The twelve months leading up to March of 2016 were the most unusual of my career because I so spent so much of that time working for a single advertiser: Marco Rubio for President.
I first became aware of Rubio when producer Malorie Thompson of Something Else Strategies asked me to score several spots for his 2010 Senate campaign. Rubio was victorious, the campaign received national attention, and the ads garnered top honors at that year's Pollie awards. SES was immediately in demand, and quickly became one of my biggest political clients.
When Rubio announced for president in April of 2015, Malorie emailed to warn that there would be a lot of work coming my way. SES was planning to stick with the formula that had worked during the Senate campaign, which meant that most of the ads would feature the candidate speaking directly to camera, accompanied by my music. I had taken an orchestral approach in those ads, drawing inspiration from films like The American President and Apollo 13, and everyone (including Rubio, I'm told) wanted me to continue in that vein. But this would be a challenge with a high volume of spots, because it takes time to compose each score and then complete the detailed programming needed to make all of the sampled instruments sound realistic. I was a bit concerned about whether I'd be able to keep pace once the inevitable political ad war heated up.
The first few months were spent firming up Rubio's base of support. Malorie asked me to begin by composing an extended piece for use in some initial fundraising videos. With no narrative to guide me, I simply tried to convey Rubio's vitality and optimism in a way that I thought would appeal to traditional conservatives.
Production swung into high gear in August of 2015. During peak periods I worked from morning to night, scoring 2-3 spots per day. By the end of November I had scored dozens of ads--the most I'd ever completed for a single candidate. Almost all of them tested well and were approved for broadcast. One of the first released was titled "Bartender," a beautifully conceived ad that places Rubio's candidacy in the context of his father's humble background as a Cuban immigrant. It received a good deal of press coverage and helped Rubio to a strong showing in Iowa.
By October I was spending more time with Rubio than with my wife, and the workload only increased when producer Tony Peist called to ask if I would score some spots that Chris Mottola was developing for a PAC supporting Rubio. These had a different tone than the ones SES was creating directly for the Campaign, and I took the opportunity to incorporate some contemporary elements to emphasize Rubio's youthful energy and charisma. The first out of the gate was this one-minute mini-documentary highlighting Rubio's background and agenda.
Rubio delivered a brilliant speech on live TV the night of the Iowa caucuses, but lost some momentum after a rough debate performance in New Hampshire. The advertising helped him regain ground going into South Carolina, but this spurred frontrunner Donald Trump to initiate a Twitter war, and the two began exchanging ad hominem attacks on national TV. The usually eloquent and civil Rubio was dragged down to Trump's level, and what should have been a serious discussion of issues and policies deteriorated into the political equivalent of The Jerry Springer Show. When Rubio failed to win his home state of Florida a few weeks later it became clear that he had no path to the nomination. He suspended his campaign on March 15, 2017.
I was disappointed, but that's politics. In one respect I was fortunate that the campaign ended when it did: the countless hours I'd spent editing triggered a case of tennis elbow that took months of therapy to quiet down. I nevertheless enjoyed the experience; I've composed music for other presidential campaigns, but this was the first time I'd been involved from day one and been privy to some of the strategizing that goes on behind the scenes in a presidential race. It was an election cycle I'll never forget . . . but I suspect you would say the same.
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.