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Synchronising Mouths, Music and Motion



Yellow Boat Music’s Philip Jewson on the fine art of musical direction… and staying warm in a field of Brussels sprouts at 6am!

Synchronising Mouths, Music and Motion

With a rich career in the music industry composing, directing and producing music for the likes of Audi, BA, Direct Line, Domestos, Dove, Drambuie, GHD, Glade,, Harvey Nichols, HSBC, Hyundai, Land Rover, McDonalds, Morrisons, New York Bakery, O2, Racing Post, Signal, Veet, and Vodafone, among others, Yellow Boat Music’s Philip Jewson shares the ins and outs of being a musical director on commercial shoots.

It is of course well-known that musical adverts, particularly those that incorporate singing, can be invaluable to branding a product. This is not only because they have that magic double quality of working both visually and non-visually for brands, but also because they commit to the hard-wired parts of consumers’ memories. You only have to think back to ‘Only the flakiest, crumbliest chocolate..’ and you think Cadbury’s, ‘Washing machines live longer with…’ - Calgon and ‘Just one Cornetto…’, and the brands will be going around your head all day.  

However, what’s not always so well known about creating memorable music for commercials is how to make the most of it on set. As a Musical Director of numerous commercials, I believe that having experienced musicians on a shoot for a music-driven ad, and to advise during pre-production is key to ensuring the optimum output.  If you’re going to use music as the hook for your campaign, it is critical to its success that it looks live and believable. But it’s not just a matter of securing a group of good singers on set, there are some other things you may want to consider:

Case Study One: Morrisons

Our brief for this spot was to write a new arrangement of the classic song, ‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas’. However the song was to be performed by a number of actors, rather than professional singers, each taking solo lines in a variety of scenarios. 

The goal was to make sure the mouths of the actors were in sync with the music and that the performances looked authentic.

To achieve this we began by writing the arrangement and demoing it with session singers to lock down the timings and create a strong structure before filming.

This gave us a base from which to teach the actors how to sing the song; where to give emphasis and expression and to provide clear cues.  I was on hand to provide insight at all the shoot locations, including a field of Brussels sprouts near Bolton at 6am….it was cold! For another particularly tricky shot, the sound technician was strapped to the back of a trailer whilst filming the actors singing in a taxi driving up and down the street!

Armed with my iPad, I taught the actors their lines and rehearsed them. We had live playback wherever we were so the performers could sing to our backing track. This helped ensure, once fully rehearsed, each actor would be able to provide a believable performance.

As we expect to happen, live vocals from the shoot were compromised with background noise. Post-shoot we recalled the actors to the studio to record a clean performance of their vocals.  On set throughout the process, precise direction ensured the quality of the vocals and that the delivery was entirely in sync with the moving picture.

Case Study Two:

When the comparison site re-launched its well-known tenor Gio Compario in 2015 with its ‘comeback’ advert, the brief was to have an in-vision orchestra and choir actually playing and singing the newly composed musical arrangement.

Unlike Morrisons, the performers in this spot were trained orchestral musicians and professional singers. The challenge was  to ensure a seamless sync between sound and motion.

The first action was to create a music demo to demonstrate the new arrangement and the flow of the music.  We recorded demo vocals with the star of the adverts, the tenor Wynne Evans (Gio Compario). Once everyone was happy with the demo track, I wrote out a full orchestral score and we booked the orchestra and choir to perform for several days on shoot.

Again, to eliminate any compromised sound from background activity we recorded the final tracks in sound studios, overseas and in London. Wynne Evans recorded the final vocals to picture in our studio and was able to add extra subtleties and expression over and above his initial guide-takes.

The process was applied similarly to both the ‘Cello’ and ‘Pool’ commercials for the campaign. ‘Cello’ required further direction to teach two, non-musically trained actresses to convincingly play the cello throughout the ad. Again a professional orchestra and singers also performed on the shoot.

With the new arrangement in place, we added the extra element of backing vocals to ‘Pool’, this time with actors performing to camera.  The action was filmed around a swimming pool in South Africa – whilst exotic it was no more enjoyable than the field near Bolton! 

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Yellow Boat Music, Fri, 06 May 2016 12:34:13 GMT