“Songs for Screens” (formerly known as “Synch This”) is a Variety column written by Andrew Hampp, a VP at New York-based music sponsorship and experiential agency MAC Presents and former branding correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column will highlight noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as new and catalog songs that we deem ripe for synch use.
How do you follow up two of the biggest singles of the year – let alone one of the two record-holders for most weeks at No. 1 of all time? If you’re Jason “Poo Bear” Boyd, co-writer of DJ Khaled’s hip-hop smash “I’m The One” and Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee’s historic Latin jam “Despacito,” obviously, the next move is into bluegrass.
Poo Bear’s latest project, Bear and a Banjo, has the same level of pedigree as his recent pop work for Justin Bieber and Skrillex, but with a more unlikely set of collaborators: Academy and Grammy Award-winning producer T Bone Burnett, and TV/film composer Jared Gustadt, founder of music production company Jingle Punks.
Conceived over a writing assignment for A&E’s 2016 remake of the miniseries “Roots,” the Bear and a Banjo project’s distribution plan aims to give a new meaning to the phrase “commercial release.” Rather than put the music out via iTunes, Spotify or YouTube, the music is being exclusively seeded to film, TV and ad supervisors for licensing, in hopes of creating a memorable moment for an HBO or Netflix end-credits or the next big Super Bowl spot.
“I’ve had a hit song across the board in multiple genres, but country has always been one of those sounds I haven’t really dove into,” says Poo Bear, who began his career penning R&B hits for 112 and Usher and even cracked the dance charts earlier this year as a frontline artist with the Skrillex collab “Would You Ever.”
But in order to get into the right mindset for his first Americana-leaning project, Poo Bear had to check his ego at the door. “My theory in life when I try to take something seriously and put all my energy and feeling into it, I always get let down and my feelings get hurt. So my approach is, ‘I don’t care about this, let’s have fun, no expectations.’ So we did that, and maybe five or six songs through was when Jared had the brilliant idea to connect T Bone to the project.”
Songs for Screens has the exclusive premiere of the first track from the project, the driving Southern gothic stomper “Can You Hear Me Now.” The song features production from Burnett, who jokes that his main job was to “slow down” the hyper-prolific dynamic between Gustadt and Poo Bear. “They could make an album a day. I’ve never seen anything like the way [Poo Bear] works with melodies and flow out of him spontaneously. It’s an extraordinary thing to watch.” (CONTINUES BELOW)
After previewing several of Bear and a Banjo tracks in a live setting for the L.A. music supervision community this month, its creators have mixed but ambitious hopes for the tracks’ ultimate destinations. Burnett floated the possibility of pitching it during his work on HBO’s upcoming third season of “True Detective,” Poo Bear would like to see “any new or current brands” attach themselves to it, while Gustadt suggested, “If somebody wanted to remix it, that would be a dream come true. We want to put it out there to the creative community and let people just play with it.”
SYNCH OF THE WEEK
As a kid growing up in the snowy, lake-effect winters of Ohio, I remember gazing out the window on road trips and imagining an Olympic figure skater executing ultra high-speed flips and triple-axels to keep up with our car. Anything to liven up the views otherwise occupied by flat, mountain-less cornfields and farmland.
This was of course a far-fetched childhood daydream, born in part out of empathy for Nancy Kerrigan. But clearly the creative team at outdoor-apparel company The North Face had many versions of those same fantasies, as the brand’s latest short film, “Imagination,” takes that concept to new heights – literally.
Filmed on location in British Columbia, the four-and-a-half-minute branded clip features professional urban skiers lyrically scaling roofs, staircases, mountains, narrow railings and other everyday objects to the shock and awe of a young boy – and later, a whole school bus of children.
Bringing the whole concept to vivid, doe-eyed life is “Because I’m Me,” a standout track from sampladelic Australian outfit The Avalanches’ 2016 comeback album “Wildflower.” That song also has pre-adolescent ties, with its core melody built heavily around a sample from an obscure 1950s group called Six Boys in Trouble, whose youthful take on soul predated Jackson 5 by more than a decade.
The fact that The Avalanches chose to license their music to a brand at all is a bit of a milestone in random indie-music beef history. In the middle of the band’s 15-year hiatus from music in 2011, one of its members chose to pick a Twitter fight with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon over his band’s involvement with Bushmill’s whiskey, citing concerns of profiting from the dangers of alcohol. Of course, The North Face operates in a much safer product category. And it’s hard to imagine a better repurposing of a song that already captures so much of the impossible-to-define joys of childhood than what The North Face and the team at Sherpas Cinema have been able to pull off with “Imagination.”