The big Christmas advert reveal is an important time in the UK sync calendar, with many comparing it to the Super Bowl in the US. With that in mind, we chatted to the music supervisors behind this year’s leading campaigns, from IKEA, John Lewis, Argos and more…
IKEA – “Silence The Critics” (Mother London)
Interview with David Bass, Director / Music Supervisor, Theodore Music
This is IKEA’s first-ever high-profile Christmas ad. What did the original brief look like? Was a grime artist and an original song always on the cards?
Yes – the client and the agency wanted to create an authentic ‘banging’ grime track – this got us extremely excited.
How did you work on the concept with Mother London? How did you end up working with D Double E and Star.One?
We pitched a bunch of UK artists for the spot that we felt matched the initial brief. We actually worked demos with 4 different grime MC’s and D Double was the clear favourite. Having worked with Star.One for years we knew these guys would be fantastic to engage on the production / beat side. Double and Star.One had already worked together too so it really meant for magic in the studio.
What were some of the unique challenges associated with creating an original track, and a grime one at that?
This was a fairly smooth project to work on. Being a huge fan of the genre we knew what we were doing when it came to production and delivery. The biggest challenge we faced was to not let the music become watered down – to keep it authentic to grime and true to D Double E.
Sometimes it makes perfect sense having a pop/acoustic song as the sync. But hopefully, IKEA start a trend where ad agencies arent scared to think outside the box and try other genres.
— Austin (@AustinDarbo) November 8, 2019
The campaign has been praised by music executives including Apple Music’s Austin Daboh for its outside the box thinking. Do you think this will inspire others?
We hope so. When brands take risks it’s better for everyone.
The campaign has been ridiculously popular so far and the track is even slated for the Christmas no. 1 spot. How has the reaction been for you guys? Has any other cool stuff come out of the placement?
We’re super excited about it. We worked with D’s label Bluku music to release the single which has now been playlisted by Radio 1 and is getting some good streaming love. We also help activate this great piece with Noisey. Potentially more to come too!
Very.co.uk – “Get More Out of Giving” (St. Luke’s London)
Interview with Dan Neale, Managing Director / Music Supervisor, Native Music
The campaign is all about giving. What did the initial brief look like and how did St. Luke’s want the music to support the message?
The brief had two distinct approaches, as the creative team Hannah and Jo knew they wanted to explore original composition, but also try something different to previous years and demo known songs in a choral style. The main reason for the second route was that at the heart of their idea was the sense of a community coming together, and they wanted a community choir to eventually perform the track, and having lyrics would make the most of that idea.
In terms of style, they wanted the music to be scored to a certain extent to highlight the urgency of the neighbours passing the parcel along the street, but they also needed it to heighten the warmth and emotion of the gift giving moment, and of course convey that sense of community.
Utilising the choir effectively proved harder with the original compositions, and ultimately everybody gravitated towards licensing a song with apt lyrics and re-working it.
How did you land upon Rudimental’s “Feel The Love”? Were there any other close contenders?
We demo’d four known songs that lyrically supported the message. “Feel the Love” rose to the top, as the lyrics really helped the idea, the chords lent themselves to the emotion and I think everyone liked the idea that the original was so different to the version Jennifer Ann (producer and arranger) created.
It was close though, we had another song in the running for a long time, until the final decision was eventually made.
What was the process of the re-record? Who’s performing it?
We really enjoyed getting involved in the production element of the project. Jennifer had produced a stunning demo using her voice multi-tracked and samples, and the next part of our job was to help realise that with an existing community choir.
We recorded some live strings to compliment the samples which really helped the warmth of the sound, and made it feel more real.
I spoke to quite a few choirs around the country, and had a couple lined up to the point of working out how we would record them remotely. Another composer we regularly work with had suggested a choir he knew (the Social Singing Choir in Margate), and the agency really loved them when they heard them.
We travelled down to Ramsgate and recorded them at a really great little studio called Big Jelly. You can also hear Jennifer’s voice with the choir, as she has such a great voice everyone was keen to keep her in the mix too.
Who was the publisher(s) involved? Was it a difficult track to clear?
We worked closely with James Cooper at Sony/ATV and Alaine Fulton at Kobalt to clear the song, who are always really helpful and great to work with. Of course, you never know when you are re-imagining the arrangement of someone’s composition if they will be into it, so we had a normal (but nervous) period of waiting for the answer – but in the end all the writers gave their consent.
There seems to be even more of a departure from using ‘traditional’ christmas songs in advertising this year. Have you noticed this in briefs?
I think it’s been that way for a few years now to be honest, with the lyrics of popular (non-festive) songs helping a brand’s message via a re-worked arrangement, or a big bespoke composition. This year has been quite similar really, but I have noticed a trend for the characters in the ads singing the song, and if you couple that with our choir in the Very commercial, there does seem to be a trend for songs to be re-interpreted in a more human way.
Amazon – “Everybody Needs Somebody” (Lucky Generals)
Interview with Jay James, Managing Director / Music Supervisor, Soundtree Music
When did you first receive the brief? What did it look like?
We received the brief in early summer from Lucky Generals. The Amazon Xmas campaigns center round the idea of the joy and togetherness of this time year with the Amazon parcels or boxes performing the song. The ’singing boxes’ have established a place in the Xmas adland over the last two years and having worked on the first one in 2017, we really connected with this new brief. The big difference for this spot was that the people in the film would be singing along or with the parcels too.
What emotions were you hoping the right song would evoke?
The song needed to be universally recognised as the campaign needed to run in many countries so it needed to have a level of fame that would allow the huge cast of people and boxes to perform it and translate that infectious joy and togetherness. We wanted the right pace to the song too as we knew the edit and filming needed to move at a certain tempo. The brief was really clear that the song needed to evoke and inspire the feeling of togetherness. What else can bring us together than the feeling of or the need for love?
How did you land on “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love”?
Searches can happen in so many different ways, on your own, sometimes in a really systematic way or free and random, as a collective brainstorming and everything in between. This song came about when Peter Raeburn (founder of Soundtree) and myself had a brainstorming session off the back of a lot of searches that the team had already completed. We talked around so many ideas – musical styles, tempo, instrumentation and of course lyrics. After many ideas, Peter hit upon the The Blues Brothers “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” (cover of the Solomon Burke original). It had so much we loved – a simple but honest lyric, an infectious rhythm, the iconic spoken/sung opening and a mid way testify moment and of course those memorable horn hooks. It’s one of those songs that manages to be a crowd pleaser and accessible but still undeniably cool.
What was the re-recording process like?
We were really keen to capture something of the magic of the original recordings of this classic song, whilst adding our own spin, and allowing the spontaneous performances captured on-camera to really shine.
Accordingly, a key part of the re-recording process was to capture the onscreen performances of all the singers appearing in the various different spots. We prepared a temp backing track version of “Everybody Needs Somebody” which our singers performed to on-set in Vancouver ; we then worked with the on-screen talent to coach them in their performances, with the sound team to record them, and also took extra takes from each vocalist separately away from camera once they’d finished shooting, to ensure we were fully covered for what the edit might bring in post.
Once back in London, we began the process of rebuilding the track to chime with our director Henry Alex Rubin’s picture – recording live band, bass, drums, horns, and keyboards, blending in live instruments including melodeon, junk drum kit and ukelele, which had been recorded on-set and in-camera. Finally, we put together two fantastic choirs – community and gospel to add a real sense of scale to this classic song.
John Lewis & Partners and Waitrose & Partners “Excitable Edgar” (adam&eveDDB)
Interview with Ed Bailie, Director / Music Supervisor, Leland Music
When did you first receive the brief? What emotions were you hoping the right song would evoke?
We started our work on this production at script stage, back in July. That early in the process there are a variety of ways we can approach the story, so we collaborated closely with ad agency adam&eveDDB and director Dougal Wilson to consider different tonal and lyrical angles… sentimental vs joyous mood, existing song vs original score, lyrics which speak to Excitable Edgar’s feelings vs the love of his companion etc… Lots of avenues are explored to help inform exactly where we want this to land.
How long did it take to find the right track? How did you land on “Can’t Fight This Feeling” by REO Speedwagon?
“Can’t Fight This Feeling” came a lot later in the process, end of October actually. It’s a bit of a case of ‘no stone left unturned’, so by that stage in production we’ve fallen in and out of love with various musical approaches, or have new ideas on what the song should be doing tonally for the film. There’s a lot to achieve in those closing weeks of post-production, from clearing the song to re-arranging it, recording it, finding our vocalist and organizing the single release plan – so it was all hands on deck once that final decision was made.
Our arranger & producer Mara Carlyle, along with arranger and co-producer Hugh Brunt, pulled out all the stops to create a beautifully detailed orchestral adaptation. We recorded the ad version with the wonderful London Contemporary Orchestra at Air Lyndhurst Studios, and the single length version at Angel Studios.
How did Bastille’s Dan Smith get involved? Apparently there were six singers in the running to cover the song…
We always respect the confidentiality around who and how many artists demo for us, but with regards to Dan he was an absolute star in quickly turning around his vocal recording. We were just a few days out from our final mix, and he was busy in Los Angeles. Adam Gardiner and the team at Universal Music managed to not only jump on the case quickly and squeeze it into his schedule, but to work with Dan on delivering a performance which the brand absolutely loved.
Who publishes the song?
“Can’t Fight This Feeling” is published by Mojo Music & Media obo Haripro Entertainment Group. Peter Shane handled the clearance and was a joy to work with; everything was quick and straightforward, with his team and Kevin Cronin (composer & REO frontman) eager to work with us to amplify the campaign and seize the promotional opportunity.
Elton John was always going to be a hard act to follow, do you think Excitable Edgar and “Can’t Fight This Feeling” has succeeded?
We’ve been lucky to work on most of the headline John Lewis campaigns over the past decade, and each brings its own unique set of opportunities and challenges. I’d say cumulatively all of the previous campaigns are tough acts to follow – adam&eveDDB have truly raised the bar on what it means to create a Christmas campaign. It’s UK advertising’s Superbowl.
I think the team have done it again, and we’re proud to have been involved in bringing the story of Excitable Edgar to life. I hope it’s brought some much needed Christmas joy to viewers across the UK.
Argos – “The Book of Dreams” (The&Partnership)
Interview with Codie Childs, Music Supervisor, Leland Music
Have you worked on Argos campaigns before?
We‘ve worked on a number of Argos projects over the years and have collaborated with The&Partnership previously also. We were delighted when they approached us to work on the brand’s Christmas campaign for 2019.
What did the brief look like for “The Book of Dreams”?
We met with Creative Director Danny Hunt, Creatives Ludo Thomas and Arthur Harry, and Agency Producers Andy Roberts and Alfie Glover early on to discuss the initial script. It was clear the idea was a winner and we needed to find a well-known British classic that could bring the touching story to life. It had to evoke a warm nostalgia whilst staying in a place of joy and humour, and as the brief called for on-screen miming, the right song would need an iconic drum part.
When did you realise Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” was the one?
We explored a huge range of music from different eras, but the creative team kept coming back to Simple Minds: it’s a true classic that has a brilliantly punchy 1980s drum sound and holds a special place in the nation’s heart. “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” is a song that has permeated pop culture in many ways, and can easily translate from a loungeroom playback to a stadium performance, as we see realised in the advert for Argos.
Were there unique challenges associated with having people drumming in the advert?
As with any production that involves miming or performing an instrument on-screen, the song would need to be decided upon and cleared prior to filming. The script also called for an on-screen “drum-off” section.
We brought onboard accomplished arranger-producer, Chris Hill, and his musical partner, drummer and screen composer Brad Webb. Working closely with The&Partnership and Traktor (director), we developed a relatively complex drum arrangement that became a call-and-response between Dad and Daughter. It was rooted in the original “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” rhythm, but then blew the doors off for an epic and fantastical performance.
Our team set up drum workshops with the agency and director to help cement the visual side of the performance, attended the casting sessions, assisted with cast drum rehearsals, and the final on-screen performances on set. Once the edit was locked, we re-recorded the final performance to picture, mixing it with the original recording and allowing flexibility for any nuanced drum performance changes from the shoot.
Who was the publisher/label involved? Was it a difficult track to clear?
It was a multi-faceted project involving different types of rights clearance, song arrangement and music production challenges. It was therefore necessary to have a close working relationship with the rights owners throughout the production. Suzanne Carey at Universal Music Publishing Group handled the publishing clearance and we negotiated the master and promo video usage with Neil Mulford at Universal Music Operations. They’re both a pleasure to work with and the timing of the campaign aligned well with Simple Minds’ own promotional activities so there was an opportunity for all involved to make the most of the advert’s exposure.