Friday, December 01, 2006

When Marketers HEAR Double

In the November 28th issue of the Wall Street Journal, Emily Steel reports in an article titled 'When Marketers See Double', on unwitting overlap by advertisers who coincidently choose the same photo for parallel running campaigns. One notable example given is when Bank of America and Key Bank, the article points out, both chose the same ‘heart warming’ image of father and daughter hanging over a laptop.

Consider this example presented by the Wall Street Journal, and culled from the US BankCorp and Travelers respective Websites:

It occurred to me that this phenomenon is even more prevalent in the music and sound design we hear on TV and Radio commercials, and sometimes embedded into the soundtracks of the productions themselves.

One reason for this is the convenience afforded by MUSIC PRODUCTION LIBRARIES. Production libraries are collections of prerecorded music created specifically for use as audio companions to visual material, such as film and TV. Often cheaper than commissioning an original score, media producers also like production libraries because licensing is a snap. Like stock photo libraries, the contents in a music production library are rarely licensed for exclusive use, meaning someone else can come along and use the same track for their TV show, movie, commercial, et al.

Another source of recycle sound is the increased reliance by composers and sound designers on SAMPLES.

SAMPLES –as is commonly known– are short audio recordings, which are then often used as fodder for composers and sound designers. Sometimes samples are recorded from existing works: That's how The Meters and James Brown became embedded into countless Hip Hop tracks.

But most often samples are recordings of instruments (or ensembles) playing singular notes (or short rhythms) in every style, and then compiled into a 'library'. The samples are typically arranged across a keyboard making it easy for anyone to summon up a string orchestra with the push of a button.

Other common libraries include Loop libraries, which contain a measure or more of a rhythm track. Re-recorded and looped in a composer's computer, the loops become the basis of what one hopes is something otherwise original.

Or as ILIO –makers of the Vienna Strings Library– likes to say: "Virtual Instruments, Sample CDs and CD-ROMs, Loops, Sounds, Software and Tools for the Modern Musician."

Although, I think modern has nothing to do it with it: Samples –notwithstanding the fact that they can be quite effective– are just way cheaper than hiring a sixty piece orchestra for a demo.

As it stands, there are so many sample libraries today, that every instrument, in every configuration has been recorded. Need a Stradivari violin, cello, oboe, didgeridoo? No problem. Need rock guitars? –A techno loop? –A hip hop beat? Simply Add to Cart and proceed to Check Out with a valid Credit Card.

There are also libraries that cover the gamut of sound effects. Everything from car drive-bys (for every model manufactured) to 'ambient' or 'atmospheric' FX that call up specific genres, like, 'scary', for instance.

The result of this trend in using samples for every audio event in a music or sound design track is that we –the audience– are hearing the same sounds over and over again. For those of us with any kind of aural intelligence, an hour watching television can drive you batty as you hear –yet again– the same sound used in a ten year old X-Files episode recycled for the millionth time in a video game or a commercial, and now in the show itself.

It’s as though every soundtrack composer and sound designer on the planet is now drawing from the same pool of pre-recorded stock sounds. –And you know what? My ears tell me that they are.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The underlying concept here is certainly not new; composers have been borrowing themes and leitmotif for centuries. Some are given a nod of acknowledgment, some are not.

Consider the no-longer-so-recent film Somewhere in Time starring the late Christopher Reeve and the still-beautiful Jane Seymour. The soundtrack includes "original" music based on a tune that plays on a music box within the film's story. Not self-referential enough for you?

The theme music, Somewhere in Time is derived from Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme from Paganini. I don't know what Paganini's original piece was called - if it was ever developed - but it, too, may have been "inspired by" someone else's work.

Sampling simply broadens the practice to include "sound bites" (recognizable snippets of conversation), as well as going deeper into the very instrumental wave forms of a (digitally simulated) "antique" Stradivarius.

Is there nothing new under the sun?