I wrote this a few years ago on my blog: it’s reprinted here as a tribute to one of the jingle kings who passed away recently. Those who knew him will have no trouble recognising him:-)
I was a young session player starting out and was a little perturbed at the staid nature of most recording sessions. JH soon fixed that…
I did a recording session for a TV commercial (or “jingle” as we young hipsters say) a couple of weeks ago. I love doing jingles: it’s how I learned my craft as a session musician.
Jingles are great training: you have about 30 seconds to nail the sound, style and feel of a genre of music with which you’re not over-familiar (musician-speak for “I’ve never heard/played it before”) while helping the jingle producer persuade the client (usually an ad agency creative director who doesn’t know a bass drum from a church organ but can name the best 10 champagne vintages while chopping out a line of the fine Columbian with one hand and rolling a pencil-thin joint with the other and whose job was acquired courtesy of “Daddy”) that you’re giving them exactly what they asked for even though you’re doing heavy metal and they asked for jazz.
Jingle producers are a fine breed, though I suspect the true characters have been replaced by corporate-friendly automatons. Here’s a roll-call of some of the great producers/writers I worked with week in week out. If you recognise yourself and wish me to remove the reference to you, consider to what manner of bribery I may be susceptible and apply it liberally. Or sue me…
I worked regularly for the ethereal genius Lord D.D., whose creative process consisted of staring into space for ten minutes and then playing something of great beauty. The Americans loved him because he was a bona-fide aristocrat, and the musicians loved him because he was a joy to work with and let you put your own stamp on it.
Then there was the gloriously barking (though I suspect he hammed it up a bit for the clients) J.H., whose speciality was being so rude to the clients that he became an attraction himself: they would bring <em>their</em> clients down to the studio to see him “perform.” A typical J.H. “turn” would go roughly as follows:
Client: “Excuse me,J.H., sorry to interrupt, but what’s that thing going ‘boom-boom?’ It seems a little loud…” (referring to the bass drum which we’ve turned up louder than it will be in the final mix as a timing reference.)
J.H.; “Why don’t you just f$@k off over the pub till I’ve finished: I’ll come and get you when I’m ready.”
J.H.’s client would nudge <em>their</em> client and giggle: “See? Told you he was a character…”
Honourable mention must go to the ever-cheerful C.S., whose good spirits and relentless bonhomie still grace the studio today. Imperturbable even in the face of such embarrassment as his co-producer of yore falling asleep mid-session face-down in his Big Mac (in front of the clients!) due to a night of over-indulgence in the Cognac with the latest in a long line of obscure Italian Countesses who he had managed to persuade to finance his latest “brilliant” film venture (usually by enthusiastic mutual application of the marching powder.)
C.S. also once shot me a look of warm gratitude (when to be honest I’d expected a stern frown and a close look at the studio door) when I finally ran out of patience with a film director who couldn’t understand why I couldn’t play the intro to “Duelling Banjos” (which has no tempo) over a piece of film which had already been edited to an equal lack of timing references and make the notes coincide with the cuts in the picture. I informed him in my best Scottish accent : “Ah cannae change the laws of physics, Cap’n!”
Then there was another C.S.; a successful actor who’d set up his own jingle business and once ejected a particularly stupid client from the studio with the immortal words: “I’m far too rich to have to deal with the likes of you: kindly leave.”
Final face in the rogues’ gallery was not a regular jingle producer but a film-score writer whose career was about to take off spectacularly… and he knew it.
He’d taken on the job of doing a jingle for a drinks manufacturer: they wanted Southern Rock and he hired me. (This session was also notable because it was the first time I’d seen an Apple Mac computer doing the job of the tape-machine… a foretaste of what was to come!)
After his third joint and dozenth dumb-ass question from the client he lost interest in the project completely and sat reading a porn mag while I fumbled my way through the job. Weeks later he was picking up his first Oscar.
These (and others) were my bread-and-butter work, my trainers and my educators in the business of recording for many years. 3 jingles a day, 4 or 5 days a week, until the late 1980’s when advertising agencies (who used to send their creatives on training courses to learn how to spend three times as much money as was needed on any given project) pulled the plug on the greatest gravy train known to musicians.
Anyway… this jingle I did a couple of weeks ago: we spent hours spotting guitars to the film. One of the interesting things about doing music to picture is how literal you should or should not be. In this case, they wanted to be literal but still groovy, so I’d have to play fills that started on an odd place in the bar to hit a cut in the picture but still feel “in the groove.” You can disappear up your own fundament doing this stuff, but the guiding hand of P.N. and my grate frend S.P. (who is uterly wet and a weed) got us through it.
Thus it was with great anticipation that I sat down to watch the first airing of this fine example of audio-visual collaboration… and just managed to distinguish one single guitar lick buried so far back in the mix as to be almost inaudible, and guess what? : it was the one lick that was NOT timed to co-incide with a visual event!