I've been incredibly fortunate to work with some of the most creative people in the Philadelphia area, and none are more talented than Inquirer and Daily News in-house Creative Director (and award-winning cartoonist) Dave Blazek.
Dave was already a regular Baker Sound client when I arrived in 1987, and he immediately began sending projects my way. The first was a score-to-picture assignment for a promotional giveaway, and it proved to be an important milestone because it gave me a high profile scoring credit that caught the attention of other area producers. I was soon spending as much time composing to picture as writing jingles.
Many more projects followed. Dave frequently used original music to announce special promotions or support the quirky and often hilarious radio and TV spots he was producing for the two papers, but these ads were usually designed for limited runs, and the music I created for them was never intended to be an ongoing branding element.
One notable exception came about in 1996. Concerned about growing competition from cable news and the Internet, The Inquirer decided to launch a major campaign to increase readership and subscriptions. Dave called and asked me to develop a musical theme that would provide a foundation for the radio and TV spots that would lead the effort. He left the musical direction up to me, though he mentioned that world music had worked well on some of the paper's past ads.
I knew virtually nothing about world music at the time (and am no expert today). What little exposure I had to it came through Peter Gabriel's music, and I suppose that's what got me thinking about incorporating some of the elements I'd always admired in his work. I wanted the music to sound like it belonged in Philly, so I began by creating a hip-hop-style drum groove that would give the piece an urban vibe. Then, drawing on Gabriel, I introduced a chord progression played on piano in the style of "In Your Eyes," called in Rich Kurtz to perform a fretless bass melody reminiscent of "Don't Give Up," and had Jeff Kay record a David Rhodes'-inspired guitar line that brought in a rock sensibility. After adding samples of a high female vocal "shout" and a low, soulful "yeah" I realized that the track would be even more distinctive if I made the paper's message explicit. The imperative "Read it!" could be sung like a mantra, entering almost imperceptibly and becoming increasingly insistent until reaching a crescendo at the end of the track. I had vocalist Denise NeJame record the "lyric" in three-part harmony, and the effect was so attention-grabbing that I created a condensed version to use as an opening mnemonic. The result wasn't really "world music," but it was certainly an eclectic blend that reflected the diversity of the paper and the local culture. Confident that it would be effective for the advertising, I presented it to Dave.
Dave loved it and made just one request. Still hoping to bring a world music element to the piece, he suggested adding a didgeridoo (an Australian wind instrument with an unusual, throaty quality). At the time I had no idea what the instrument was (or even how it was pronounced), and our impending air date didn't leave me time to track down an experienced player. I searched through some sample libraries and found a patch that was decent, but it didn't really "speak" in the context of the already-dense production and after some experimentation we decided to abandon it.
The piece was nevertheless effective, and The Inquirer went on to use it in numerous ads over the next few years--anyone who was near a TV or radio at that time is sure to have heard that iconic "Read it, read it!" countless times. I went on to produce a number of other pieces for Dave, some of which garnered awards and are featured on our website and SoundCloud page. But the only "award" that mattered to me was the opportunity to work with Dave, a guy who has the rare ability to challenge his creative team while making the production process relaxed and fun. Dave is one of the funniest people you'll ever meet, but behind his easygoing exterior lies a true creative genius.
Chuck Butler is celebrating his 30th anniversary as Baker Sound's in-house composer. For more information about Baker's music division, visit our dedicated MONSTER TRACKS website.