Space Oddity by David Bowie by smallsins

One of the questions I’ve been getting in interviews lately is: ‘What were you doing in all that time of not releasing any Small Sins records?’ One of the answers to this question is jingle-writing, so this week I will talk about that.

Doing music for advertising can be both liberating and unbearable. On one hand it can compel you to do things creatively that you would never normally do. This song is a perfect example. I would never think to cover Space Oddity; it’s a song I would consider to be un-coverable. But I was prompted to do so by an ad agency on behalf of a company I am probably not allowed to name. It turned out to be a really fun experience. They asked for the same arrangement, just more modern. When the direction is simple and straightforward, ads are easy to write for – and this one was especially so.

On the other hand, the experience can be hell. I have done work in the past that is painful to complete. This is bad. If you are making music you hate, you just might end up hating music. So I’ve slowed down considerably with these types of gigs. What songs of mine do you know from television, you might ask? I’ll never tell. That work is the one-night stand you are embarrassed to tell your friends about. The other reason for slowing down in the ad world is the rejection. I’ve done dozens of ads that haven’t been picked up. Some of them I think are perfect, and they don’t get used. Some of them are horrible, and they DO get used.

But it’s not just a world of opposites. Good things get used as well, and bad things get rejected as they should. In my mind there is no rhyme or reason to how the clients pick their music. I think a lot of them don’t really know what they are asking for, but want to be involved. Everyone thinks they know something about music, but when that is part of your job – and shouldn’t be – there can be
trouble. It’s competitive like a race, but no one seems to know where the finish line is. And that is incredibly annoying.

But not every experience is like that. As cheesy as some of it is, I have fun making it for the most part. The ones that have been the most fun are the haikus: that is to say, the ones that liberate you with restriction because the client KNOWS what it wants. Sometimes it’s hard to go to my studio and just sit down and write something. Inspiration is not a tap you can turn on and off, and given the limitless possibilities of an empty canvas, it can be hard to think of something to paint. The best ads place heavy restrictions upon the writer, and those restrictions can set you free.

Right off the bat, you are faced with a time restriction: ads are always 15, 30 or 60 seconds, so you know that. You are also provided with a tempo, a genre (or often, a specific artist to emulate), and what you’re doing has to match a picture. Those limits, along with some helpful tips and suggestions, let you know what your job is. So if you’re given a map, and all you need to do is creatively figure out how to get to your destination, it can be really fun in the end.

And if the piece doesn’t get used, you have it on file and can try to sell it to someone else one day, or even use it for yourself. There have been a few ads that eventually turned in to Small Sins songs, as I mentioned a few weeks ago: ‘On The Run’ from Mood Swings, ‘Talk Talk’ from the extended version of Pot Calls Kettle Black. These are songs that wouldn’t have existed if someone hadn’t hired me to write them. Because they never got used, I was free to do with them what I wished. And that’s the case with what you’re listening to right now. Originally I only recorded a 30-second version of this song, but it was so much fun that I decided to do the whole thing the next day and have my good friend James Robertson (now of The Golden Dogs) do a guitar solo. It’s not very Small Sins-esque, I know: more of a rock vibe, but totally satisfying somehow to perform. It’s one of those things that, by the end of the day, we just wanted to listen to on repeat at full volume. Fun.

Oh, and sorry for getting a couple of the chords wrong. Whatever… it’s just an ad.

You can watch the original here.

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