This Note's for You

Ad agencies shoot spots; local "music houses" score

"I've had clients ask for the music to be faster," adds Beaty, "and I'll cut the tempo in half and they'll go, 'Yes!' because slower music makes the images go faster. We have to do a lot of guessing."

As a consequence of the business's time constraints, everything is recorded straight onto a digital hard drive, where music can be manipulated through a lot of last-minute tampering, from chord changes to major rearranging. "We live in hyper-speed here, compared to when you make an album," observes Beaty. "We work too fast to become too attached to a project."

"Sometimes," adds Werbowenko with a laugh, "you forget it exists until you see it on TV. We do 200 commercials a year, on average."

Mark Wojahn

That noted, speed and variety are constants here, and the anonymity of the work encourages its creators to don different musical identities, as if they were channeling musical past lives. They play everything from '50s lounge to '40s orchestral cartoon music to '70s funk, often within the same commercial. (For future lives they call on techno-crats like Heinrichs.)

Sometimes the visuals are even equal to the sonic crazy-quilt, as was the case with Miller Lite's acclaimed meta-mercial series "Produced by Dick." "We had to figure out why 1980s heavy metal was so cool for that one," says Spencer. "So we listened to the way they structured those dumb chords, and the way those chords were so proudly dumb."

"And we had to get proudly dumb to do it," adds Werbowenko.

But how do these musicians feel about working on an art form--commercials--which, though lavishly constructed, ultimately serves the sole purpose of moving product? "I look at them as a kind of entertainment," says Spencer. "Commercials during the Super Bowl are the most watched event of the game. It's an American fascination.

"I was at a bar recently, and one of the Miller Lite spots that we did came on. And we wrote this little intro that goes 'doodle-a-doodle-a-doo' to start off each of the commercials. The idea of that was to sort of get people to pay attention, and that's exactly what happened.

"I was in the bar having a drink, I heard that melody, and everybody's head went up to the TV. That to me was more exciting than seeing my own stuff on TV, because I saw that it actually worked. Everybody watched, they laughed, and then they went back to drinking. They all looked up for this fricking commercial; it's gotten into the culture."

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming...

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