The project I've decided to feature for 2011 has special meaning for me because it brought a happy ending to a story that began some twenty years earlier.
Near the end of my first year at Baker Sound producer Roger Schein of Silberman Whitebrow asked me to compose a jingle for local convenience chain Landhope Farms. I produced two demos, which I was invited to present at the agency's Center City headquarters. When I arrived, Roger informed me that agency CEO Eli Silberman was running late, but suggested that I go ahead and play my demos for the rest of the group. They quickly came to a consensus about which one they preferred, and we began discussing revisions for the final version. So far, so good.
Then Eli arrived, and the room seemed to stiffen. Roger introduced me, explained that the team was enthusiastic about one of my demos, and suggested that I replay both. After listening, Eli pronounced judgment. "I've been in advertising for many years," he began with a foreboding seriousness. "I've produced jingles for McDonald's and other major brands, and I have to tell you that the demos I've just heard have absolutely nothing to recommend them." He then turned to me and said, "frankly, I would suggest that you find some other line of work, because I see no possibility that you will succeed as a jingle writer."
I was stunned. Fortunately, Roger saved the day. He pointed out that I had followed the agency's instructions to the letter, and urged Eli to give their preferred demo a second listen. Eli agreed, and when the music stopped he grudgingly conceded that the jingle might have some merit, authorized Roger to proceed, and then left the room. Roger apologized profusely and assured me that the project would proceed smoothly (which it did). I felt sick as I walked back to the studio, but when I told (then Baker owner) Gary Moskowitz what had happened, he advised me to forget about Eli and focus on all of the successes I'd had in my first year. I was a bit shaken, but I've never been one for self-doubt, so I chalked the encounter up to experience and went on making music--for the next 29 years. Roger left the agency about a year later and I assumed I would never hear from Eli Silberman again.
And then, twenty three years later, I received a call from producer Damon Sinclair, who explained that Eli was planning new ads for West Chester University and wanted to talk to me about custom scoring. I told him about our previous encounter and asked if he was sure Eli would want me involved. He said that Eli had requested me and had probably forgotten about the earlier incident. That was apparently the case; Eli was so gracious and complimentary during our phone conversation the next day that I suspected he was unaware that I was the same composer whose career choice he had once questioned.
The project itself was fairly straightforward. Eli explained that West Chester was often overlooked despite ranking among "brand name" universities in many areas. The new ads would establish West Chester's credentials by asking and answering series of questions, and he wanted music to punctuate the text as it appeared on screen. He envisioned classical music for this purpose, and specified that it should be orchestral, in the style of Beethoven, and that it should end with something "like a college fight song." I cautioned that, due to budget constraints, this would have to be produced strictly with digital samples. I was also concerned that a classical approach might be less appealing to younger viewers, and suggested exploring other genres. Eli said he was willing to listen, so I produced demos in several styles, including a TSOP-inspired version that brought a fun energy to the spots. But he preferred my classical version and approved it with no changes, so I went about adapting it for the rest of the spots in the campaign. The ads ran heavily in the Philly market for the next few years, and many more were created to highlight various aspects of the university. Naturally, my favorite was this one highlighting West Chester's outstanding music program (and yes, I used a Steinway piano in the recording).
I'll admit to feeling a sense of vindication in handling this assignment. Mostly I felt proud of having built a reputation that would cause someone who once doubted my abilities to actively seek me out. Success is ultimately the best response to skeptics, and it validates something my parents constantly preached: If you work hard and believe in yourself, there's nothing you can't accomplish. People sometimes misread self-assurance as arrogance, but I don't know how I would have survived the ups and downs of this business for 30 years without an unshakable confidence in my own abilities.
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.