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Music Transcending Borders: Pickle Music’s Sebastián Merlín on the Sound of New Frontiers



As the New York music & sound institution Pickle Music sets up shop in Madrid, associate creative director Sebastián Merlín tells LBB how the move symbolises a changing global creative culture

Music Transcending Borders: Pickle Music’s Sebastián Merlín on the Sound of New Frontiers

The world is changing. As the planet tentatively and collectively emerges from various stages of lockdown, that much seems obvious. Amidst the upheaval, our industry is grappling with a myriad of changes - some enforced by the pandemic, and others accelerated by it. 

Pickle Music, the award-winning global music agency, has been evolving alongside these changes for some time. The news that the company has opened a new record label in Europe (having previously been based entirely in New York) comes in response to a particular trend Pickle had noticed. In the words of the company’s associate creative director Sebastián Merlín, “the link between art and advertising is evolving into something different”, and the industry needs to adapt. 

To talk through the company’s move and what it means for the company’s future - as well as reflect on his own evolving creative process - Sebastián spoke with LBB… 

Q> Hi, Sebastian! First things first, what was it about launching a record label with Pickle Music that was such an attractive opportunity for you? 

Sebastián> The idea of combining two worlds and expanding a team - with everything that Pickle has already established in New York - with my world and my experience working with artists, was a fascinating proposition given the industry in Europe today. We wanted to bring together the world of advertising with the world of artists in a unique way, and I believe we are doing exactly that. 

Q> And how is this new office going to bring those worlds together?

Sebastián> The link between art and advertising has evolved into something new and different. Brands look for artists who add value and help them connect with their audience - among other things - and modern artists have a much more natural relationship with advertising. That is happening in entertainment, branded content, and the worlds of gaming, film, and music. That is why, among other things, we decided to set up a record label that serves as a platform through which we can connect all these dots. That will be our responsibility in this new European office. 

Q> Pickle is already well-established across the other side of the atlantic. What steps - if any - are you taking to ensure you keep a common culture across this international business?

Sebastián> There’s no doubt Pickle Music has its own culture. It’s a higher standard when it comes to committing to a campaign, an obsession with craft, and everything it has to contribute from music, audio, strategy and musical creativity. Maintaining these characteristics will be an important - and exciting - priority. 

Pickle Music has been a well-known production company in the international market for years. In this year alone it has been winning at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity with several award-winning lions spread across different brands. Pickle’s name is attached to some of the biggest campaigns of the year, including a Titanium. Likewise at other award festivals such as Clio Music, D&AD, and One Show, with different campaigns. Upholding these high standards is an energising prospect for me and the team in Europe.

Q> So what does this new brand mean for Pickle Music, in terms of what you can offer your clients?

Sebastián> The scale of some global projects in New York naturally created the need to open an office that would allow us to work for all of Europe. It seemed appropriate to propose new strategic alternatives, the possibility of bringing in new talent, multidisciplinary teams, and a whole new array of people. It seemed to us that this would not only bring a new and refreshing perspective, but also provide more tools for our clients and partners.

Having a new team in Madrid, in addition to the one in New York, makes us more agile and adds a new element to Pickle’s culture. One of our first priorities has been developing a system that works well between the two time zones, ensuring everything is running smoothly and our communication is strong. For example, we recently received a last-minute brief at the end of the day in Europe, so we were able to begin work on it and then pass it over to the New York team to continue it as they begin their day.

Q> Sebastian, can you tell us anything about your own personal approach to your craft? How do you like to tackle a brief?

Sebastián> I’ve been working for more than 20 years in the music recording world and have dedicated a large part of those years to working with all kinds of artists as a music producer. Among them, I have produced for the winner of an Oscar - in the Best Original Song category - by Jorge Drexler. I’ve also been lucky enough to work with the legendary Caetano Veloso, and have picked up two Latin Grammy awards.

My approach starts from the concept of the idea. I’ll do whatever it takes - analyzing it and pampering it - to ensure that I understand it conceptually. In general, when we receive a brief, we set up meetings with a certain team designated for that project. In these brainstorming meetings we seek to understand and define the concept that will guide us throughout the project, what that piece needs, and what is the added value that we can bring to the project. If we are producing or composing original music, we always try to find a way to elevate that idea. We apply this process and this tone to every campaign, brand, and idea that we work with. In my case, I prefer to be a little more disruptive and go beyond the predictable, finding new ways to elevate work. It is in my DNA as an artist, as well as a music producer. 

Q> In your experience, are there any ways in which the feel and culture of the industry is different in Europe than it is across the pond?

Sebastián> The truth is that music is a global language. Despite this, however, each market has its own distinguishing culture. There are differences in the way of working, the processes, and in the collective emotional unconscious in different places. So, when it comes to generating strategies with artists and brands, knowing each market - whether its North America or Europe - brings new tools to agencies, brands, and producers.  

Q> Can you tell us anything about the kinds of projects you’ve been working on since the new office opened?

Sebastián> Ha, this is the most important question! If I think about the projects we have been involved in until now, given that we opened in Madrid amidst a global pandemic, it sounds pretty crazy. Despite all the challenges, we’ve produced campaigns which are sweeping people away like ‘Confusing Times’ for Burger King and the new Carlsberg campaign starring Mads Mikkelsen. I recommend checking them both out if you haven’t seen them yet! 

Above: Burger King’s acclaimed Confusing Times ad was produced in the midst of a global pandemic, with all of the challenges that brought

Q> Have there been any challenges in setting up this new office - and if so, how have you overcome them?

Sebastián> Well, as I said before. Pickle Madrid's office was born in the midst of a pandemic. As a result, we’ve been pushing up against obstacles that many would have considered insurmountable - and that’s what makes us most proud! In the beginning, the challenge was the same that many had: simply trying to make everything work remotely. 

In music and audio production it is somewhat different because people usually work a lot in that way, even before the pandemic. So that helped us to quickly organize and set up the Madrid team despite the physical restrictions that we’ve all endured for the past 18 months. Now we hope to work together again hopefully, to have sessions in our studios, and why not a few of those live jams that we all miss to finish off a day after so much go-go-go!?

Q> Finally, is this the beginning of world domination for Pickle Music? What’s next for you guys?

Sebastián> What do you mean? The world is already dominated by Pickle!

Although now that you mention it.. we are finishing the full final mix of a special project, whose premiere will literally take place in space. Yes, in outer space! It will surely be on air around a month from now. So on that note, perhaps it’s time for Pickle to set its sights beyond Earth, and into the stars! 

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Pickle Music, Tue, 13 Jul 2021 13:40:00 GMT