banner" on piano before he could even talk-according to his mother. A music major at Duke, where he wrote a symphony for his senior thesis, Loewy worked various odd jobs, including playing for Twyla Tharp dance rehearsals, until he landed steady work at music and sound houses Zen Music, JSM and Rebar Sound, where he often crossed paths with Warin.
Some of their favorite music can be heard in the recent hip-hoppy Attik campaign for Scion, as well as in the orchestra score for a new Microsoft commercial. In addition to an upcoming project for UPS and The Martin Agency, Loewy tries to take on independent film projects when time permits. Tonefarmer has scored two films for Sony's annual hi-def short film series, working with directors Frank Todaro and Brett Morgen.
"We know we're lucky to be working so much," Loewy says. "But we're also trying to keep our growth at a slow, steady pace. We don't hire a ton of freelancers, and we try to take on only what we can do ourselves so we can pay close attention to detail and people always know they're dealing with the principals. The most important thing is to create long-lasting relationships."