Music Supervision at Saatchi & Saatchi: Ryan Fitch on Licensing, Libraries and Discovering New Artists

TRIBECA, MANHATTAN: Everything is opening up for music supervisors at advertising agencies.

Ryan Fitch, Music Producer for Saatchi & Saatchi (photo: Warby Parker)

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?

The marketing concept of Lovemarks -- one reason why Saatchi & Saatchi is moving with music.

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.

But the industry keeps changing and evolving. We’re also getting more involved in live events. And as our interactive department grows we’re finding new homes for music with new media.  Music fits into different campaigns and different ideas, and we’re constantly learning about new scenarios, and how certain rights need to get negotiated for certain media, and whatnot.

Matching the Band to the Brand

What’s a project you’ve done recently that you’re particularly proud of?

We just finished a Trident gum spot, and we licensed a track from the New Zealand band The Naked and Famous called “Young Blood”. They’re a new band, great song, really anthemic, really great vibe. It was really cool that their track worked so nicely with film.

But it was a tricky one to edit and I spent hours in my office trying to get it to work.  When you’re editing a licensed track it can be like a puzzle since you might only have a stereo file to work with. There are the main pieces that have to hit the picture a certain way, and then you finagle it so that all the pieces fit.  I’m proud of how we pulled it off.

In the full length version we were struggling with how to have everything hit and not make an odd time signature where it feels like it loses a beat.  Luckily, we realized that there was an underwater scene and if we made the music feel like it also went underwater we could disguise the timing so that it’s not noticeable that we have an odd meter.

How did you find that track?

I’ve been a huge fan of these guys since last year, and their album came out last spring. I’ve been recommending certain tracks of theirs for a long time to our creative directors. I recommended a few different tracks for Trident — in the whole process we reviewed close to four hundred other songs — but we knew “Young Blood” was it.

What was the creative brief?

We were looking for something that felt anthemic, from a new emerging artist that hadn’t been licensed too much. It had to be something memorable that had a good hook to it and stuck with you.  Also, we wanted to find a song that could help take you on a fantastical Trident journey and that ebbed and flowed with the storyline of the commercial.

How to Pitch Your Music to Fitch

What’s the right way for an artist, label or publisher to get your attention?

For me, email works well, and don’t be offended if I don’t get back. If there’s something new and worth checking out, just shoot me an email.  I try to listen to everything that comes in. If I like it and can use it, I’ll get back to you.

What’s the wrong way for them to try and get to you?

For me, phone calls don’t really work too well. I’m better with emails that are short and to the point. At the end of the day, it’s all about the music. I’d rather just hear what you’ve got then talk about it.

People should definitely be educated about what we’re working on. There’s ways to find out what brands and clients we have, and look to see if those brands have a certain sound.  I can’t stress enough for people to do their homework and try to research what we may be looking for.  If you’re sending random songs without a focus of what they might be used for then the odds are really low that they would work.  But if you know the brand character of the things we work on, then pick the songs you think could work well for that brand and shoot it to me.  Basically, be smart about it and don’t cold call.

The worst was when someone showed up unannounced to play us a song personally — the receptionist said they wrote a perfect song for a cell phone ad. Well, we don’t have a cell phone account!

Online Licensing Tools & the Risks of Retitling

What are your favorite online resources for finding music? Why?

I have a lot of favorite resources and they all bring something different to the table. It’s all about knowing our budgets, and what tiers of resources we may be looking for. Jingle Punks and Pump Audio are great up to a certain price range, and if it’s right for the budget we’ll look into resources like that.

Jingle Punks is just one of Fitch's many resources.

But if we have more money, we may look into indie labels, or just know we don’t have to be so cautious and that we can work with people in a wider price range.

Stock music is cheaper, and we do license a lot of stock music. There’s also a lot of one-stop-shops [providing pre-cleared music for synch licensing] these days, like Audio Socket, Pig Factory, and Riptide — I have a list of about thirty one-stop shops that I like to reach out to.

Those resources are great, and more and more of them are popping up. I try to be familiar with their strengths: maybe its indie rock, or folky singer songwriter stuff. That helps me know which ones to go to when I’m looking for something, and who might fit the brief best.

There’s also tons of different music blogs I’m always keeping my eye on, plus other music supervisors I know and colleagues that I think have great taste and are always keeping their ear to the ground. It’s about having a good network and having great ideas shot to you – and knowing who’s best for the budget.

What are the tradeoffs for music supervisors, that come with using one-stop-shop music licensing agencies?

One caution is — with the way the industry has been changing and developing — there have been a lot more people repping music catalogs, and not all of them are doing it exclusively.

So one of the challenges is that we’re getting the same music sent to us from different places and some places are even are retitling it. I guess certain bands think its best to be non-exclusive. But the problem for people like me is that if it gets pitched to us from two different companies, it gets more complicated to license. If it looks logistically challenging, we may back away from it.

Based on that, what’s your advice to artists who are considering placing tracks in retitling libraries?

The sources we like best don’t have anyone else repping the music that they have. It just makes life easier knowing who controls the rights, and who to negotiate with.

Also, stay away from places that retitle your music.  That’s a weird thing to do, and there’s a chance those companies might not totally be on the up and up and have a hidden agenda with your music like not paying you if it gets used.

The Unique Challenges of Producing Music for Advertising

What do you think is different about music supervising for commercials, as opposed to film or TV shows?

Well, I only come from the commercial world, and only dabbled a little in the film world.

Timelines are definitely much more accelerated in the commercial world. It’s not unusual to have a quick turnaround of 36 or 48 hours to create/find the music and make sure all the song rights are negotiated.  But usually we have a couple of weeks to work on a production, from once we have a rough cut to when it traffics to air.

This band is next on Ryan Fitch's synch hit list. Keep reading to find out who they are...

The worst is when you have too much time.  In some cases we have worked on certain projects for over a year.  Those projects can be tough because no one will make a decision with the music, so you have to be strategic with searching/exploring the music and not waste away too much of the music budget in the process.

For me, I prefer to have a rough cut to work to and not do extensive song searching too early.  It can be hard to know the target of what we’re looking for in pre-production.  You can try to predict where you want to go vibe-wise, but until we see the film it’s really hard to know what will work best with the music.  Sometimes the lighting or the way the film was directed can really change the tonality of the spot, which affects the music.

The worst case is where we weren’t involved much, and then we get an 11th hour call where nothing worked. Music department to the rescue!

Last question: What’s a song in your personal playlist that you’re plotting to find a commercial home for?

Let’s see…there’s a new band called Team Me. They’ve got a couple of songs. It’s kind of like Polyphonic Spree and Arcade Fire. It’s got a great anthemic vibe which always works nice for advertising.  I hope to be one of the first to use them, but it won’t be before long before someone discovers them.

— David Weiss is the Founder/Editor of SonicScoop, and co-author of the book Music Supervision: Selecting Music for Movies, TV, Games & New Media.

  • Anonymous

    Very informative, and useful in our search for licensing opportunities.

  • Audiosocket

    Thanks for the mention! This is a GREAT piece!

  • Music Licensing

    Interesting that you mention stayintg away from re titling catalog’s but use re-titiling libraries Jingle Punks and Getty’s Pump as top resources?

  • When I first wanted to enlarge my producing abilities and contacts both in voice-over and in creating music for post, Ryan was extremely helpful at a grassroots, “neighborhood” studio engineer level; even before he had his ad world job. I didn’t have the knowledge.  His karma got him to where he is, I say!  Guy Messenger 

  • Vault

    So true!! about to make the same comment – I’ve had several artists I’ve tried to sign opt for re-titled, non exclusive libraries specifically citing Audio Socket and Jingle Punks….