Tips & Techniques: "Where the Hell Did You Get That Music?"

by John Pellegrini

It all started innocently enough. The local Jaycees were doing a "Haunted Train" ride on a local, restored, antique passenger railroad, and WKLQ got involved. I was to make a promo to encourage listeners to show up. "Fine," I thought. "Let's give 'em something real scary."

Into production I went. I punched up the SPX-90 -- #23 Pitch Control set to -3, both sides. I grabbed the appropriate music beds and let 'er rip (so to speak). I played the promo for the Account Rep. and the Promotions Director. Their eyes got real big. Within fifteen minutes of the first airing, the phone calls from the listeners started. All asked two questions: "Where do I get tickets?" and "Where the hell did you get that music?" Or, as the Sales Manager succinctly put it, "Nice Satanic music bed, you lunatic!"

Well, sorry to disappoint everyone, but the music isn't Satanic. The promo, "Terror Train" was featured on the November '91 Radio And Production Cassette. The music featured comes from a classical piece entitled, Carmina Burana by German composer Carl Orff. The text dates to the thirteenth century, and the particular song used here is titled, O Fortuna. Translated from Latin, it deals with a man's torment over a run of bad luck he's had lately. But, that hasn't stopped Hollywood movie producers, and others, from using it for anything that needs a sort of sinister feel, which leads me to the topic for this article. I love using classical music in my production!

Sure, I work for an AOR. That's half the challenge, and half the fun. Believe it or not, classical music can fit into many promos, commercials, and comedy ideas that you have. And it seems that everyone is using more and more of it. Recent examples: United Airlines uses George Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue. British Airways' commercial for the Concorde used The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from the opera, Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi. The TV spots for Die Hard I & II featured the choral, Seid umschlugen Millionen Diessen kuB der gazen welt from the fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. And the above mentioned piece from Carmina Burana turned up promoting HBO's fall 1990 line-up, the movie Warlock, and in Oliver Stone's biography of The Doors. Incidently, you can find O Fortuna on the Doors movie soundtrack.

I've included for this month's Cassette a promo, a commercial, and a comedy bit which all contain classical music in one form or another. First is the promo for KLQ's special U2 album party giveaways. The title of the disk, Achtung, Baby, was intriguing enough to our Program Director, Tom Marshall, and myself, to query, "Why not involve some sort of "Krazy Kraut" type character for the cue to call and win?" As it developed, it became, "Der Party Fuhrer," and of course I felt that he should have some sort of Wagnerian theme behind him. Entry Of The Gods Into Valhalla, from the opera Das Rheingold seemed appropriate, and it all came together.

The commercial needed a sort of "Superman" type theme. Once again, Wagner had the mood. Prelude To Act Three from the opera, Lohengrin has been used in Woody Woodpecker and Bugs Bunny cartoons for this type of thing before, so I tried it here. Sales-dudette loved it.

The last cut is a comedy spot for our morning show which I wrote with one of our part-timers. There's a rule in comedy which says something to the effect that if you have silly sounding copy, DO NOT USE SILLY MUSIC WITH IT! Otherwise, you'll lose the premise. So, I figured the correct thing to do was to use the most romantic sounding music I could find. Tchaikovsky's Love Theme from Romeo And Juliet was the natural choice.

How did I find out about all these pieces? Well, I'll admit it: I'm a classical music nut. Over the years, I've found that the more time I spend in radio stations, the further away I want to get from the same music during my off hours. So, I started buying classical selections for my home library. The more I purchased, the more I realized that I'd heard a lot of it before -- commercials, movies, television shows! "So this is where they were getting those great scores from!" I began to realize that Hollywood has a powerful affection for composers whose works lie in the Public Domain. If they could do it, why couldn't I?

So, how do you get started with classical music in your prod library? Simple. Hie yourself over to whatever record store in your town that has the largest classical selection and start buying stuff. Virtually every label has compilation albums, tapes, and CD's of the great composers. Yes, they call them "Greatest Hits" packages. The movie soundtrack for Amadeus, for example, contains nearly all of Mozart's famous works. Start asking questions of the experts. If you live near a college, you may have some interns at your station who are majoring in music. You may have majored in music, too. Many of us learned a lot of this stuff in school, but were probably asleep at the time. You'll remember it after a while.

Naturally, I don't advocate using classical music in everything you do, unless you're working at a classical station. Ninety-five percent of my production has no classical music at all. But, when you're stuck for an idea, or a certain sound that just isn't in the usual prod libraries, this music can really make a difference. Sometimes I can create an entire spot and character out of a certain piece I hear, such as the "Captain Billiards" spot. By the way, for those of you keeping score, all the voices on those three samples are lil' ol' me.

But the best part is, you'll be able to amaze, astound, and annoy your friends and co-workers with your seemingly impressive cultured taste. Also, this stuff makes a great weapon in the apartment or close neighbor stereo wars. Just put on some Wagner, or Tchaikovsky's Overture 1812, and watch 'em run for their lives! Scottish bagpipe recordings work well, too.

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