Big Sync Music co-founder Andrew Stafford chats to us about the companies’ inception, working with Unilever’s brands, and launching a rap artist with Pot Noodle.
How did Big Sync Music get started initially?
There is definitely a film script in the story of Big Sync’s inception, but for now I’ll give you the PG version.
Phil Lawlor and I were introduced by our university as the two scholarship students on our Business MA six years ago. I was the loud mouth that liked to challenge all our guest lecturers and Phil was the smartest guy in class.
One day a week the university threw us in a room together in the hope that we would “come up with something.” Neither of us really knew each other, let alone what problem we were trying to solve, so we sat there and just, talked. Endlessly. For eight hours straight. Once a week, for a year.
After our course finished we both entered the sync industry separately, but the talks continued. We’d meet up in the same Fitzrovia pub concocting various hair brained ideas and set ourselves research tasks for the next week.
Once we came up with the idea that would become Big Sync, we knew we were onto something and decided to stop talking and make a start on the doing. We spent a year courting Unilever from every angle we could think of until one day we were invited in for a pitch. Neither of us had even hit 30 at the time and knew we needed support. We had a really solid rhythm section but we needed a front man.
Dominic Caisley had been my director at two previous companies and was easily the best leader we’d seen in the industry. His experience was second to none and he’d played a huge part in shaping how the sync industry had developed, so getting him to join us was an absolute priority.
Once two became three we were really in business and everything accelerated from there.
The next year was grueling. That first pitch turned into 10, 20, 30 pitches and a book we wrote specifically for Unilever. There aren’t words to describe how hard the three of us worked and in 2014 we were finally announced to the world as Unilever’s music agency. I remember exactly where I was when I was told the news. I’m not going to lie, it was emotional.
How do you go about managing the musical strategies and licensing for over 400 of Unilever’s Brands?
By staying very busy. We handle everything. Delivering music searches, licensing, strategy, composition, campaign amplification, the lot. So sleep has become a very rare commodity indeed.
We do use our scale to our advantage though, because we work with so many different bands – from Dove to Axe to Persil – we are able to provide shared learning across the whole portfolio. We have teams in London, New York and Singapore, and our staff regularly travel between offices, meeting producers, artistic talent, brand managers, gaining musical inspiration with every new adventure. Big Sync is a global concept so we encourage our team to embrace that in everything we do.
We’re building something different here, a model that’s never been fully explored before. We were never interested in creating another boutique music agency so I’m really proud that we’ve built a global environment where music is still central to everything.
Our incredibly passionate team (which continues to grow) is made up of musicians, licensing specialists, researchers, strategists and DJs so we can handle any challenge that’s thrown us. It’s mind-blowing how broad the team’s expertise has become and being able to impart that knowledge to brands and agencies on a daily basis makes for a really rewarding working life.
You recently expanded into Singapore – how do you see this side of the Asian market developing?
After opening in the States, Asia was the logical next step and is a really exciting chapter in the Big Sync story. If you’d asked me 5 years ago whether I’d open a sync department there, I would have definitely raised an eyebrow at you. There just didn’t seem to be the appetite. Now, I couldn’t be any happier with our decision.
There are some exceptional ad agencies in Singapore, all with big ideas and music is now a huge part of their narrative. We’ve already lead the music on some amazing projects for Cornetto, Close Up and Magnum (to name a few), and we can’t wait to see what other magic we can help conjure up out there.
What are your go-to music sources?
Sounds obvious but I would say life but also the infinite jukebox that is the internet.
The music that has lived with me the longest has almost exclusively been from artists that have soundtracked the various moments of my life. As we know, music and memory are intrinsically linked and to me that bond is inescapably strong.
That being said, I was a without a doubt a Napster kid. I was really fortunate in that my father was very much an electronics enthusiast, so a computer (that he’d likely built) was never far away. Back then you paid for the internet by the minute and we only had one line, so I had to secretly disconnect the phone to sneak on to the net and cover the modem with a coat so no-one could hear the dial up tone. Once I was in, it was like opening a sonic treasure chest. I couldn’t believe how much music actually existed. I was no longer limited to my parents’ vinyl collection and the CD rack in the local Woolworths, I was free.
When the P2P phenomenon started a few years later and I could download entire albums instead of song by song, my mind was blown. My mother still refers to it as the summer that I didn’t see my friends. Little did I know, that I was contributing to the future demise of the very industry I would enter.
Nowadays it’s increasingly hard to find the time, which makes the immediacy of the internet all the more important, but I can still find myself losing six hours to a new music binge.
How do you think the relationship between the music industry and brands/agencies can be improved?
I’ve always thought this question seemed to pose the two parties as opposition to one another, but I don’t feel like that is the case at all. It’s one big community.
Our view has always been that education is key and the more we all understand one another, the better work we will all create. I think some music supervisors have had quite a protectionist approach and as a result haven’t wanted their clients to know too much for fear of being redundant. In our experience this does not happen, quite the opposite. Clients really appreciate being told the intricacies of our profession, it helps them plan ahead.
To this end, we hold licensing seminars for our professional partners, take the time to talk them through how licensing works and the challenges we face day-to-day. We also regularly hold music workshops for brand teams where we talk them through the building blocks of music from a technical stand point, and how they can use them as emotional semiotic signifiers, attuned specifically for their brand’s unique personality or message.
Data also plays a huge part in these workshops. Five years ago capturing the listening habits of any specific target market was nigh on impossible, now Big Sync have partnerships in place that allow us to access that information and give further insight that help our clients make better decisions.
In précis, there is of course always more we can do to make the community better, but I think Big Sync Music is at the forefront of the conversation.
BIG SYNC MUSIC’S RECENT WORK:
CASE STUDY NO.1 – POT NOODLE / RAYLO
Last year, Big Sync worked with agency Lucky Generals on their “you can make it” Pot Noodle campaign, featuring the song “Winner” by Raylo. The track proved so popular that Unilever-owned Pot Noodle has collaborated with Lucky Generals and Big Sync to create a music video for it (see below), launching Raylo’s music career in the process. The track has also been signed to US-based record label Ultra Records.
How did Raylo first appear on your radar, and how did you go about sourcing the track ‘Winner’?
Raylo was actually born out of our composition roster, a fact that I absolutely love. Our creative team took the brief and developed the track from scratch in accordance with the agency’s music brief. From the moment we heard the track we knew we were onto a winner (pun completely intended), so encouraged both Pot Noodle and the agency to further engage with it to see if we could expand its reach outside of the spot itself. As a result, Raylo was formed as brand new act.
Was it your intention from the beginning to find an unknown artist and propel them into the limelight, furthering the campaign idea that anyone can make it?
First and foremost, our intention was to create the perfect piece of music to evoke that tongue in cheek winning feeling essential to supporting the narrative of the Pot Noodle spot. The fact that we could subsequently help launch an artist in the limelight and “make it” was always at the back of our minds, but the music needed to come first.
Was the strategy always to launch a music video several months after the launch of the campaign, or was it something that has developed as a result of the positive reaction to the spot and the track?
We are always on the look out for platforms that can help amplify our clients’ campaigns, so we monitor all of our output very carefully. As soon as we saw the reaction the track and campaign was getting, we knew our suspicions were right.
Do you see more and more brands working to launch artists in this way?
Absolutely. This is not the first single release that Big Sync has managed and it certainly won’t be the last. The difficulty is avoiding the whole thing appearing contrived – this isn’t good for the brand or the artist. The music must come first so we make that our primary focus, while always ensuring that we produce it in a way that allows us to capitalise on our talent as soon as the opportunity presents itself. It’s a lot more work but we think it’s worth it.
CASE STUDY NO. 2 – AXE / SUPERGRASS
Agency 72andSunny‘s new “Find Your Magic” campaign for Axe (also known as Lynx) sees the brand shedding traditional notions of masculinity, instead encouraging its audience to embrace one’s individual sense of how to be a man. Big Sync worked closely with the agency over four months to find just the right music for the spot, eventually deciding on Supergrass’ ‘Diamond Hoo Ha Man.’
What were your considerations for the music in the Axe campaign?
Once the film was ready we could see how vital the voice over is to the creative, and how the music needed to work in harmony with it. The brief was to find a track that grabbed your attention, had punch and personality, hit all the right narrative accent points and evoked a modern view on masculinity. It was a lot of balls to juggle, but we were really pleased with the outcome.
How did ‘Diamond Hoo Ha Man’ by Supergrass originally come up in your searches?
I often say that when it comes to music searches the wider the net the better the catch, so it’s not uncommon for us to reach out to the entire industry to see what gems we can find.
The Supergrass track was something the creative team pulled out from some of the submissions our good friends at Warner Chappell sent to us.
Can you tell us a little bit about working with 72andSunny and the song testing process?
72andSunny are a great agency, their work speaks for itself and we love all of their output.
Starting in September last year, it was our first big project with them since they won the Axe/Lynx account. They were an agency we had always wanted to work with so it was really nice to finally sit down and get hands on.
To begin with there was a lot of experimentation, the early edits were great so we felt inspired to try everything. I think our team must have cut nearly 300 tracks to picture – sounds painstaking I know but it’s one of the best bits of the job. We also worked with several composers and production houses who delivered some excellent original work for us to add to the selection.
Ultimately though, Supergrass was the clear stand out and the decision was unanimous.
You listened to so many tracks for this campaign, how did you know this was the right one?
Although the track was originally released in 2009 it still sounds really fresh. It took some tweaking to get things working with the edit but once that was worked out it was obvious, we all got that feeling you get when everything falls into place.
Everyone loved it internally and now that it’s gone out, hit the Super Bowl and fast approaching 10m YouTube hits, it seems everyone else loves it too. A good job well done by all involved.