Ira, I know you are a well-recognized and much-accomplished force in the music business, especially in the advertising world. But, for our readers, please tell us a bit about how you got started.
What happened was there was a guy named Sid Woloshin in New York. He was responsible for all the McDonald’s commercials. His company wrote and produced “You deserve a break today,” arguably the biggest jingle in the world. Back then, it was jingles. It’s a long story, but somehow I ended up working for him.
What would happen was, typically, he would call five writers and they would get the lyrics. You’d go home and you’d write jingles. And then you’d come in and sit and play them for him.
So the agency would give you the lyrics first?
Yes. Still, to this day, if there is something to be sung, the agency always provides the lyrics. Now, once in a while, they’ll ask if you can help with the words, but usually it’s the job of the industry, strategically, to provide the lyrics because they know what the client wants. They know what they have to say.
So what would happen is that we would take the lyrics, then go home and bang out four or five tunes and come in and play them. Sid would decide which ones we would record. At that time, when he decided to record them, you would hire drums, bass, piano, guitar, and singers to make what were called “demos.” Sid would take the collection of five or six different demos and play them for the client. And they would pick one. Then they would produce it with an orchestra or whatever was called for.
One day, everything changed. There was a group of student musicians in New York called the Twenty-Fourth Street Band. Cliff Carter was their keyboard player. At that time, Cliff had just gotten a synthesizer and a drum machine. Sid decided that instead of hiring all these guys, we would just hire Cliff Carter and he could do everything on his synthesizer and drum machine. I remember it like I’m sitting here. So instead of teaching your demos to these musicians, he would program it. That moment, in 1984 or 1985, was for me the beginning of something we had never seen before. He would ask, “So what do you want the drums to do?” and I’d say, “I don’t know. I’m not a drummer.” So when the first synthesizers and drum machines came out, it started to change the way things were done. Again, there was no such thing as sounds. There was an orchestra, there were musicians. There was a finite amount of musical knowledge. I think there was a Moog that was out at that time, but besides the Moog, if you wanted a trombone, you hired a trombone player. There was no trombone-like sound.
Around the time when synthesizers started to come out, the jingle industry started to shift. A musical style developed called “sound design.” It was sort of like sound effects, but more musical. One of the inventors of it was Jonathan Elias from Elias & Associates. They were doing it before almost anybody else. It didn’t replace jingles immediately, but the shift had begun. At the same time, and I’m not going to say I was the first, but I know that in Chicago, we were the first. I had a partner named Steve Shafer. The truth of it was that both of us wanted to produce records. Since we were doing music commercials, we thought, why don’t we get rid of the jingle thing? Why don’t we just do 30-second records? We made a conscious effort to make everything sound like, whether it was Michael Jackson or Janet Jackson, a very different sound, the whole way it was done. So we started doing what we called these 30-second records, and clearly it was also a beginning of a shift in the sound...