Dave Hodge, partner and creative director of Finger Music & Sound Design, discusses creating palatable yet excellent sound design
You know when you hear a new song and you love it so much, you listen to it over and over again? You listen to it so much that two weeks later you HATE that song and aggressively skip it every time it plays for more than half a millisecond.
Well, imagine when you have an ad that you find amusing and it grips you and you can’t forget that catchy tune, even when you’re not watching it. But, then you start seeing that ad 20 times a week, and you start hating that too. Hating it faster than your flavour of the month on Spotify.
Ads are often slated for their excellence - or their annoyance. An ad watched once can inspire and captivate attention, yet on the fifth or sixth repetition can begin to grate on more than just people’s nerves. With so much of audience engagement resting on how enjoyable the score and sound design are - there can be a fine line between captivating and aggravating.
Recently, LBB spoke with Finger Music & Sound Design New York’s partner and creative director Dave Hodge about how he and his team were tasked with creating the sound design for a three-spot Mercedes series - set to air over The Masters 2019 golf tournament. The ads would be on heavy rotation, presented to audiences many, many times over a short space of time - how did Dave’s team approach it? Not timidly - that’s for sure.
In this interview Dave outlines the creative process behind each ad, the impetus for the chosen sound profiles and how a bombastic approach really isn’t so fantastic anymore.
Q> Creating sound that elevates a spot but doesn’t grate on viewers can be a difficult mark to hit - often missed. How did you approach this project, knowing that sound can be the most crucial part of a spot?
Dave Hodge> We were exceptionally mindful of the fact that these spots would be aired constantly during commercial breaks. Such a heavy rotation meant that the sound profile needed to be interesting and exciting - whilst still palatable, over multiple repetitions.
For that reason we worked to create rich and interesting sounds that would complement the visuals, execute the brief and also intrigue people. In saying that, we worked from an ambitious and adventurous place, rather than timidly hoping we wouldn’t ‘grate’ on viewers. Of course, we could have gone the route of the traditional big trailer score, but we wanted to push the boundaries of what a car spot had to sound like - creating something totally different to the norm in the process.
Q> Sound preferences can vary hugely over different demographics - because of this, did you feel there was a need to profile the expected audience?
Dave> From an audio perspective, we didn’t focus on profiling in terms of a traditional demographic - in reality, our main consideration was recognizing and respecting that this audience is incredibly engaged and that their attention is truly captive. These viewers are paying attention to minute details and are switched on to advertisements and aware of what is being shown. Unlike other sporting events, where perhaps there’s more chaos or noise, The Masters is an event hinged on both the large and small moments - generating equal interest for both.
With this front of mind, our composers created sounds that were rigorously interrogated for their high-quality and synergistic nature. We knew there had to be a meticulous approach to the sounds and the dialogue - ensuring that attention was retained rather than diverted with over the top, abrasive or insubstantially aggressive sounds.
Q> The G-Wagon spot was perhaps the most unusual of its type - what did the process of creating the sound design look like?
Dave> We approached the G-Wagon spot, ‘Too Far’, with the purpose of creating something that maintained the integrity of it’s work-horse history whilst honoring the modern icon it’s become. It culminated in a far more sparse sound design profile than perhaps other contemporary truck commercials - for the very reason that the aggressive, bombastic truck-ad approach is arguably passé now that almost everyone does it. Instead of being an attention-grabbing ploy, it’s become a rather predictable formula - used a million times in exactly the same way.
From this understanding, we briefed our composers to create interesting sounds that would draw viewers in, yet also maintain the sophistication and the grit that makes the G-Wagon so identifiable.
We did this by choosing an instrument, the cello, and then really getting the guts out of it. The slightly discordant quality of the picked strings as the camera captures these big, beautiful soaring shots and the truck navigates the craggy, rocky terrain is really something special. It’s intriguing in a way that hitting viewers over the head with the expected, mammoth trailer music and exaggerated sounds simply isn’t anymore.
There’s actually very little sound design in this spot - a tiny bit at the end with the engine sounds, but the sparseness of the score is key to it’s gritty, robust, beautiful toughness and versatility. A restrained excellence, perhaps. The agency creatives made excellent decisions along the way - this was definitely one of them.