Both my father and grandfather worked in Philadelphia, and I've never regretted my decision to follow in their footsteps. I love Philly, so I was excited when producer Debbey Racano of LevLane called to ask if I would be interested in working on a new campaign for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation. I said "absolutely," and she explained that another composer would be pitching a demo as well.
Bruce Lev provided an overview of the campaign in a follow-up call. The phrase "Philly's More . . ." would be completed with various adjectives and superimposed over footage shot in and around the city. The broadcast ads would be fast-paced and music driven, and Bruce cited the electronic dance tune "So Flute" by Saint Germain as an example of the kind of energetic, contemporary sound they were looking for.
I hadn't heard that track before, but immediately saw its appeal. After listening I made three key decisions about how I would proceed. First, I would produce a longer track than needed for the advertising so that my demo would play like a complete song. Second, since LevLane was clearly enthusiastic about "So Flute," I would remain as faithful to it as legally possible. And third, where I did depart from the reference it would be with an ear toward making my piece feel like it belonged in Philly.
I initially considered taking the track in a TSOP direction with disco strings and horns (and later learned that my competitor had done exactly that). But this seemed like too much of a departure from the Saint Germain example, and it occurred to me that, given Philly's strong jazz tradition, the jazz-infused hip-hop of artists like Stetsasonic, Digable Planets, and Guru might be a better source of inspiration. So I programmed a typical EDM drum pattern and added some gritty percussion sounds to give the groove a more urban attitude. I then turned my attention to the flute part that would be the primary focus of the piece. "So Flute" features a flute technique (popularized by artists like Herbie Mann and Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull) in which the musician sings while playing the instrument. This isn't easy, so I sketched a few melodic ideas and sent them to Ron Kerber so that he could practice for a couple of days. Once the flute was recorded I had Ron improvise some jazzy, John Coltrane-ish tenor sax licks, and then called in local jazz singer Lauren Lark and asked her to play around with the phrase "Philly's more fun." I had her try some scat singing as well, and this wound up providing a catchy signature for the end of the piece. Wanting to present lots of sonic options, I added some Miles Davis-inspired trumpet samples, turntable scratches, a few funky guitar riffs, and a couple of vocoder stabs. I spent the next day or so molding these elements into the finished demo--which you can now hear for the first time ever.
The demo was admittedly a bit of a hodgepodge, but Debbey called a few days later to say that they loved it and wanted to move forward. Most of the hard work was done; all that remained was to select the elements that would be included in the final mix and create the commercial-length versions that would appear in the radio and TV ads. I also sent breakouts of my tracks to Bob Schachner at Shooters (now Alkemy X), who created surround mixes for a version of the spot that played in movie theaters. The campaign aired heavily in Philadelphia and other major East Coast cities over the next two years, so if you were around at that time you may recall the initial TV spot that was released in the campaign.
I think this project stands out for me because it provided an opportunity to express my musical impressions of the city I call home. I see Philadelphia as an intersection of the old and the new, and I feel like I conveyed that by combining modern electronic dance music with the jazz tradition that is so much a part of the city's cultural legacy. Or maybe I'm just partial to any project that allows me to channel my inner jazz musician . . .
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.