TRIBECA, MANHATTAN: Everything is opening up for music supervisors at advertising agencies.
Brands are open to every channel available for getting their message to consumers. Meanwhile, the music supervisors that help select and license the music for their clients have to be ready to adapt their skills to everything from mobile to live events.
But these important musical influencers are also becoming more open about how they work. That’s the case with Ryan Fitch, Music Producer at the famed New York City advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi. Since joining the global agency in 2004, Fitch has worked on countless campaigns, and is more than willing to share the insights he’s gained as a result.
Fitch — who is also an audio engineer and drummer – is in good company at Saatchi & Saatchi. The agency currently employs over 6500 people at 140 offices in 76 countries, with six of the top ten and over half of the world’s top 50 advertisers as their clientele: Miller, General Mills, Kraft Foods, Lenovo, Mead Johnson, Novartis, Procter & Gamble, Toyota and Visa Europe are just the tip of the iceberg.
Being a music producer at this level requires knowledge of countless developments in music, from original music and synch licensing trends, publishing workflows, and legal issues, to iPad OS updates. And, of course, finding the world’s greatest music before anyone else does.
You’ve been at this for eight years, but it sounds like your job at Saatchi & Saatchi still feels fresh to you.
The music industry has been in flux pretty much since the boom of the Internet, which wasn’t that long ago. So that’s engendered a different kind of creative, with evolving trends.
And also the ad world has been in flux. There are more screens and channels where we can reach people. All of that has been keeping me on my toes, and every year I’m constantly evolving with new trends and new ways of working.
It forces you to stay fresh, because you’re constantly in new production terrain and adapting.
In your musical role in the advertising world, what are the biggest rewards and challenges?
I think for me it’s one and the same. It’s a very collaborative process, because there’s a lot of people involved and a lot of cooks in the kitchen.
I work closely with the creative teams here. We have creative directors, and when commercials are in production, there are also the director and other production companies involved. Everyone usually has some kind of input on the musical direction. Finally, and most importantly, we have the clients we’re servicing who have the final say to what gets approved and what’s going on air. On average, there are usually around 10 people or so, that are involved and want their opinion heard.
So the fun and most rewarding part is collaborating, finding out everybody’s two cents and where the music target is. That’s the most challenging thing too, obviously since music is very subjective.
If I’ve done my job right, then everyone’s happy: We found a piece of music everyone likes, is right on budget, and fits the criteria that everyone is looking for.
What are some of the other obstacles you have to deal with?
One of the challenges is that there’s a lot of music out there — it feels like a never-ending process sometimes. You feel like there may be something that you haven’t heard yet that could be the cut.
Additional roadblocks we may run into are that sometimes people may have an idea for something that’s very iconic that’s expensive and harder to license. Or it could be that we’re falling in love with a new buzz band that’s very precious about their songs, and may feel conflicted about licensing music to an ad agency. Part of my job is to feel out the situation and help make sure that the team doesn’t get too attached to something they can’t have and set themselves up for heartache.
Another challenge I face is that everyone has access to the Internet. Sometimes random tracks with no credits come up from places like YouTube, and it’s very hard to know who to contact and who holds the rights to the song.
Some days my job isn’t so much about pitching good music to the team but rather being a music referee or musical sleuth. You have to know the music target that everybody is looking for, and hopefully steer the ship in the right direction to avoid the obstacles. Which is a part of the fun, you know? It can be cool to find a track that’s really obscure — maybe there’s this gem that’s been out for a while that no one’s discovered yet and it’s exciting to make things like that work out.
Music Supervision Trends — An Advertising View
To be of interest for licensing by you, can a song have been recorded in any year, or is an ad agency music supervisor going to use only classic tracks or something very new?
Definitely any year is valuable — it’s an open playing field. Every commercial has its own brief, its own unique problem to solve, so not every genre will work for every spot.
One of the main things we look for is that it hasn’t been overused. If it’s been overly licensed, especially in the same category of the brand we’re working on, we’ll look elsewhere. We try to make sure a track we license hasn’t been licensed to another ad campaign in the last five years, and really the less it’s been licensed the better.
In Europe, the recent trend is re-recording classic songs from the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, but doing something new and fresh with it. You’re starting to see it happen more here. There was a really cool spot that was on air last year with “Don’t Fence Me In” for Nokia. They flipped it on its head, and it sounds different from the original in a really cool way. It will be interesting to see if that becomes more of a standard practice here.
In terms of music genre and style possibilities, the sky’s the limit. It’s about whatever suits the commercial best and elevates it to it to its highest point — in terms of supporting the creative, and getting peoples attention so that the message of the commercial can be heard.
What’s changed the most about your job since the day you came on in 2004?
When I started there was more original music going on and we would work a lot with composers. Now it’s more about licensing existing tracks.
I don’t know what the reason for that is. I think people are getting spoiled with the gratification of endless music. There’s this huge pool of music out there today, and never-ending searches that can be done. Some of our teams don’t have as much patience for original music, which is a shame because it’s so great to craft something original that’s been finessed and scored for the spot. The teams expect instant gratification now that they can be pitched endless amounts of songs quickly.