As part of our new Classic Sync Series, where we delve into some of our favourite uses of music in media, we chat to duotone audio group‘s David Leinheardt about his work on Chipotle’s award-winning “Back to the Start” campaign.
Hi David. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what duotone audio group does?
I started in the business as an artist manager. I was hired in 1991 just out of university by Buzztone, a small management company in Los Angeles, that managed a small roster of producers, writers, and artists. About six weeks in to my tenure there, we began managing an unknown band called Cypress Hill, and over the course of the following year they blew up. Then a year or so later, Cypress Hill’s DJ Muggs produced House of Pain including their massive hit “Jump Around”. So at 23/24 years-old I was managing two ground-breaking, platinum hip hop bands which was amazing and gave me an incredible education in the music business.
After a few years I left to start my own management company, with Duncan Sheik as my first client. His very first single “Barely Breathing” would end up having a great run on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for 55 straight weeks, and for which he was nominated for a Grammy, losing out to Elton John’s “Candle In The Wind 1997”. I continued to manage several artists over the years, including Ben Lee, Hooverphonic and Longwave, among others, and then in 2009 I joined my friend Peter Nashel, at duotone audio group, jumping into the commercial music space. At that point duotone had been around for about 14 years, mainly creating original music for TV commercials. When I joined the team we set about further diversifying the business, with a specific focus on bringing my music industry perspective and experience to bear on new business.
How did you first get involved with Chipotle’s ‘Back to the Start’ campaign?
We had just completed a campaign for CAA Marketing and they came to us with a project from a new client, Chipotle. They had an animated film that they needed music for, and they approached us about composing an original score. The animation was probably 80% rendered at this point, so we had film to look at as part of our process.
As we often do as part of our internal process, we started out by temping some songs and score against the picture for inspiration. It quickly became apparent that it might be interesting to have a lyric to help tell the story. That led to the idea to do a fresh arrangement of a well-known song. CAA were open to that concept, but they also wanted us to continue pursuing an original score at the same time. So we parallel-pathed both, demoing up original score for the piece while searching for existing songs.
We put together a first pass of 15 or 20 songs, and CAA liked a handful of them but asked us to do another round. It was in that second round of search that we came upon “The Scientist”. While Coldplay’s version is undeniably great, we were clear that the story called for a quieter, more contemplative piece and that doing a cover would give us the latitude to do so – we weren’t restricted by an existing master recording.
One of our employees at the time Aaron Mirman did a subtle but clever edit of the original master which helped align the lyrics in a really clever way against the narrative arc, and that was a bit of an, “ah ha” moment for us. We put the track forward to CAA in our second round, and there was an immediate gravitation towards that song. But Coldplay had never licensed a song for commercial purposes before, so I knew licensing it could be a real challenge.
It was brave of you to put a Coldplay song forward!
A lot of times when we’re music supervising a project we won’t limit ourselves, because part of the process is getting the client to hone in on a particular mood or lyrical theme. We’re just saying, “These are ideas that we have, we don’t know if these songs are attainable or not.” But if you don’t shoot for the stars.. y’know? Also, I had a connection to Coldplay’s management so I knew that I could at least pitch the idea. I also had confidence because the messaging about a sustainable future was very much aligned with Coldplay’s support of Fair Trade. Not to mention it was a pretty awesome piece of animation and storytelling by Nexus Productions. So I put together a compelling package and reached out to Coldplay’s manager. I was also channelling back to the head of Sync Licensing for Universal Publishing in LA, who is an old friend of mine, and he was very excited about the project.
How did Willie Nelson get involved?
Whilst we were compiling our shortlist of songs, we were also putting together a list of artists that we thought would be interesting to do a cover. One of the artists on that list was Willie Nelson, and we knew about his passion for sustainable farming through his ongoing participation in Farm Aid. Fortunately, Willie is a CAA client, and when they asked him if he was interested he said yes. So as part of my pitch to Coldplay I was able to say that we had tentative interested from Willie Nelson, which I think was a big factor in what made it attractive to the band.
Their manager got back to me very quickly saying, “I think this is great, but it’s not something that the band has ever done.” This was December of 2010, so we all parted ways for the holidays and then he came back to me in January and said, “Good news, the band is interested if it’s Willie Nelson.” They obviously wanted final approval on the music, but it was a tentative okay so we started getting all the deals together. I think another thing that made the deal attainable was that it was for online use only, not for broadcast television. It was a modest budget for internet rights, and Coldplay didn’t balk at the number, which I think says everything about the band. For them it was all about the message and being involved in an exciting, creative project.
How did the track finally come together?
Originally the idea was that we would produce a track for Willie Nelson to sing on. But when we got into negotiations with Willie’s camp, he wanted to use his own producer and band. That was the one tiny disappointment for us as a company because we were really excited about the idea of going down to Austin and recording Willie Nelson. But, you know, we saw that our role was purely music supervision in this case, and it was a pretty extraordinary process to be involved in. When we heard Willie’s recording it took our breath away. We knew that we had something special.
Did the reaction to the campaign surprise you?
We had no idea how it was going to connect. I remember keeping the page open on my computer and within a few hours it had 1,500 views and then by the end of the day there were 3,000 views. It was like okay, you know, that’s not bad. And then the next day the numbers just jumped to like 40,000. Coldplay had posted a link on their Facebook page to the film saying, “Great film, great cover.” And that was it – the numbers went into the hundreds of thousands and then millions. It was really amazing to get the support of the band, and the piece went on to win all kinds of awards. It was just a magical process, and as a company it was really our first foray into music supervision.
You then became involved in the follow-up “The Scarecrow”
CAA came back to us to work on the follow-up which became “The Scarecrow”. We ended up finding the song “Pure Imagination” really quickly – as soon as we put it to picture, we knew that was it. Fortunately CAA felt the same, and that became a very easy sell to the client. And then in terms of the cover it was originally supposed to be performed by Frank Ocean, but he ended up backing out. Fiona Apple was also at the top of our list, and it turned out that “Pure Imagination” is one of her favourite songs of all time. She too loved the messaging, and the fact that Willie Nelson had done a cover for the previous film paved the way for her to sign on very quickly. When CAA first came to us with “The Scarecrow” it was a pretty daunting task to try to follow up “Back to the Start”, and it was amazing that we collectively managed to have lightning strike twice. “The Scarecrow” was also a huge success.
You work with a lot of brands and agencies – do you think that they give music enough consideration in their campaigns?
It really varies so much from client to client. We have a handful of clients who absolutely get the value that music brings to a project. Those clients tend to bring us in very early on in the creative process, so that music really gets baked into the project’s DNA. And to me that leads to the best work for sure. Then at the opposite end of the spectrum we have clients who come to us once they have an approved cut and need a piece of music, often rather quickly. We of course execute on those too, with both original score and licensing existing songs from our catalog.
We do have occasional frustration with some clients. It’s not necessarily that they don’t understand the value of music, but more that they don’t accommodate enough time or budget to get the job done properly. But we adjust – if a budget is compromised we’re quite adept at finding up-and-coming artists. If it makes sense for them, we love the idea of helping brands to be arbiters of new music, and helping their consumers discover bands.
Yeah, absolutely. Can you tell us about some projects that you’ve worked on recently?
Just this week we licensed Lady Gaga’s “Just Another Day” for a Samsung Flexwash commercial. I think this is a great example of a lyric illuminating the narrative of the spot without being too on-the-nose. And a shout-out to Sony ATV, Universal Music and Team Gaga for being super-responsive to the request which required a very quick turnaround.
Do you have an all-time favourite sync?
I know it’s self-serving but “The Scientist” and “Back to the Start” – I’m so proud of that piece. I really feel like the music, the artists, the messaging, the brand, the whole constellation – it all came together in such a natural way. And it felt so authentic. I cannot tell you the number of times that creative directors have told me that they use that as an example when pitching to their clients, whether it’s making a case for music supervision or making a case for doing an arrangement of a well-known song by a well-known artist. It just hits all of those notes. So I’m going with that as my favourite.
Thanks so much for taking the time David!
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