Episode 32: Discussing Commercial Jingles with Terry Sweet
On today’s episode of Brandstorm, we welcome Terry Sweet, an award-winning music composer and jingle writer. Terry discusses the process in putting a brand’s message to music and why certain commercial jingles stick with us forever.
Having performed and written original music since he was a teenager, Terry Sweet spent his early days playing in rock bands. He was especially infatuated with acts like The Bee Gees, The Beatles and others who performed catchy pop songs that the industry dubbed “bubble gum,” or upbeat tunes that are specially marketed to a teenage demographic.
He entered the world of jingles by way of his friends’ recording studio in downtown Milwaukee, where he worked as a session musician during the day and recorded his own material at night. Eventually, the studio lost their main client, and the potential of the studio closing was eminent, until one day, an ad agency called the studio seeking a jingle for Mayfair Mall in Wauwatosa, WI. The studio owners pondered the idea of becoming a jingle company, and offered Terry the chance at writing, recording and presenting the jingle to the agency, with the promise of a full-time job if all went according to plan.
The agency loved the song, and since then, Terry has composed, arranged and produced hundreds of radio and television jingles for clients such as Allstate Insurance, Kellogg’s Raisin Bran, John Deere, Kraft Foods and more. Locally, he has composed jingles for David Hobbs Honda, Colder’s Furniture, 7 Mile Fair, Stein’s Gardens & Gifts, and many others. He has also won several national advertising and broadcast awards.
What Makes a Memorable Jingle
Terry believes there is a science behind why great jingles resonate with consumers. A clever melody and message, partnered with an interesting sound or talented singer, can have a big effect. He explains that music is the one form of expression that reaches an intersection within the brain of emotion, intellect and psychology. He points to the feeling we all get when we hear a familiar song and are seemingly transported to another time and place, being able to recall where we heard it, who we were with and how it made us feel. Touching on a positive memory, and then leading the customer to associate that memory with a brand, is the goal of most jingles. Repetition on television, radio or digital also plays a part, as the greatest jingle ever can’t sell anything without an audience to hear it.
Terry also mentions that from an early age, we can memorize a lot of information when tied to a simple melody. Nursery rhymes like “the Alphabet Song” or “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” are some of the most universally known songs to this day, and are evidence of our ability to recall specific information when coupled with an easy-to-remember earworm.
What Comes First: Music or Lyrics?
Though every project is different, Terry says most ad agencies have a theme or a specific tagline in mind that they would like a song built around. In the case of Colder’s, it was important to have the phrase “Step Up” be the umbrella that all other information would fall under. Terry cites the Colder’s campaign as the best he has ever worked on, due to the many variations the original message and tune have taken to promote different holiday sales, like Christmas or the Fourth of July.
While some of the information Terry requires before beginning his process seem obvious — who is the company, what is their product, etc. — there are other key takeaways that he seeks. These include how the brand wants their name sung (as often there is a technical corporate name that could also be referenced) and what the target demographic is. As Terry tells us, selling sneakers to teenagers is different than selling luxury cars to Baby Boomers, so often the knowledge he has of the required demographic helps shape the musical direction of the jingle.
Terry also asks what differentiates a company from their competitors. Is it their friendly staff? Their added convenience? Their affordability? For Terry, the process is more about business than it is about music. His job is to create a vehicle that will attract the attention of a specific target audience, accompanied by music that the audience likes and can relate to, along with a message that is compelling to them.
The community of musicians who consistently work in the studio isn’t very large, Terry explains. While there are talented performers all over the world, those that know the advertising business and can sing with a smile or sell an idea through music are the artists that Terry needs. While some stars have recorded commercials after they’ve had their big break, others did so long before their worldwide success. For instance, Country Superstar Garth Brooks sent Terry his demo tape early in his career filled with songs that would eventually become gigantic hits. They ended up recording a jingle together for John Deere.
Terry enjoys stepping out of the studio and playing for audiences at a few resorts in the area, staying as eclectic as he can and performing everything from classic rock to classical music. He also has three potential projects in the works: a travel documentary series; a cartoon program; and a feature film.
Whether conducting orchestras for jingles or recording his own songs with likeminded musicians, Terry loves working with talented people who help bring additional life to his material.