Friday, October 15, 2010

A Recitative for Data

Why does the music supporting various pharmaceutical spots so often sound similarly conceived? Whether comforting and organic, or pulsing and electronic, or as often is the case, a combination of the two, most of it belongs to a genre that I like to call Pharma Fusion.

On the surface, it's obvious why Pharma Fusion sounds the way it does: The music is clearly audible, but simultaneously and intentionally transparent. This allows for important medical information, including proper usage, input schedule and possible side effects –not to mention brand messaging– to be made perfectly legible.

The end result is bit like delivering the voice over as though it were printed in big type on a label.

Indeed, a critical commercial music production skill is understanding how to produce audio that doesn't jingle or enhance so much as it serves to support a voice over delivery containing factual content (or in the case of film, scoring around dialogue).

But for the composer or the sound designer working on these TV and Radio commercials, the process can also seem counter intuitive. The reason being that a score's function in a marketing context is ostensibly that of being the musical component of a sales pitch. But that's not really the case here. Notwithstanding an aural lift for applicable brand identification, good Pharma Fusion doesn't push, doesn't persuade. Like a mother singing to her child, it simply carries a message of experience, safety and hope.

And hopefully, these things are true.

After all, one wants to believe one is playing a creative role in the announcement of a potentially life saving or life enhancing drug, by using music to produce and amplify clarity.

As for the music design process itself, it helps to understand pulse. Whether intentionally or intuitively, so many of these scores use the human heart beat as a rhythm bed. But I also think it's a bit like knowing how to produce a recitative for data.

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