Jingles, music, music biz

A Dime A Dozen

We’d been pounding the pavement and hitting the phones hard for the first 7 months of 1981.  As a new jingle company, we rode elevators up to meet with potential advertising clients, along side competing music producers who were established and in many cases, offering cocaine as well as music. Totally sold on the idea of meritocracy, we were sure the creative directors would hear the difference between how OUR music fit the bill so much better than the other guys.  I look back now and wonder how we kept going, with “nobody winkin’ back” for so long, as my dad used to say.

And then my partner Mark took a meeting with Tony O.  Upon hearing our demo, Tony recognized some music that he himself had worked on and soon learned that the disco-esque charts for a soft drink had been written by Mark while in another company’s employ!  Suddenly we had an actual real-live client who liked us!!

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Tony wasted no time in asking for a new jingle for La Yogurt  (click on underlined link to hear it!), a regional brand that had been using a lackluster version of Frére Jacques in radio and TV ads. Given an afternoon, a list of the available flavors and the direction to imagine all the various times and places La Yogurt could be consumed, we created and demoed 4 different jingles for presentation. When one was chosen, we hired “jingle queen” Linda November and hit-singer/songwriter Paul Evans, as well as “the usual suspects” of studio musicians (like the wonderful George Marge on ocarina!) and an East coast market jingle “hit” was born!  The inspiration for the back-&-forwards trading of lines was somewhat inspired by the chemistry of the Polaroid ads featuring James Garner and Mariette Hartley that were running at the time. Our jingle proved versatile, running for a number of years, and we used the musical materials to compose YOGURT VARIATIONS  (click on link to hear excerpts) for the New Britain Symphony the following spring.  Tony invited us to the International Radio Festival of NY and La Yogurt took home the Gold Award for best radio spot in 1982!

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Almost immediately thereafter Tony tapped us to create the new jingle for Lee’s Carpets  (click link to hear!), which the agency and client both loved.There was a disruption in this love-fest when our production invoice hadn’t been paid within 90 days, so we re-sent it, waiting another month to follow up with the billing department at the agency. When we finally were connected, the accountant practically laughed in our faces over the phone, sneering, “You wanna get paid?  Ha!  You guys are a dime a dozen!”  We called Tony and eventually we got a check, but it was creepy – and we did NOT “relax” right away!

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A couple months later, the BIG prize account came up: Kinney Shoes  (click link to hear).  With no direction besides the tag line “Kinney Can”, we worked feverishly to create a winning concept. We wanted to build on the established reputation of the brand for being the family-friendly “Great American Shoe Store” while showing that Kinney had kept up with changing times. Encouraged by Tony, we were so excited about the anthem we created that we sank thousands of dollars of our own money into the production, including various versions  (click to hear NBAs version)  for different shoe lines.  We got the best-of-the-best musicians and singers to bring it to life, including Florence Warner  (click to hear) and her angel-voice! We were SURE this was the “big one” that would put us on the map as a jingle company!

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Alas – we eventually learned that on the day of the big Kinney presentation, Tony had been ill and failed to play our tracks for the client. He hadn’t even shown up to the meeting.  Or at least that’s what we were told. Another version of the story was that our tracks had been presented, but all the folks at Kinney were offended that they hadn’t been invited to the recording sessions, so our music was rejected out of hand.  We felt strongly about our work, so much so that we entered it into the International Radio Festival competition (where it earned an Honorable Mention, even though it had never been bought or aired).  18 months later we sent a 5-page single-spaced letter to Tony, begging him to re-present it to Kinney, as we’d heard through the grapevine they were unhappy with the music they had chosen and were looking for something new.  We got no response.

Tony was a vibrant man with fierce affection for his family and friends, as well as strong appetites for tobacco, liquor and food. His enthusiasms were infectious, so that when he told us he was going to audition for a local production of The Music Man (as Prof. Harold Hill, of course!) and he asked us for help preparing the song “Trouble”, we learned it along with him, and found it the perfect accompaniment for marching crosstown from our west side offices to Madison Avenue appointments.  When his boss was having a “big” birthday, Tony asked us to produce a special birthday song; Jerry, You’re the Bess We Got!  (click to hear excerpt) for the party, which we did happily – gratis. And when Tony’s daughter showed interest in learning to play the flute, I cheerfully lent mine so she could try it out for a semester. Tony wasn’t “just a client” – we considered him a friend. And we were pretty sure he felt the same way about us; we weren’t “just a supplier”. He invited us to dinner at his home in Bernardsville, NJ and we met his whole family; believe me, that wasn’t the case with most clients, no matter how well you got along and enjoyed working together!

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Woolworth/Woolco was set to roll out a new line of Christie Brinkley sportswear, and this time our jingle was chosen!  Juxta-positioning Christie in her casual attire and then crossfading to YOU (aka “normal young American woman!) wearing the identical outfit?  Well, it was a winning idea; there you’d be, Lookin’ Christie!  (click link to hear).  Unfortunately, right before the ads could air, Woolworth pulled the plug on Woolco, all their stores shuttered and that was that – another big break bites the dust!

Our finances faltered, a few of our key clients retired and we decided to try our luck in a different market. But even after we’d moved to Chicago, Tony kept calling us from NYC with work.  And he wasn’t shy about letting his colleagues know about how much he enjoyed working with us!

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The Woolworth company had other retail chains, and we produced jingles for *J.Brannam  (click to listen)  (JUst BRANd NAMes clothes and accessories), Frugal Frank’s (shoe outlet) (click to listen) as well as demos for the flagship Woolworth’s  stores (click link to listen).  One of my favorites was Susie’s Casuals (women’s clothing) (click link to listen), the spirit of which was inspired by the Mary Tyler Moore TV show theme song; “hey, girl, you’re makin’ it!  your chance is here and you’re takin’ it! The world will soon be awakenin’, and when they do, all they’re gonna see is YOU!”

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There were some semi-risqué demos for Palmolive soap (international) – one of which  sold and was played worldwide (click link to listen).  And we took a shot at a jingle demo for special Snorks  kids sneakers for Kinney Shoes (click link to listen), after we moved to L.A.  We even hired Tony at one point, to perform a voiceover for an industrial film we were scoring for a different client – recorded in the friendly confines of his San Francisco hotel room while he was on the west coast for business. Those 3-packs/day gave him an authoritative vocal growl and he knew how to work a mic.  Eventually the lack of proximity became somewhat of an issue and his music work went to other suppliers, but our relationship remained warm.

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The last time we got together, Tony was working from his home in Bernardsville, NJ and we met at the diner where the final shot of THE SOPRANOS was filmed a decade later. Tony looked happy and talked about his newest campaigns with zest.  We always made it a point to look him up to meet when we were back east.  And though he and his family never reciprocated, we sent Christmas cards every year.

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Until a few years ago.  His wife finally sent a note to let us know that Tony had passed on in 1999. We were stunned; we’d been sending holiday greetings to a ghost for 15 years!  Once we looked back, a sense of betrayal overwhelmed us, as we realized how compromised our relationship had actually been. Being treated with contempt by a snarly accountant was the tip of the iceberg; the Lee’s Carpet jingle was actually supposed to be a lucrative account, with over 250 dealer “lifts” being edited with our music – each of which was to have been paid separately.  This should have put us on Easy Street financially, as we were in the vocal group as well as among the musicians on the date. We found out later that the money that had been earmarked for all those residuals had been sidelined to the ad agency’s retirement plan. So even though these spots ran for several years, with many more customized versions, we never saw any of those payments, and neither did the singers and musicians we hired.

We realized that this was the case with almost ALL of the work we’d done for Tony, we hadn’t received residuals for virtually any of the music we’d produced! Though this practice is widespread in the arts, (see previous blog  Things We Do For Love). we’d been in denial of how entrenched the corruption had been at the agency and never dreamed Tony would have let this happen. But he had.

It’s a mixed bag and difficult to reconcile such a relationship; while we were cheated out of the money we’d honestly earned that would have enabled us to stay in NYC, through our work with Tony, we had the opportunity to create some music that we’re still proud of to this day. We got to work in the recording studio (our favorite place!), with the best musicians, singers and engineers (our favorite people!). And, for better or worse, we got to hang out with Tony O.  Click thru on the links peppered thru this blog post to hear the  Tony O. Hit Parade.

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Tony’s Dartmouth fraternity brothers miss him. And so do we. Sometimes.

 

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learning, music, music biz

Things We Do For Lo♥e

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No professional I know in the arts began with the idea “to get rich”.  Indeed, pursuing the arts comes from an irresistible impulse to write, to make music, to act, to paint, to perform, to create something new. As artists, we spend countless hours and prodigious amounts of money to develop our skills.  I began with the piano which drew me like a magnet. It was an inner impetus: I had to take lessons. I had to learn how to play. It was an all-consuming urge that could not be denied. I didn’t start out with the idea of becoming a star, or even of making a living in music – although that goal developed in pretty short order!  When I was learning to hand-copy music manuscripts in college, a teacher gave me an orchestral work that had been composed by a friend of his. I was delighted to spend weeks extracting the parts from the score, just for the practice and experience of learning. I don’t think the tiny check I received covered the price of the paper and ink I used!

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To my mind, the performing arts can be more treacherous than fine arts (painting, sculpture, etc.) in this regard because in most instances performers crave to relate directly with other performers and ultimately to the audience. One has to “keep up their chops” between gigs, so workshops are formed and often participants pay-to-play, as if they were out bowling recreationally, instead of working hard on perfecting their professional skills.

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As the daughter of two people who met on stage, I’ve noticed theater people appear to be more eager than many other performing pros to assume that one will volunteer for unpaid rehearsals, free rewrites, event promotion, set-building, etc. – Just For The Joy Of It.  This delusion persists their entire lives, apparently!?  One of the reasons I found it so onerous to work at The Gaslight Theater was the presumption that my time was worthless and therefore I need not be compensated for it. That idea may have been okay when I was in school, but it didn’t pass muster when I was in my 50s!

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As I see it, the stage is set for such gross exploitation at the outset of one’s creative life, when we’re so eager, we’ll do anything to scratch that itch! (It also doesn’t help that the world refers to what we do as playing music, as if it isn’t actually work!) Granted, there are so many more of us who get bitten by the creative bug than opportunities exist to do our thing, let alone get paid for it; it can become a desperate scene.

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Last week an article ran in The Hollywood Reporter recounting the tale of an actor who suffered terrible abuse at the hands of a powerhouse film director.  My heart was touched by the catch-22 in which he found himself; an ordeal that’s been echoed in my own life experiences all too often, though not as frequently now as in my younger years. Yes, there are still many Things We Do For Love – but increasingly, just as we learn to drive defensively, we may need to lo♥e defensively!

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Home, self-acceptance

Baby with the Bathwater

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I read both of Marie Kondo’s books when they were first published in English and I’ve noticed her publicist has been working overtime, increasing her visibility since her Netflix TV episodes began airing earlier this year.  While I adopted some of her ideas right away – (folding and storing so that all socks, shirts, etc. are visible just makes sense!) – I find her “throw everything in a pile” approach to be unnecessarily violent and even punitive; there are kinder, gentler ways to sort through and discard clutter without shaming ourselves. I find I need time to process tender feelings, especially dealing with unfinished business and items with sentimental value.

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What we choose to keep says a lot about who we are, and releasing our possessions can be a spiritual as well as physical and emotional journey. Even going through “junk drawers” in the kitchen takes more time than I would’ve thought – what to do with half-dead batteries?  My collection of twist-ties and tired old rubber bands reveals how hard I try to “keep it together” – and my willingness to sort through and discard such detritus tells me I’m ready to release a lot more stuff I don’t need.

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value of the purge

I agree with Gil Hedley (above), who champions the spiritual nature of sorting through, examining and recycling our “stuff” – knowing that while it doesn’t literally define us, it’s still a potent force to be reckoned with – in his words; “psychically and biologically active”.  Dietitians have been saying, “you are what you eat” for decades – perhaps now is a good time to entertain the idea that “you are what you keep!”

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I’ve been noticing how certain items DO seem to carry an energetic charge – and that broken items are somewhat distressing to me; they cause a disconnect of sorts. As I become more aware of how my possessions actually make me FEEL, I’m hoping to release more than STUFF these days – I’d like to think I’m ready to let go of old habits and attitudes that don’t fit and/or don’t work for me any more – maybe they never did!?

Both of my parents were minimalists and left behind very little by way of clutter; they purged their belongings periodically and I wound up inheriting one office-sized storage box for each of them, the contents of which I scanned and shared with my sisters and other relatives. Knowing how my friends have grappled with their own parents’ possessions, I’m grateful my folks left such a small footprint.  My dad’s box contains his plays, reviews and indecipherable diaries, written in his own secret shorthand, along with a beret that stopped smelling like him many years ago, alas. My mom’s box has her drawings, writings, paper pop-up experiments, letters and cards.

The items of theirs that I’ve kept remind me of the REAL treasures they shared – the time they lavished on us, their artistic flair and aspirations, their love for us.  What else is worth cherishing?

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music biz

Leaving Los Angeles

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We just finished binge-re-watching EPISODES on Netflix and I enjoyed it even more than the first time. While we were never heavy hitters in the “big time” of television, movies or the music biz, enough of the glitter rubbed off from our years striving to get projects, and we met enough other people / wannabes, that every scenario was somehow familiar. Many of our friends had encountered these types of disappointments and we’d experienced enough sucker-punches ourselves to know that, by and large, THIS STUFF IS TRUE!  It actually happens!

One true story for us involved submitting music thru an industry list for a terrific-sounding film project called PRE-K. The script was smart and tight, with well-drawn characters; parents all vying to get their kid into a prestigious exclusive preschool. We were so excited at the prospect of becoming involved in this project that we not only composed and produced demos of the theme song, we wrote a school anthem in 4-part choral harmony! I felt in my bones that we had NAILED the essence of the film and would be a shoo-in as composers for the film!

Alas, a week after we’d sent in our submission, we drove by the offices of the production company and found it completely empty, with no hint that PRE-K had ever existed! We wondered whether this had been a “long con”  ala THE GRIFTERS (1990) , or a “sting” set up by the FBI to catch conmen who were defrauding film investors!? We never did find out!

There are heartwarming as well as heartbreaking stories about the mad grab for the brass ring of fame and fortune in show biz – and I DO miss some of the people I met and worked with in LaLa Land – the fact that many of them have also abandoned Hollywood has not escaped my notice. There were good reasons we went there, besides the generally agreeable weather…. AND there were good reasons why we left!

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learning

Avoiding Disconnect

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As essential as technology has become for communication, certain sloppy habits have crept in and hinder our efforts to connect with one another. I wouldn’t have foreseen how disruptive bad grammar and poor spelling would be, but now even AP and other news sources appear to have fired their editors, leaving the reading public to figure out what’s meant in any given item that gets published, online OR in print.

One of the few exceptions is The New Yorker – for which I remain grateful. Far too many other publications don’t make a consistent effort to use language clearly – perhaps thinking that they’re being “hip”?  Please, no!  The older I get, the less I can handle bumps-in-the-road, literally AND figuratively!  It can be difficult enough already to understand and empathize with one another these days; let’s not obfuscate our message intentionally!

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Susan Sontag weighs in on the truth of “the devil’s in the details”:

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politics

Vacationing In SorkinWorld

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I didn’t watch Sports Night when it first ran on ABC from 1998-2000 – having never been a fan of sports, I figured it just wasn’t for me. But I’d enjoyed Aaron Sorkin’s writing in A Few Good Men and The American President, and then experienced the buffering relief that The West Wing brought to the Dubya Years; watching smart people doing admirable things for the best reasons was a balm for my soul. So eventually I got around to appreciating Sports Night, to the extent that we purchased the DVD set, to be able to revisit the characters again whenever we wanted.

And lately, we have wanted… in a big way.  The nonstop insanity of current events has made it imperative to once again spend time with the fast-talking smartypants-es at CSC, reveling in their rapid-fire banter, good humor and mutual admiration. I can overlook Sorkin’s inability to create multi-dimensional female characters who, though bright and beautiful, can never manage to handle their love lives with any degree of aplomb. And I don’t have any trouble with his personal drug struggles, as I’ve been battling a few addictive tendencies of my own this lifetime. The show reminds me of happier times when I, too, was employed in an office filled with creative types who were passionate about their work; when choices were at least sometimes made on the basis of meritocracy, and not totally on nepotism, greed and self-interest.

I know we can’t turn back time, but I like that I can at least visit, 22-minutes at a pop.

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learning, music biz

Show Biz is a Team Sport

Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 5.38.28 PMI’ve known so many gifted people – musicians, singers, writers, painters, actors  – whose talents I’ve seen only marginally rewarded, or hardly recognized at all. The unfairness of this vexes me and I’ve sought to explain it to myself somehow. Some people shy away from the spotlight, and that’s okay; most of my own career has been “behind the scenes” as a support person. But we need more art and creative insight for life to make sense, and talent needs to be championed and cultivated for how it enriches and gives meaning to our lives.Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 5.37.38 PMI’ve noticed among those of my friends who enjoy enduring career success that somewhere along the way, they’ve been blessed by a support team; whether early on, in the form of a nuclear family that made sacrifices, or professionals in the field who were hired and/or inspired to train and encourage the protegé. The “self-made” man or woman is pretty much a Hollywood conceit; in real life, artists need as much or more coaching as athletes.

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With my first CD of original songs, I ran out of money and tried in vain to do all the promotion and marketing by myself…. but that’s not the truth, either – because without the invaluable talents and ceaseless help of my partner Mark Wolfram, I doubt I’d have ever finished that or any other release! A few years later when I got a chance to work with Windham Hill Records, I got a taste of how the music biz “machine” functioned to package, present and market music – and it was impressive! From the publicist to the video lighting guy to the makeup artist, they all had the concept down cold, and to a relative outsider like me, it was slick and overwhelmingly professional!  I kinda felt like  Queen For A Day.  (See my similar deer-in-the-headlights look HERE as well? When you’re used to taking your own bath, it’s startling to suddenly be waited on hand-&-foot!)

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Art directors, engineers, producers and stylists put these things together, and the smart artist accepts their help with gratitude. THIS trio is obviously confident enough to appreciate what each other brings to the party, as well as all the behind-the-scenes people responsible for showing them all off to best effect:

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Bing, Sinatra & Dean – Together Wherever We Go

(It’s no wonder agents, managers, publicists and producers are frequently the first people to be thanked when a celebrity wins an award!)  No matter how “rugged self-starting individualist” an artist may appear to be, designing, manufacturing and wearing ALL the hats of Performer-Creator-Manager-Stylist-BookingAgent-etc.-etc.-etc. is exhausting…  we’ve each only got one head and there IS such a thing as too much millinery!

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As usual, Sondheim got it right:  “someone is on your side….No One Is Alone”

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