Working on commercials, James Alvich developed a love for the filmmaking process, especially the musical element therein. As co-founder of Music & Strategy, a final solution for brands looking to use music as a method of boosting mindshare, he helms a company that crafts sonic thumbprints, including everything from original composition to sync licensing and event production.
There are a few [companies] we compete against, but they seem to have one specialty and then they throw the other [abilities] on there. While we’re still boutique, we have a suite of services.
And every client is different. Some just use our library. Some just get original music. And when we work with clients directly, they have a whole list—we have this huge event, we need a really expansive sound design or want to create a sonic identity for our brand. That’s different from what a lot of companies do.
Sometimes you just know what tracks are sync-able; you know what’s going to work. If you’re working on a beer commercial and the brief is that they want something big that can grab the attention of the customer, you know what to find— something bold with a rock anthem or something like that. And then we’ll have the opposite of that —we don’t want this beer commercial to feel like a beer commercial. We want an up-and-coming artist, we want that indie feel or we want to lead in with something synth-based.
There are a lot of different factors that come into play outside of taste, but it comes down to what feels right and what works. Sometimes we’ll look at a piece and just start throwing music at it. It’s what connects and feels the best and is able to convey the story that the brand is trying to convey.
There have definitely been trends. The Black Keys were a trend. Arcade Fire was a trend. Right now, we’re getting a lot of beat-driven stuff. We’re being asked to find that different, unique sound of hip-hop that doesn’t sound standard.
The Right Composer
We have our stable of guys. They’re chameleons in terms of figuring out how to answer a lot of different types of briefs. But when I get outside of that scope I have a stable of other guys. Our [business] model allows us to creatively explore all different areas, work with different people and offer the best sounds for our clients.
It’s great to break an artist. Prior to Rachel Platten coming out, my business partner, Gabe McDonough, pushed to get “Fight Song” put into a Ford spot. She launched that single and a week later it was on the spot. Two weeks later, Taylor Swift covered it and it became a number one hit. When you do that and see an artist’s career trajectory blow up, there’s some relevancy to that.
Mashing Up Demographics
Recently, we finished a spot for Lincoln. You had two cars doing this dance on the road. You had a man in one car and a younger woman in the other. She turns around after they pass each other and they start driving parallel. The whole idea was that these cars are kind of doing a dance. We wanted to define each car so we did this mash up. We took a Sam and Dave track, “Hold On,” and then took Camila Cabello’s track, “Havana,” and put them together. That’s two different demographics coming together and working with a spot that asks for music to be at the forefront.
CB2 was interested in getting to a younger audience. We went to four markets and came up with four events. We had to find four different artists for those markets. We had Jamie Lidell, Aluna George, Mark Ronson and Michael Kiwanuka. CB2 wanted to throw concerts in their stores that were fully immersive. They didn’t want the stores to feel like stores, so we had to make it feel like a concert venue while still respecting that it’s a store.
The fourth venue was Rough Trade in Brooklyn. It sold out. Mark Ronson put out a tweet saying come see me tonight at CB2 here in LA. Just by chance, he and Lady Gaga were working together on her album and she retweeted it. We like happy accidents like that.
Kate Spade wanted a pop-up shop that looked and felt like an old-school tour bus. We put a pattern on the whole thing and got The Vivian Girls. They were a female-fronted indie band and really wanted PR to find a younger consumer. They wanted MTV, Billboard, Spin, all those different trades to take notice. We had a concert in the meatpacking district outside in the middle of February. We streamed it live to Facebook and then went to LA and Seattle, then down to SXSW. It was an insane challenge.
The biggest challenge is budget because clients will say, we have X for an event. And you’ll say, okay, how many artists do you want? We want two or three artists, we want a full set and some PR, a Q&A after and we don’t want to stop there, we want another concert… Okay, you just blew 75% of your budget on the artist. What are we going to do with the other 25% to create the event?
Jobs Big and Small
If we’re working with a brand and have only been delivering Instagram library music for them and they want to sign a large artist to represent their brand, they won’t even think to come to us. And if we work with a brand and help them negotiate a giant deal with an artist to have a song written on their behalf, they won’t come to us for their library. Whatever your issue is, we have the tools, knowledge and talent to answer any questions, facilitate and execute. Whether it’s an Instagram video or a giant artist partnership, the same amount of care and respect goes for both projects.
There are many factors in terms of what makes a successful commercial but in my eyes when you see it on YouTube and the first three or four comments are, “What track is this? Where can I find this track?” that’s success. Or, in rarer cases, if it’s an older song and it starts charting again. There are a lot of areas that are vague but there are always metrics. If streams are skyrocketing a week after the spot and the media buy happens to correspond, that’s a success in terms of the musical aspect.
There’s a real cultural shift in music that is: hey, you can use my track, but why don’t we do an artist partnership? That’s a real thing that’s happening and fast. Brands are super savvy to it and artists are even savvier. Because they know their worth and a sync may be great but why don’t we go into business together? And it behooves the brand because the brand is now selling and affiliated with this artist even more so than just putting a piece of music on there. We’re trying to help start those conversations and really guide them.
Working On Your Behalf
We work on behalf of the brand while also working on behalf of artist. When brands go directly to some of these smaller labels, they’re only going to push the one thing. We have the ability to find the best fit for the brand and explore every option, lean on our relationships and knowledge of the industry to provide the best opportunity.
Years with Company: 7
Address: 207 West 25th St., Fl. 7, New York, NY 10001
Clients: Google, Pepsi, Coach, Ford, Lincoln, American Eagle, Aerie