Without music, creativity would not be the same. Whether it’s a rhythm and cadence provided in the background, or the transcendent emotions music can push to the foreground, so much of our creative history is linked to music and its unique ability to communicate directly with our senses.
It’s that link which this new interview series, supported by SoStereo and inspired by their What About the Music podcast, sets out to explore. Over the coming months, we’ll be speaking to high-profile industry figures about how music has influenced their relationship with their craft, and get their take on the process of marring melody to creativity.
LBB> How did you first start in the world of advertising, and how did you get to where you are now?
Nik> I started with an ambition to create longer films and was cutting lots of commercials. My background in editorial allowed me to really hone in on how to efficiently tell stories in 60 seconds or less. I still am working on some longer initiatives, but I really love directing commercials and short form content. It’s fun to distil bigger brand stories into simple and clear messaging. It's actually helped me be more concise and clearer in other parts of my life, too – including other business ventures.
LBB> What can you tell us about your current role, and are there any current projects you are excited about?
Nik> I am the executive creative director at our agency Native Foreign, which means I work with our other creative directors and oversee a bit of everything going on. I’ve got my hands in all the pots to some degree. My aim is to surround myself with the best of the best specialists, and do whatever I can to make sure the big picture is always clear. We have a couple of main title sequences and experiential projects in the works that I’m very excited about, but of course I cannot yet discuss…
LBB> So, we are here to talk about music! You mentioned a background in hip hop and connections with several artists. How did you get into music and rapping?
Nik> I’ve always loved hip hop. For whatever reason, it’s the music that resonates with me most. I spent my 20s touring and making underground “art hop” (as they call it), real boom-bap. Now in my visual career, I’ve collaborated with lots of rappers, like Bubba Sparxxx (who starred in) and Jeezy (who EP’d) my IP called “The Auctioneer” about an auctioneer-turned-rapper. Native Foreign has also done a lot of work in the rap world, including VFX on a recent Young Thug video and soup-to-nuts on a recent Key Glock promo.
LBB> What’s your earliest memory of interacting with music, and how would you describe your relationship with music today?
Nik> As a kid I listened to a lot of golden-era hip hop and classical music, and something about that eccentric mix has given me a wide appreciation for music. I still love creating music and collaborating with different friends on a variety of projects whenever I have a moment of time to do so, haha. Still, it’s mainly for fun and because it’s an instant easy form of expression.
LBB> And what’s your favourite ever example of music in an ad?
Nik> Favourite ever is always a tall order. Just like main title sequences, I actually think commercials are a great way to feature new music. With such broad reach, it can be the perfect recipe for music discovery. There’s also a great opportunity to revisit older jams in new inventive ways, like the way Airbnb did this “pandemic spot”
with only photos and juxtaposing two retirees on vacation with Jay-Z & Beyonce’s Bonnie & Clyde (“me and my girlfriend”) song.
On the flipside of all this, I do love a much more straight-forward jingle approach to commercial music. For a recent campaign I directed, I got to work with Sonixphere on this Camping World spot where Abe Lincoln raps. They are the guys behind “Zoom Zoom Zoom” - and a classic jingle has a real way of getting stuck in your ear.
LBB> What’s your process like - for you personally, and with your team/agency - to find and work with music?
Nik> We start with thinking what other agencies would put up for the music for a certain piece, then think – okay – how do we do something a little different, a little unexpected. We pull references from notable artists within that genre, and start our edit. Sometimes we have budget for bigger artists, and sometimes we don’t. When we don’t – we try to get a composer to create something that exudes the right feeling. When we don’t have budget for a composer – we look through libraries and try to find the closest thing that works. Sometimes we even add our own flourishes to the music to give them more depth, when needed!
LBB> If you had to pick one moment where music played a pivotal role in your career, what would it be?
Nik> Easily this would have to be when we were creating the Narcos open for Netflix, which ended up with a Primetime Emmy nomination for both the main title sequence and the main title theme music. The song used was Rodrigo Amarante’s “Tuyo.” It’s such an incredible song that became as iconic in pop culture as the sequence, and the two worked perfectly together hand-in-hand.
LBB> What’s the most frustrating thing about dealing with music? And what improvements would you love to see?
Nik> Sometimes it can take days or weeks to find the right music (but I’ve seen it happen). Music is such a subjective thing. I’ve seen projects all the way through that got approvals from half a dozen executives only to be changed by the final boss in the 11th hour. Other times you may find the perfect piece of music but it’s too repetitive and lacks the intricacy and movements you need for a compelling edit.
LBB> On the other hand, what’s the best thing about dealing with music?
Nik> Music has a superpower. It’s the only thing that can get us high without a chemical stimulant. So naturally it can carry great emotive resonance and lift a piece from mediocre to legendary with the right piece. When you find that track – anything is possible.
LBB> Oftentimes we see that unless music IS the campaign, music is the last thing on a campaign's line-item or priority list. Why do you think that is?
Nik> I think despite the importance of music, it tends to be a “we’ll deal with it later” action item more often than not – which is quite strange considering how much impact it can have. So much of the creative gets put on the visuals, music doesn’t always get the attention it deserves.
LBB> What might a solution look like to that issue, and how can it be given the priority it deserves?
Nik> That’s an interesting question. Budget, consideration, and time is a triad this can be built upon. Also the accessibility of great music choices.
LBB> If you could give one piece of advice to production teams about how to handle music, what would it be and why?
Nik> Try to find something unique. There are so many libraries that everyone is using – stuff starts to sound the same. I can’t tell you how many commercials and TV shows I’ve seen where I hear the same songs and know what libraries they come from. Embrace natural talent and find any opportunity to take a fresh approach to music.
LBB> Finally, what music are you listening to now?
Nik> I’m listening to the new Drake and Beyonce records because I think it’s super interesting they’re bringing 4-on-the-floor to mainstream pop music, and I bet a lot of EDM and house DJs are pretty damn excited about it, too. I’m listening to a lot of heavy trap music like Gucci Mane and Young Dolph as usual, and of course no playlist is complete without some Kate Bush and Beethoven.