Jingle Punks at 10: How the Production Music House Turned Passion Into Profits

Jingle Punks at 10: Production Music House Turns Passion Into Profits
Courtesy of Jared Gutstadt/Dan Demole

In a typical post-awards show scene, two music professionals start a friendly conversation at a bar. “I start telling him, ‘I’m the king of all jingles,’” says Jared Gutstadt, co-founder of Jingle Punks, the venerable production music house that he launched 10 years ago.“I thought I was talking to a complete stranger.” Turns out he was chatting up Justin Bieber, who was himself interested in the jingle game. As Gutstadt recalls, the pop star “was riffing on, like, a Wrigley’s commercial, going, ‘What if I did a pitch and nobody knew my voice was on it?’”

Waving over a couple of friends, the Biebs proceeded to change Gutstadt’s life.“In that brief interaction I met Poo Bear and Maejor, who I’ve worked with more in the last three or four years than anyone outside the company,” Gutstadt says.

The 2015 incident at an American Music Awards afterparty in Hollywood was pure Jingle Punks: great instincts, strong branding and luck. If you can call it a strategy, it’s one that’s paid off for Gutstadt and his business partner Dan Demole. Launched in 2008 around a relatively modest concept — hipping up production music for TV — the company is still working those moves, albeit on a bigger dancefloor.

Having made its reputation as the audio agency of record for shows including “Pawn Stars,” “The Voice” and “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” Jingle Punks expanded into custom tunes not only for television, but movies, athletes and just about any brand that craves a beat. Along the way, Gutstadt has collaborated with a diverse range of artists including Lynyrd Skynyrd, Steven Tyler, Lil Wayne, Timbaland, Dierks Bentley and Big K.R.I.T.

In the past year alone, Jingle Punks has created themes for NBC’s “Ellen’s Game of Games,” Fox’s “Mental Samurai” and ABC’s “Good Morning America”; crafted scores for the Netflix series “Spy Kids: Mission Critical” and YouTube’s “Step Up: High Water”; wrote the end credit song to the Universal film “Night School” starring Kevin Hart; and penned a theme for the Miami Marlins, “Just Gettin’ Started,” performed by DJ Khaled.

How did it go from scraping around New York chasing German yogurt commercials to a jingle juggernaut with a database of more than 500,000 tracks and an enviable list of broadcast, cable and brand clients? “They provided something that wasn’t being done very well at the time: a creative-led business solution for music publishing in television,” says Ben Silverman, chairman and co-CEO of Propagate Content and a member of the Jingle Punks board of advisors.

“To go from being 29 and broke to being here now, there’s no roadmap,” says Gutstadt, who as chief creative officer anchors West Coast operations out of artisanal-chic offices in a Santa Monica industrial park. Demole, JP’s managing partner, presides over a lo -like space in Tribeca. The company also has dedicated outposts in Toronto and London, as well as a franchise in Brazil, Punks S/A.

With 17 recording rooms and a full-time staff of 60, many of them composers, Jingle Punks is doing its part to keep musicians working. In 2015 the company was purchased by Ole, an indie music firm based in Toronto. Ole continues to pump resources into the Punks, purchasing production music concerns Cavendish in the U.K. and Burbank-based 5 Alarm and wrapping them into the Jingle Punks mix, with Gutstadt and Demole managing Ole’s production music business, both creatively and operationally.

“The Jingle Punks are true media innovators,” says Ole CEO Helen Murphy, a former EVP and CFO of Warner Music Group, and founder of the IMS financial consultancy.“They have built an important brand, creating amazing music for some of the most iconic television shows, commercial advertising, and films of the last decade.”

Good timing had a lot to do with it. To hear the founders tell it, they prospected “a gold rush called unscripted television” that was just taking off when the company launched in 2008. “At the time, unscripted was unsexy because it was fairly new,” Demole says. “‘The Real Housewives’ and ‘Pawn Stars’ were just starting, and our competitors still wanted to score the big scripted network shows. That market was saturated, so we entered through the unscripted space and sort of fell backwards into this massive treasure trove of content.”

Gutstadt, who grew up in Toronto, was newly divorced with two children, working at Viacom as a video editor by day and trying to be a rock star by night. It was while working on Comedy Central’s “Chappelle’s Show” that executive producer Neal Brennan started calling him a “jingle punk” for constantly trying to sneak his own music into the show. Demole, a native of Florida, had spent 10 years in tech, programming virtual reality simulators for Apache helicopters for the army then moving into videogames at Electronic Arts in Orlando. Burned out from 14-hour days coding, he took a two-year walkabout, traveling the world before settling in Manhattan. There, he drove a truck as a production assistant while trying to break into the film industry. At what is now the stuff of legend, he and Gutstadt met at a Black Keys concert, a double-date arranged by their girlfriends (now wives). Demole was 29 and Gutstadt 31.

Although one wouldn’t know it by their hijinks — “inebriated and splashing Margaritas at each other,” Demole’s assessment is that “we were both at a stage where we wanted to get serious about our lives.” While “Lonely Boy” played in the background, Gutstadt pitched Demole his idea for a music platform.

The next day, they furthered the discussion. What if instead of hosting production music on hard drives and delivering them all over town, they created a database in a virtual box? Says Gutstadt: “At the time, cloud technology had just started to explode and Dan said we can make it searchable. Nobody had done it.”

Demole invested $25,000 from a second mortgage on his home in Florida, while Gutstadt contributed some 300 of his original compositions to form the initial library. Jingle Punks was born, and so was the Jingle Player, which lets users search for music using words (“uplifting,” “ironic,” “pensive”) as well as cultural terms (names of movies, bands, or things such as “Starbucks”). “It seemed like such a far-fetched idea at the time. Instead of us trying to create the next hit song, we sold the picks and shovels” to those prospecting the hills of reality TV,” Gutstadt says.“We got lucky. Everything that could have gone right in our first seven years did.”

While Demole digitized, Gutstadt furthered their yodelers on Facebook or roaming the streets for a good mariachi band. They would do stunts to market themselves, including setting up a stage and playing for runners on the sidelines of the New York City Marathon, or putting stickers inside urinals at a TV marketing conference they couldn’t afford to attend.

“If Jared’s career as a musician fails, he has a future as a branding genius,” says Amos Newman, head of music for visual media and a partner at WME, which has worked closely with Jingle Punks and invested in the company. “It’s rare to find people who understand both art and commerce, and they do both well.”

Jingle Punks’ big break, came in 2009 when Krista Liney, then head of production marketing for History, put them forward for a new series, “Pawn Stars,” when the producers couldn’t reach an agreement with AC/DC. Although her bosses pushed her to find another “name band,” Liney argued for “passion over pedigree” and persuaded the show’s executive producer, Brent Montgomery, now CEO of Wheelhouse Entertainment. Montgomery says that at the time, “unscripted TV was looked down upon, as was composing music for it, but I thought the Punks’ song was perfect the first time I heard it and preferred it to AC/DC.”

The brash, vaguely metal chords earned Jingle Punks a cult following and led to an assignment on “American Pickers,” which debuted in 2010. Around the same time, they landed “The Voice” for NBC and Mark Burnett Prods. A gamechanger, “it put us on the radar of every broadcast network.”

With Gutstadt spearheading creative, Demole “dug in with the operations and finance,” persuading his partner to leave every dollar they could in the company in the hopes they might sell it. “We could have easily been a small partnership that made great music, a lifestyle business, but we always thought this could be a brand, bigger than Jared or myself or any individual,” Demole says.

In 2013 they took a giant step toward that goal when a get-to-know-you lunch with WME’s Newman resulted in the agency taking a majority stake in Jingle Punks. “It was obvious how we could work together,” Newman says today. “On the most basic level, WME represents some of the biggest TV production companies in the business. Our clients’ shows use tons of music and typically they license that music from production libraries.”

WME also hooked them up with pop stars, helping that momentum continue for two years, but when Ole came knocking it seemed too good a deal to pass up. As Gutstadt recalls: “Working with WME helped build us as an entertainment brand, but there was no real music publishing or administration experience. It was about value-added growth and expanding our name in the industry. Ole, while a quieter presence in the entertainment space, is a very powerful indie publisher-administrator. They really complemented us with their worldwide collections capabilities across all territories.”

Ole purchased the company outright in 2015. Since then, Jingle Punks has seen growth in almost every international territory, according to the partners, who declined to provide speci c dollar amounts, since the companies are privately held. While Gutstadt and Demole are now Ole employees, they continue to have a vested interest in the firm’s performance.

“The truth is, Dan and I worked so hard for all those years, we were ready to take some risk off the table,” says Gutstadt.“You would think that we would get lazier and stop going into the office, but I think we’re working twice as hard, because we see twice as much opportunity.”