They used to be crass, annoying jingles – now they’re slick, expensive productions, carefully crafted to tug at your heart strings (and your wallet). Composer Tom Player explains how he created the music for a major Christmas TV ad
This year I received the musical brief for a Christmas TV advert for UK department store TK Maxx. The director, producer, music supervisor and I discussed the ad, ‘The Moment’, at some length before starting on the project. The ad is a very refreshing take on Christmas, focusing on the act of giving and the sense of satisfaction and joy when you know you’ve found somebody the perfect gift. Right from the beginning, we knew music was going to play a large role in the ad, and the brief was simple: ‘make it beautiful’.
To be inspiring, you sometimes have to surprise people. One of the most effective ways you can do this is to give a new perspective on something that people already know – for some people it will be a fresh look at something they may have heard before, but for others it could be a really touching new look at a song already close to their heart.
Music supervisor Arnold Hattingh chose the song Only You. Because there are so many ways to arrange a track, so many ways to play a single note, you can have a lot of fun if you are given quite a restrictive frame to work within. The challenge for TK Maxx was to take this stripped-down synth pop piece, and give it a new lease of life with a modest, contemporary orchestral arrangement.
The advert itself was inspiring in its simplicity: the feelings you get when you’re giving and receiving presents. It’s such a flexible concept, and with some beautifully shot, unique characters, I thought the concept of simplicity should translate to the music. That’s why the piece builds from a single, repeating note.
Advertising is known for its ‘cosy’ deadlines, and as I was given six hours to deliver the first arrangement, there wasn’t much time to experiment! Thankfully the clients loved my initial version and were supportive enough to follow through and allow me to expand on it.
The whole process was incredibly fast – we went from our initial brief to a finished, delivered recording in under two weeks, and were lucky enough to record at Abbey Road with the English Session Orchestra. Working with live orchestras is the best part of being a composer; there’s nothing like hearing talented players breathe life into your music.
There’s a reason composers from all over the world come to work with orchestras from London. They wear their reputation with every recording gig they play, and that confidence is something that’s inspiring to work with as a composer.
You always hope that you make the writing interesting enough for them to engage with, and ultimately they will give back more as a performance. That’s a really satisfying challenge, and something that fuels the late nights before a recording session!
An additional, unexpected perk of writing for adverts is that as a composer you are given a huge platform; you have the opportunity for hundreds of thousands of people to hear the music you write. It’s one of the most exciting ways to break new pieces of music and sometimes they can go on to have a life beyond what they were created for.