music biz

Getting OUT of the Jingle Business

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I can’t remember when I didn’t want to make my living in the music business.  After struggling to read my illegible scores with their atrocious hen-scratchings, professor Hale Smith encouraged me to learn music copying as a survival skill, so that’s one thing I made sure to study under his tutelage. My plan for after-graduation: become a music copyist in NYC while working on finding gigs as a composer/arranger/songwriter/piano player/singer.  It might not be possible now, but it was possible in 1972, and that’s what I did.

In addition to playing piano bars and off-off-Broadway shows, transcribing lead sheets for publishers, singing demos (while writing my original songs in my off-hours), I began copying for jingle writers and was struck by how rich they were and how much fun they appeared to be having. In no other professional setting did I see grown men dancing with each other during recorded playbacks! I already LOVED the studio, but add the fast-pace of jingle production, the variety of styles and genres from session to session, and how incredibly versatile and expert the musicians and singers were, nailing their parts on the first run thru? It was heaven as far as I was concerned.

Though it took a little while to break into it, the jingle business was very good to me; I got to work with the creme-de-la-creme musicians in state-of-the-art recording studios, earning decent union wages and residuals (plus pensions, thank you AFofM, AFTRA and SAG!). My fast, legible hand and accuracy were valued and rewarded. I got spoiled – I had to trade in my upright piano for a grand because I could hear the difference and had gotten used to a better-sounding instrument. I made unforgettable friends among the musicians, singers, engineers and clients, and had the thrill of hearing my scores come to life. Sure, not every ad campaign was artistically a gem, but it was SO gratifying to see a spot I’d worked on running on TV or to hear myself singing one of my jingles while waiting in the dentist’s chair.

Best of all, through working in the jingle business, I met and married the love of my life. Soon after the wedding we started our own company – http://www.harriswolframmusic.com/index.html

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– and made hundreds of sales calls every day, trying to develop a clientele at advertising agencies.  It was challenging and also a lot of fun at times. Other times were frustrating as we learned the compromises of running a business; how hiring a sales rep who has only had experience in the non-profit sector doesn’t work, how hiring an experienced advertising guy who refuses to USE his connections that he’d promised doesn’t work, how offering a coupon for “$1,000 off your next jingle” does NOT work!

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In the middle of our 3rd year in business, we were getting a lot of phone calls from students at Eastman and other music conservatories, wanting to know how THEY could break into the field. After one especially long call, when I should have been cold-calling to generate more work for our company, my husband asked, “why are you spending so much time telling people how to do it? Why are you giving it away for free? Say, why don’t we write a book and get PAID for sharing what we’ve learned the hard way?”  So we wrote and self-published GETTING INTO THE JINGLE BUSINESS.

GetInJingleBiz

We had 500 copies printed at the offset printers downstairs from our office/apartment/studio, collated the pages and staple-bound them ourselves, then had the offset guys trim our books. We took out an ad in the union paper and after we’d sold half of them via mail order, we began handing them to potential clients at meetings, saying, “See? You think you don’t know us, but we wrote the book on the jingle business!” – a winning sales pitch if there ever was one.  (well, less embarrassing than that $1,000 off coupon!)

When our client list began to thin out, we took a couple “geographical cures” before facing the fact that our company was in serious trouble. We scheduled an appointment at S.C.O.R.E. to get advice from a retired business professional. Because we were driven and rewarded by the actual creation of music more than the bottom-line, it was difficult to explain our situation. When we showed him our business plan, financials, demo reel, full-color poster, ads we’d taken out in trade magazines and then described our then 7 year odyssey in the jingle jungle, he literally laughed us out of his office, saying, “you’re not in business!  You’re PLAYING AT being in business!”

We took a hiatus to regroup and after a couple years got back into jingles – my husband freelancing as an arranger/producer for other music houses while I extracted parts from his scores and played piano bar gigs around town. We had some profitable years again and, looking back on our beginnings, I penned one of the short MUSIC HORROR STORIES about those compromises I referred to earlier.

Music Horror

It really was fun while it lasted. The advertising music industry began to fall apart when agencies chose to ignore the unions and started licensing “hot” and sometimes cheap library tracks willy-nilly in lieu of creating custom underscores and jingles for their clients. In the 1970s-80s there had been at least 150 jingle companies in NYC and between 45 – 70 jingle companies in Chicago, not to mention other cities around the country. Some were one-man or mom-&-pop operations like ours, while others had large staffs of writers, producers and support personnel. These days there’s barely a handful of production companies devoted solely to creating jingles, which is a shame, because advertising music can be fun – for both the creators and the audience!

I count myself blessed to have worked on jingles in the mid-70s thru the 90s – there was some terrific advertising being created and aired, and I learned so much about music, myself, people and life.

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3 thoughts on “Getting OUT of the Jingle Business

  1. I guess there was no actual “getting OUT”, since the biz pretty much fizzled out on its own. The blog title is a 32-year-after-the-fact response to the booklet we wrote, back when there existed a business to get into!? 🙂 We wouldn’t have voluntarily bailed on the jingle biz – it was too much fun! XO – M

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “What advice would you give to young musicians starting their careers in this day and age?” – Bob Pawlo

    “I don’t know that. You know, it’s all so different. I couldn’t come here now and do what I did then, because what I did then doesn’t exist anymore.” – Howard Johnson, tuba/bari sax player – Allegro (Local 802 magazine), Feb. 2015

    Liked by 1 person

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