Music maketh the ad, but what's the story behind it?

GUM Asia CEO and head producer Thomas Faucheur gives Campaign Asia-Pacific the lowdown on choosing and/or making music for ads.

GUM was responsible for the music of the Operation Smile campaign, which won the Grand Prix at Ad Stars 2017.

When a song is put on the soundtrack of an ad, it elicits different emotions in the audience, but preferaby ones that help to sell products and convey the brand’s ideology succinctly. Brands have long used music to that effect with varying success. For example, Annie Little’s Fly Me Away tune in a 2009 Kindle ad became closely associated with the Amazon e-reader.

However, much as the audience believes that music maketh the ad, the opposite is often true in its production, said Thomas Faucheur, CEO and head producer from Green United Music (GUM) Asia. Speaking to Campaign Asia-Pacific at his studio located in Shanghai’s artsy Tianzi Fang enclave, Faucheur explained that unlike in Europe, music production teams in the mainland usually work directly with the film production firms rather than the creative agencies that first conceptualise the advertising.

“As far as music goes, we are at the end of the chain,” said Faucheur.

This is compounded by the fast-paced production in China, he added, where the filming and production period for a campaign can be as short as a fortnight. “The delivery time comes pretty fast. Sometimes when you make music, it’s nice to have a little bit more time, a few days more to think and go back to it, but it really depends,” said Faucheur.

The time difference between Europe and Asia can work in the favour of the French music house, as it has two teams of composers, in Paris and Shanghai, to work round the clock for the same brief.

Faucheur is also optimistic that the operation will improve, as about 30% of the agencies the team works with have been taking a more active role in production over the past year.

Having set up shop in China for four years, Faucheur is keenly aware of the benefits of having a local producer team. “Sometimes I tell them to not to have me in the (communication) loop if it doesn’t make sense," he said. "It’s very important that Chinese clients feel that we are also a Chinese company.” Among GUM’s clients are Vivo, Adidas and Cartier while the studio has worked with a range of agencies such as Wieden+Kennedy, Fred & Farid and TBWA.

Meanwhile, GUM Asia also announced in December that it is expanding to Japan in a collaboration with Tokyo-based DCH Studio, a similar outfit that runs its own record label and produces music for commercials. Under the collaboration, the Japanese studio will act as the middleman agency, while the Shanghai office will lead the music production. GUM is also partnering with a Singapore studio under the same model.

Thomas Faucheur

Faucheur contended that it is time for GUM to look beyond the Chinese market, even though the studio has yet to work with a Japanese client. While Faucheur expected to spend more time between Tokyo and Shanghai in the new year, the studio had released its first Japanese newsletter during mid-December “to touch base” with the industry there. “We have done (the newsletter) in Chinese regularly every month, it is a good way to inform people what we do, (like) music covers, sound design, and our music. Music can be vague and quite subjective. Our role is to help…don’t be afraid, we want to be on your side to get the best music,” said Faucheur.

But beyond that, he said the music house has been getting more briefs to clear commercial tracks to be used in ads. “They start to understand that GUM is a music label with an excellent connection and network. We are able to get the right publisher, and get the right info as fast as possible,” said Faucheur. Using an existing popular commercial track can cost as much as $100,000 per campaign, Faucheur pointed out, and many clients are capped by their budgets. The options available for them are original compositions as well as library music. About 60% of the music used for the Chinese ads is original. GUM is also keen to push music from its own record label to be used in commercials.

“It really depends on the brand. For a brand like Vivo which is expanding to Europe and US, it makes sense to get a track that has international recognition,” said Faucheur, adding that extra caution is given to music with lyrics due to censorship reasons. Music culture also plays a part, with hip-hop being the top pick of the Chinese audience.

Among the many requests from clients, Faucheur said he would say ‘no’ to copying tracks. “They might not say in the beginning that they want to the same thing as the references given, but the more we worked on with it, it reached a point that we felt we could not do that,” said Faucheur. “We (do) work around references. What makes a good producer is that when you have a reference, you understand what makes it so good, and how you could understand the idea of the reference to put into new music,” he added.

Besides, Faucheur maintained that his fondness for bands from the 70s bears little influence on the music he produces. “I am an open-minded person when it comes to music," he said. "If I am a producer and I just like electro music, I am going to be boring." Faucheur said he would be hard pressed to pick a favourite example of ad music, but if he had to choose, he said the track for Lacoste’s Timeless campaign, done by GUM, works beautifully with the neoclassic style of the film.


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