Outlook: Music & Sound Design - Squeak E Clean
Buzzy Cohen
Issue: December 1, 2013

Outlook: Music & Sound Design - Squeak E Clean

Buzzy Cohen
Managing Director
Squeak E Clean
Los Angeles

Looking ahead to 2014 first means looking back at the role of music in advertising over recent years. It’s varied greatly, ranging from the entire spot driven by and hanging onto the music, to acting as little more than a bed to create the mood. In any case though, music has always played a very important role in letting the viewer understand how they are supposed to feel about the product or brand in a way that is more unconscious and immediate than is often considered.
Traditionally, music houses were farther down the trough on the production timeline — sometimes even coming in after all other editorial and post had been done. In other instances, music houses have been tasked with creating the material around which an edit was cut. It’s really been on a case-by-case basis, but mostly, the music discussion has been a post production one.

I think the point where composition and sound design is brought in to the project is incredibly dependent on creative. My experience as an agency music supervisor at Media Arts Lab (TBWA) was one in which I was involved in the creative process from briefing and concepting — the very beginning. I’d work with the creatives as ideas developed, many of which required early music involvement — whether it be sourcing an existing track or getting an original composition written before or during the shoot. Other times it helped to see how a spot was shaping up in the edit bay, and the musical course would change. For example, you’d originally expect something up-tempo to work, but then come to see that something a little slower or more heartfelt would carry it better. 

One thing I look forward to doing more at Squeak E Clean in the upcoming year is working with our creative partners at these earlier stages of development, so we can help infuse the music into their idea instead of it sitting on top. The open-communication style of music teams isn’t dissimilar to how creative teams work; some ideas are more visual, while others hang more on a script. 

From where I stand, I’ve seen the traditional use of music in advertising change significantly this year. Overall, people are becoming more sophisticated in understanding the potential impact of music in the commercial arena, and they expect more from it. I think episodes like the use of the Beastie Boys’ track in the GoldieBox spot did more than just get people thinking about copyright and licensing. When the ad re-emerged with new music, it just didn’t feel as spectacular. People really got to see how important great music is in making an ad compelling.

Part of this may be tied to the shift from traditional :15, :30, or :60 ads to more long-form content. We’ve been working with brand and agency partners in more of this long-format storytelling this year, where the role of music is different but equally important. To sustain over these longer formats, the music has to modulate with the arc of the narrative and guide the viewer’s emotions, while avoiding ambiguity. It’s an exciting new arena in which to work, with its own set of challenges, and we are really relishing the chance to expand into new territory. 

That word, “content,” is one trend we keep hearing at Squeak E Clean. It’s the amorphic, industry-wide hot topic of the moment. In varied contexts and for different clients, “content” can mean very different things, and we’ve already been working with several partners to explore how to push the role of the “music house” in this area. Some clients simply just need some tracks, and on the other end of the spectrum, we’re helping brands concept around exciting new artists or music culture.  

As an ever-evolving music company, we’re finding the transforming industry landscape very exciting and creatively fulfilling. I think in the next year we’ll be seeing if music houses can make a business out of this new frontier of branded content.