Monday, April 13, 2009

Notes From The Music Director

Get it?

Music Director? Notes?

OK! OK! I'll get to the point.

My work, as I explained in the first piece published here, involves doing voices for advertisements and telephone applications. If that were all that was involved, I'd be a very happy man indeed. I'm a big ham at heart. Give me a script to read and then let me imagine that many thousands of people will hear me? I'm in heaven.

However, that isn't all that I do. My actual workday usually includes much more of the stuff I don't like to do than the stuff I truly enjoy. I suspect that's how it is for most of you, and some of you certainly have jobs that are more gnarly than mine, so my complaining about life not being all lollipops and roses probably won’t endear me to you. Oh, well. I'm going to complain a little bit anyway, so you may as well pour yourself a cool drink, sit back, and make the best of it.

My actual job title at Marketing Messages is "Music Director". So, aside from doing voice work - and handling production chores on the recording sessions for other talents - I am in charge of choosing which music will be included in our production library, and thus available for use in our productions.

Unfortunately, this does NOT mean that I get to buy everything ever recorded by my favorite musicians and then sit back grooving on righteous tunes all day. All of our production music has been recorded expressly for use as production music. The licensing fees involved in acquiring the rights to Top 40 tunes, for use in our productions, would most definitely not be cost-effective for our clients or for us.

Another factor is that, since most of our work is for on-hold telephone applications, the music has to be instrumental. The majority of what I do ends up being heard while someone is on-hold, waiting for an actual live person to pick up the phone. While they wait, they hear a mix of our music and, intermittently, one of our voice talents extolling the virtues (and/or pitching the latest products/bargains) of the company they are calling. It can't include vocals because those vocals would cause confusion to the caller listening to our work. Listening to one person singing while another is talking isn't conducive to... well, anything, except a headache.

Now, if you go to our website and click on "select music", then choose a category from the drop-down menu, you can hear samples of the various types of music we have available.

Some of the music is decent enough for me to listen to outside of the job. To be honest, though, most of our clients prefer music that is non-threatening, non-jarring, easy-listening, and other hyphenated terms not usually associated with the type of music I like to listen to when not working. However, if you look around there a bit, you'll find that we have a fairly large selection of styles to choose from and, within those styles, quite a few samples.

I mention all of this as background for what follows.


Another part of my job is to recommend music to clients. For example, say they own a mortuary and they ask my opinion concerning what music of ours to use in their production. I might suggest a medium-tempo classical piece, nothing too somber but definitely not upbeat, either. Or perhaps some sort of pleasant and non-threatening new age stuff. I would NOT recommend that they use a Doobie Brothers sound-alike or something in the style of Fats Waller.

Usually, I ask them to go to our website and pick out exactly what they'd like from the many choices available. In that way, there will never be a production coming back to me with a request for different background music, which is what occasionally happens when they ask me to choose the music. I can usually gauge what's appropriate, but I can't always be sure of someone's tastes, so sometimes they'll request a change. Just because I think a Van Halen knockoff isn't right for a nursing home’s telephone message doesn't mean that someone from their PR department won't think that "Hot For Teacher" would be perfect.

We guarantee satisfaction with the finished product, so if they didn't choose the music to begin with, we will change it at no charge. Obviously, if they choose the music, it's best for all concerned. Especially me.

Now, here's an e-mail I received Friday from a client:

"I am particularly interested in religious or faith-based music. Do you have a catalog of music that you could send me?"

So far, so good. He has stated his preference and then asked a simple question.

My reply:

"We don't have a great deal of religious music in our on-hand catalog. There are a number of Christmas Carols, of course, but not so much of the non-seasonal variety. I can do a search to come up with something, but it would be helpful to know exactly what you'd like. For instance, I can specifically try to locate Gregorian Chants or even Buddhist Temple Music. So, what sort of religious music are you looking for? If you could give me an idea of the instrumentation desired, that would also be helpful. Thanks!"

His reply to me:

"Generic Christian and Judaism (separate, of course) and I would also be interested in holiday music."

Ooooookay. That doesn’t tell me much of anything. We've eliminated the Buddhist Temple Music, I suppose, but that's about it.

My reply:

"For the holiday music, your best bet would be to go to our website and give a listen. As far as the other selections are concerned, might you be interested in classical, i.e., aves, requiems, etc., by Mozart, Bach, Handel? I have a few of those. Otherwise, I come up with some ‘churchy’ organ pieces and a few chants for the Christian side of things. For Judaica, I find a fair selection of horas, Eastern European violin pieces, and a few klezmer-inspired wedding songs, among other things.

Anything strike your fancy? Something to narrow the search parameters for me?"

His reply:

"Whatever sounds good."


(That's the sound of me taking a bite out of the corner of my desk, chewing it up, and spitting it out.)

I think ALL of our music sounds good. I wouldn't have the music in our library if I didn't think it sounded good.

Now, if I send this guy an upbeat klezmer piece, and it turns out he wants something less joyful, then he's going to come back and ask for a reworking of his production. That will mean another couple of hours work which could easily have been avoided if he'd just been specific about what he wanted. And what if I give him a generic "Amazing Grace" type of song, for the Christian side of things, and he actually wants something more folky or more classical? Or perhaps Gospel would be more to his liking? And does he want piano, trumpets, guitar, clarinet, organ, tuba, sitar, accordion, vibraphone, or perhaps a chorus of kazoos?

I truly want to help our clients as much as possible, but it’s so hard to do so if they’re not specific about what they want.

What I feel like writing back to him is a rant asking him if he actually has a clue concerning what he really wants. However, I can't write to a client and tell him that. It’s not good for business and I’d regret having done so. So, instead, I told you about this. And I thank you for letting me get it off of my chest. One more day of sanity, thanks to you, and I'll gladly return the favor somewhere down the road.

But only if you're extremely specific about what you want.


  1. Classical kazoo music would do it for me... something like Copland's Rodeo, fer instance. ;-)

  2. I am so glad I'm not the only one who has a piece missing out of their desk. Though mine is pretty small. Weak gums, dontchaknow.

    I am really liking this new blog...

  3. How about Carol of the Bells on xylophone? Or is that not specific enough?
    (Um, are we supposed to be serious when we comment on this blog? YOu know, since it's for work and all? You can delete me if necessary. Well, not ME, just this comment.)

  4. What do I want? I want a teenager who is respectful, grateful, and doesn't think I'm the stupidest person to walk the planet.

    Wait-- you wanted me to choose music?


  5. LOL...some people want you to do everything for them...

  6. This rant made you sane? You? Sane?

    Oh never mind. I love this place almost as much as the other. Loving GreenJello's comment. ROTFL.

  7. You are all lovely people, and I thank you for your commentary.

    (I think that's about the limit of what I can say here in response without veering into forbidden obscenity. I'll get back to you if I find out differently :-) )

  8. i'd very much like to be able to order up some of what greenjello is looking for. is there a playlist for that? would barry manilow and air supply on endless loop be an appropriate punishment for when they deviate from my expectations?

  9. I like this blog! It's educational & funny. Also, based on my own experiences, Christians LOVE Taylor Hicks.

  10. Nothing drives me crazier than someone who wants me to be responsible for their decisions! Well, other than having to be nice when I am super irritated...

    Consider yourself heard and agreed with. Hope you feel better!

  11. BTW Quite the dapper photo in your new blog's profile.

  12. The exact reason I use a laptop, the desk is long gone.

    Clients are the best huh?

    Love the new blog Jim!

  13. i'd like to comment but I'm listening to the Marine Hymn and remembering my late husband ...

  14. Best fitting 'music for hold' I ever came across, was a some bank who had 'Five Pennies' - Danny Kay type - playing; cringe making but apt last line about being a millionaire, I seem to remember...

  15. Being put on hold is VERY annoying at any time so nothing works for me, but Gregorian chants might do the trick because I love them and seldom hear them played...I might even call just to listen.

    I do like this blog a lot and that picture makes you look very suave.

  16. Gregorian chant do sound lovely. That would work for me. That, or the sound effects of desk-munching.

  17. Man...and you get paid to have all this fun!


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