SixtyFour Music’s Nick Payne and composer / producer duo Austen Corbin take us behind the music on Aldi’s loveable and super effective Christmas campaign series, Kevin the Carrot
Aldi’s loveable Christmas mascot, Kevin the Carrot, pushed up his roots and burst onto the British and Irish advertising market in 2016. And he’s been through a lot since his first appearance. He’s grown up, got a family, and his adventures get all the more exciting every year. McCann Manchester and Psyop have been behind Kevin’s escapades from day one, but it is SixtyFour Music and Wave Studios who have been working with them to add the touches of magic to the music and sound every Christmas.
This year, little Kevin left the UK on tenterhooks after a Top Gun style escapade went wrong and he was left hurtling into the snow on a parachute. And the epic journey which followed needed an epic score to match.
Speaking to LBB, managing partner at SixtyFour Music, Nick Payne, and award-winning composers Austen Corbin explain how they tied together two iconic yet contrasting film scores, recorded an orchestra during lockdown, and saw Kevin ‘come out the other side a stronger carrot’...
LBB > What was the brief from the brand and the creatives this year and how did you approach it?
Nick Payne > I think the team at McCann spend most of the year thinking about Christmas for Aldi so they always have lots of ideas for the music when they come to the brief. What’s great for us is they have always treated us as specialists and sought our advice on what can be achieved musically, so we work with them from the outset. This year, they knew they wanted to tap into a big cinematic score, the type synonymous with Christmas movies. We’ve used famous movie scores before - we rearranged and recorded Edward Scissorhands for them the year before last which was awesome and we have used Home Alone in a past campaign too. The question for us this year was what is best and why. We did endless amounts of searching and suggesting. We wanted to look for things that hadn't been too overused yet had mass appeal and recognisability.
Austen Corbin > Like Nick says we have a really good relationship with McCann where we work together from a very early stage. Of course, this year there were a lot more Zoom calls where McCann could share what they wanted to achieve and discuss how we deliver the story with the music.
LBB > We noticed Home Alone and Pirates of the Caribbean. Was it just these two and how did you link what are quite contrasting pieces of music together?
Austen Corbin > Yes, it’s those two and we composed additional parts to tie them together. Obviously the original pieces of music were very different in their recording styles and orchestral arrangement and lineup. So, when we were rearranging them, we had this in mind and deliberately made the transitions between the pieces flow as much we could. However, whilst they are very different pieces of music, they're also used in very different parts of the film. Pirates of the Caribbean, for example, comes in at a point that brings out the drama of the story. Our job was not only to combine the three different cues (we use two from Home Alone), but also to pick out moments within the storytelling with additional orchestration to really highlight the action.
We had many discussions with the McCann Manchester team on how to make it flow like a single piece of music so it told the story effectively. It's a really lovely process with McCann actually because over the years we've got to know how each other work so well.
- Behind the scenes of the orchestra recording
LBB > You used a full orchestra to record the score. Were there any logistical challenges when recording due to the lockdown?
Nick > There's only two studios in London where we could actually do this scale of recording to the standard that we'd expect to deliver. In the past we've been to Prague to record, and I've done sessions in Budapest over the years as well as Vienna, but this year that wasn’t an option so we had to confirm everything very early on to ensure we could book space in the studio.
Austen Corbin > It was only logistically that it was different this year. Normally with a session like this we would probably have had a two hour recording session with the whole orchestra, but due to the restrictions, studios are obviously being very very careful. We had to record in sections as there needed to be distance between everyone playing so we started with the strings and woodwind, then moved on to the brass section and later in the day recorded percussion and so on. It was all broken down and took the whole day, rather than the usual two hours. But it worked very well actually. Although different, it opened up other opportunities. We have so much more control over the sections by recording this way. For the client, they had to put a lot more trust in us because they weren’t allowed to attend the session. AIR Lyndhurst did a fantastic job for us.
LBB > So how do you bring all of the sections back together so seamlessly?
Austen Corbin > Generally speaking a full orchestra plays better together but even when we have them together it's not unusual to record stems separately to give us more control over the sound. What did make a difference however was the positioning of each of the musicians who had to be distanced from each other, much more so than normal due to the pandemic. There’s a huge amount of control we have in the studio anyway. But in mixing and with the musicians, they're very flexible and professional so weren’t phased by the situation at all.
- SixtyFour Music's set-up
LBB > You guys are obviously closely linked to Wave Studios. Do you find this partnership made the delivery and working processes more seamless?
Austen Corbin > Yes, we work very closely with the sound design team. Parv [Thind, creative director / sound designer] did this - he does an excellent job and he does all the other stuff every year. When we produced our music track, we had a Zoom call with Parv to try and understand what he's trying to achieve with the sound effects and how we could balance that with what we wanted to achieve with our music. Quite often this is something that composers and music producers battle with, with sound design. But, again, we have this great relationship built up now that works really nicely. Of course there's a little bit of to-ing and fro-ing if there's something in the music that's a little bit too full on, then we can always remix that bit of the song where the sound design needs to take over a little bit more.
Nick > What’s great is we have an open dialogue with the sound designers so can collaborate quickly and effectively and much more easily than relaying things through a series of producers which makes most projects pretty seamless.
LBB > What’s the timeframe working on a Christmas project like this?
Nick > My phone usually rings around March / April! As a music supervisor, my process starts quite a while before Mike and Dan get involved because myself and the team at SixtyFour Music have the task of finding the tracks and making sure they can be used in the way the brand wants to use them. It’s also worth locking in permissions early from rights holders before production starts because the animation can be heavily influenced by the soundtrack. Locking in your fate with the track(s) that you want early also gives us and the client the peace of mind that nobody else can use them.
Austen Corbin > It was actually early Summer time for us this year as we also worked on the teaser ad. These are always a lot of fun but creatively they are two different projects, so we start early. Even from the first Kevin we’ve always started early on the music. Music really drives the story and what’s amazing is that McCann recognises how much of an important part it plays.
- The orchestra prepares to record
LBB > How big is the team who works on the music for these campaigns?
Nick > I guess what's not obvious on this call is that there's more to the A-team, as it were. As well as Mike, Dan and myself, there were another 70-odd people involved including the orchestra, conductor, copyist, recording engineers etc. and they are all London’s best.
Austen Corbin > Exactly. The reason this works so well is that we have an incredible team around us. Recording in London is a privilege because we have the best players in the world here. We record in the studios that do many of the Hollywood films. We work very closely with Guy Farley, our orchestrator and conductor, who did a fantastic job on the day with the 'Chamber Orchestra Of London'. The success of this film is down to the great team and network that we’ve built up over the years. So, it was never a worry for us producing this incredible piece of music. It's a real pleasure to do it, we have to say.