Music holds a huge importance for the emotional impact in advertising. Here, experienced media composer Jeremy Birchall talks to Manners McDade about working with brands and responding to pictures with music.
Jeremy Birchall has written extensively for TV, and was most recently involved co-writing the score for two one-hour specials and a 10-part series of teen drama, Free Rein (Netflix) which was released in June 2019. Previous television projects include composing additional music for series 3, 4 and 5 of Ripper Street, (working alongside composer Dominik Scherrer), Inspector George Gently, and Castles In The Sky (both with Mark Russell), both for the BBC. He collaborated with Dominik again for The Collection (Amazon Prime) in 2017.
Jeremy is also known for his work in advertising; recent credits include M&S Christmas 2018, Into Christmas 2018, Sky Cinema Christmas 2017 and two projects for Lenor Europe. He works frequently with Goldstein, Native, BMG and Adelphoi Music.
Q> Who would you say are your main musical influences?
Jeremy Birchall> My background is in classical music; I trained as a violinist, originally and I think I’m always trying to bring something of that to what I do now.
As for so many musicians, the influence of Bach has been a constant for me - I would say, conservatively, that I have been obsessed with his chorales since I first heard them. Also Charlie Parker, The Beatles, Ravel, Vaughan Williams and in the world of film and TV, Daniel Pemberton, Steven Price, Harry Gregson-Williams and Dominik Scherrer.
I think that we media composers should also probably (graciously) acknowledge the influence of Hans Zimmer on our music.
I loved Jonathan Rhys Hill’s score to The Long Song recently, and going a bit further back, Adrian Corker’s score to The Village.
Q> As you’ve worked on Christmas ads for Sky, M&S and Intu, can you tell us a bit about the process for scoring a Christmas ad?
Jeremy> In terms of process, it’s very similar to working on any ad. But, something that stands out is that we’re often asked to write ‘non-Christmas’ music for Christmas ads.
The ads themselves are often not obviously or at least, immediately, Christmas-themed. Instead, they have other, quite tangential themes of family, humour, homecoming, adventure etc, that the music needs to concentrate on.
That format is sometimes subverted though - last year, my task for the M&S Christmas Food ad was to make an Ed Sheeran track more Christmas-y!
Q> What are your favourite aspects of working so closely with ad agencies and directors and supervisors?
Jeremy> I often work with music supervision agencies/music production houses - Goldstein, Adelphoi, Felt, Native etc. But I also work directly with producers and directors and sometimes, direct-to-client.
Working with agencies is fun, collaborative and often yields creative and musically-interesting results. The obvious advantage of working direct-to-client is that they can ask very specifically for what they want - I’ve had Skype conversations with a brand manager literally asking for various notes and bits of orchestration to be moved/removed!
Q> As well as writing music for advertisements, can you tell us about some of the drama/documentary projects you’ve worked on?
Jeremy> This year, I’ve co-scored two 90-minute specials and the 3rd series of Free Rein for Netflix.
I wrote additional music for Dominik Scherrer on the final three seasons of Ripper Street and worked with him again on The Collection and orchestrated the score for An Inspector Calls. I’ve also scored Inspector George Gently, Castles In The Sky and Millie Inbetween.
Most recently, I composed the second series of Britain’s Most Historic Towns (C4) and wrote a suite of music, including a new theme tune and idents for the reality show, Survivor.
Q> What are some of your favourite past projects you have worked on, and can you explain why?
Jeremy> A favourite of mine is this
ad for VW which I scored through Goldstein. It’s part of a pair
that were challenging stylistically and I think, a little unusual, creatively.
I’ve recently done a series of ads for Lenor, all of which used their existing melody ‘La Plage’ which I had to rework in different styles according to the theme of the ad.
was a fun project last year for Intu.
I enjoyed working with Sky Creative on this
ad for Sky Broadband, Secret Life of Pets. It’s a real portrait in miniature - so much musical information to convey whilst not overpowering the drama or dialogue.
Perhaps my favourite project was Ripper Street - collaborating with Dominik Scherrer, a brilliant composer, on a score that sought to create a musical sound world appropriate to Victorian London without resorting to cliché, was fascinating.