As SVP of creative at Prescription Songs — the publishing company home to pop singer-songwriters like Doja Cat, Kim Petras and Emily Warren — Sara Walker is used to getting a lot of licensing requests for ad campaigns with the same buzzwords: “upbeat,” “…with a build” and the old standby “swagger.”
So when the COVID-19 pandemic led to nationwide lockdowns in late March and a month of glum, piano-laden commercials, “the word ‘swagger’ certainly disappeared, which was a word you’d see in campaign briefs quite often,” she says. “Those first few weeks during the quarantine were maybe the only time in my almost 20 years of doing this where I didn’t see ‘swagger’ on a daily basis.”
With the live side of music on indefinite hold and international travel too complex to navigate, Walker and her counterparts at boutique sync agency SILO: Music huddled to see how they could pivot the second year of their previously in-person songwriting camp designed to produce the next generation of “swagger”-stuffed sync music for trailers, promos and ads.
Originally planned for June, the camp was scheduled to take place in Los Angeles with participants planning to fly in from the UK, Scandinavia and Germany. “At first we canned it, but after the writing and publishing side of creating music virtually progressively became more the norm, we said, ‘Let’s see if we can do this remotely and get it rocking,’” says SILO: cofounder Jack Ormandy. “And it actually turned out bigger and more inclusive than it could have possibly been if we had done it in L.A., because everybody was able to dial in from London, Sweden, Germany, New York, Nashville, all these places. It was a great turnout.”
And given the success rate from the music created at the inaugural 2019 camp, the stakes were high to gather a group of writers and producers who could generate similar results. Songs from last year’s camp have secured placements in a promo campaign for A&E, a commercial for Airbnb and episodes of Freeform’s “Siren” and Netflix’s “Lucifer.” SILO: signee Chris Avantgarde and Prescription songwriter Red Rosamond’s collaborative track “Inside” scored a featured sync in Netflix’s hit horror series “Dark,” and reached No. 1 on Shazam’s Discovery Top 50 and No. 48 on Shazam’s Global Top 400, accumulating over 1 million streams in its first three weeks of release. Most recently, SILO:’s indie-pop duo Steelfeather’s “Can You Feel It Coming” was selected as the theme song for HBO’s “Coming Soon” fall 2020 promo campaign that aired before the network’s most buzzy premieres like “Lovecraft Country.”
This year’s virtual camp was split across 20 group sessions over the course of two months, with A&R led by SILO: Music’s SVP of trailers & promos Reuben Sears, and wrapped in late August with the goal of producing 18 original tracks that could be pitched to music supervisors later this year.
“What’s so great about these camps is when you see people connect on a musical and creative level,” says Prescription’s Walker. “We’ve already seen people from this camp who’ve come back to us and said, ‘I loved working with so-and-so; can we do more sessions or connecting on songs?’ That’s one of the best things we can ask for with a camp like this — to make great music but also great working relationships.”
Plus, with the holidays around the corner and more businesses starting to reopen, the somber tone that defined early quarantine advertising is starting to shift, too. “Swagger will always be lurking around and be coming back,” Walker says. “We’re happy to get the swagger requests back. Everybody needs some attitude in their day.”
Songs for Screens is a Variety column sponsored by Anzie Blue, a wellness company and café based in Nashville. It is written by Andrew Hampp, founder of music marketing consultancy 1803 LLC and former correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column highlights noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as film and TV. Follow Hampp on Twitter at @ahampp.