Record producer, company president, composer, and husband — Scott Fritz is the renaissance man of custom music, and an idol for artists of any genre or background seeking a leg up in the music licensing industry.
Scott founded music production/composition company Stranded on a Planet in 2003, and for over a decade has lent his musical mind to clients ranging from emerging acts like Cavalier King to global brands like Facebook, as well as clients such as Warner/Chappell Music. Scott is also one of three members of music production team Space Camp, the eclectic collaborators behind The Coca-Cola Company’s newest global anthem, “Taste the Feeling.”
Music Dealers hosted Scott in our Chicago headquarters to discuss his growth in the world of custom music, his team’s creative tactics for writing and producing music to a brief, and his tips for artists of any genre hoping to also write a hit song for a global brand.
Music Dealers: Could talk us through how you got your start in music production for advertisements, beginning with your entry into music generally?
Scott Fritz: I started at a really young age, like a lot of people do, and began by just playing drums, then piano, and then guitar. This whole avenue of work came very organically. I didn’t originally plan on doing music in this capacity. Essentially, when I was in bands, I started to learn how to play multiple instruments because we had a deficit of band members. We couldn’t find a bass player, we couldn’t find an engineer, we couldn’t find a guitar player. The last step happened when we couldn’t find a singer when we were in New York City, so I started singing at that point. Then, I just started recording myself, and then friends’ bands, and it just grew into this sort of thing where, because I had learned all these different skill sets, the next stage sort of organically happened.
Singer-songwriters would come and say, ‘Hey, here’s some songs. I can play guitar and I can sing, do you want to record and play drums and play bass and engineer and co-write?’ And that’s how I started Stranded on a Planet. Basically, I was being the band for solo artists or solo singer-songwriters, and doing records that way. I did that for years when I first came to Chicago. After doing that for a little while, and through being active on online forums like Gear Slutz and VI Control, and through just getting to know people and making friends, people started noticing the artists I was working with. A couple companies started reaching out to ask if I wanted to do music for them. I thought, “Well, I have all these tools, I love doing it, it’s a constantly challenging job, and there’s always something else to learn.” There’s really no top to that mountain. And that’s what led to, essentially, what I’m doing now.
MD: That’s fantastic. You mentioned there was a challenge, a fun challenge, to write music for your first commercial. Can you tell us about that challenge?
Scott: I think Del Valle was the first actual custom composition for a commercial I’ve done with you guys. That was great. Reference tracks are always helpful, but there aren’t always reference tracks. The music obviously has to work in tandem with the visual, but it’s really helpful to have a starting point. And there usually is one, especially with you guys, with Tim, with Jessie, because knowing what the general concept is, even with just a basic temp track, goes a long way.
MD: Yes, ideally the creative briefs come with a reference track. One of the main things that I think makes a really good custom artist is the ability to perfectly interpret a brief into music. And it’s actually a very rare talent. Can you talk us through your step-by-step process from receiving a brief through to producing the final music?
Scott: First of all, people want music that sounds like real artists’ music. They don’t want stuff that sounds canned, generally speaking, (that’s a broad statement and it’s of course not always true), so my general approach is to make it sound like my favorite band without vocals. Whether that’s a Ryan Adams-style mid-tempo track, whether that’s an upbeat bouncy thing, or whether that’s a rock song, the idea is to make it sound like a legitimate group of performers who just happen to have an existing track that really fits well, but in fact it is a custom track.
That’s kind of the mindset that I try to go with for any commercial, so the song actually has some edge to it and it’s not just paint-by-numbers, computer-style music. That’s kind of the general concept: make it sound like an actual artist, as if the song was licensed by one of your favorite bands, but in this case is completely tailored to the spot. That’s kind of the fun challenge of this, to make it sound like it already existed before, but have it sync up really nicely and pick up on all the different dynamics of the cue.
MD: Yeah, it essentially gives the brand the best of both worlds. What’s the typical process like after the first submission of your song?
Scott: It really just depends man. Generally speaking, especially with the work for Coca-Cola, it’s been remarkably easy. It never seems like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, you know? For the most part, we’ve been really close right out of the gate. Of course tweaks end up happening, and feedback from you guys, from the agency, and/or the end-client, but knock on wood we’ve been really fortunate to start off pretty much where we end up, with just a few subtle edits.
MD: Yea, I remember listening to the original version of “Taste the Feeling.” It’s incredible to me how, like you said, that first version was so close to where you ended up, but also how on-brand it really sounds. I think maybe that’s why you’ve been so “fortunate,” as you put it, though I think it’s not so much luck as talent (and hard work) on your guys’ part. Can you talk on that, how you write music so on-brand that it sounds like Coke feels?
Scott: The whole Space Camp Team contributes a lot of this. Jeremy, with his background in directing and video work, is very story-oriented and sees the broad strokes. He’s a very talented director, and he can lay out what emotions and energy a project might call for. And Josh, in addition to having an amazing voice, has got just an incredible ear for melody. He’s a pop kid; he grew up listening to pop. When you really boil down most of what’s going on for ad music, in my opinion, it’s pop music. How often do you hear anything that’s really aggressive, really dark, or really moody? It happens, but more often than not, when you’re visually accompanying a product in what’s essentially a sales pitch, you want people to feel good when they’re watching — which basically means the music needs to be pop.
So, we’ve got Josh and his pop background, Jeremy and his eye for direction, and I get in there and start playing a bunch of instruments and notes. From there, we just start kind of honing in, together, and then it ends up in a place where, I don’t know, it really feels like a very natural thing.
Discover how Space Camp and Music Dealers helped Coca-Cola create its new global anthem, “Taste the Feeling” >>>
MD: When I imagine how others might do music for ads, such as by those who write according to that paint-by-numbers method you mentioned, I don’t imagine “story” as being woven into that process.
Scott: That’s right, and that’s a real thing. For me, well, I grew up on Coca-Cola’s “Teach the World to Sing.” I’ll remember that song when I’m 90-years-old. That’s ingrained in me. Talk about a brand that has a story. For so many of these commercials and brands and the projects we’re lucky enough to work on, whether it’s Facebook or Nike or any of this kind of stuff, there’s always a big story in there. There really is.
The reason these companies do so well is because they tap into the humanity of people. The music should reflect that.
And that’s the best thing for music to be able to do, ultimately. It’s not always easy, but for me that’s the real goal in it. It’s not commercial music to me. I listen to this stuff. I put it on my phone and I listen to it on repeat. I actually just enjoy the music, just for itself, regardless of how it happens to be part of an advertisement or a visual component. Ultimately, I just try to make music that I want to hear, that we want to hear, which just so happens to be what the client wants to hear, too.
MD: I’m going to copy and paste that whole response, and put it on a wall, because that is, like, our mantra. Creating music, and providing music, that supports the story and the ad, but which is also music that consumers enjoy and want to take away and listen to afterwards, because it’s good in and of itself.
Scott: That’s right. And that’s the whole reason to do this. I wouldn’t want to do this if it wasn’t music that I actually enjoyed listening to. I’m not saying every single piece is the best thing ever, but our general approach to this is just making music that’s just enjoyable music, for music’s sake, that just happens to be a component of a larger product. And that’s what makes it an even cooler project. When we were in Dubai, watching the presentation that Marcos [de Quinto] and Rodolfo [Echeverria] were giving on the big screen for Coca-Cola, we were watching these commercials on basically a movie screen. It gave me goosebumps watching that. You’re thinking, “Wow, what a fantastic thing for music to achieve.”
MD: Most definitely. And staying on that idea, what do you think it does for consumers? You and I probably look at advertisements differently than the general person does, but what do you think pairing good music with ads does for the average consumer experience?
Scott: I think it’s the takeaway. I think it’s what people remember when the TV turns off. Of course, there can be really striking images in commercials; however, I don’t know about you, but when I walk away, if I’m thinking about something twenty seconds after a TV turns off, it’s probably not an exact freeze frame. It’s probably a sound I was listening to in conjunction with that visual. The song is the takeaway, the jingle, the melodic component, whatever you want to call it. That’s infectious, and it carries on past the point of sale.
I think that’s kind of, at best, what the music can do. How many times do we get songs stuck in our head? How many people get visual images stuck in their head? People don’t usually describe things in that way, they describe it as, “Ah man, this song’s stuck in my head.” Music can be infectious that way, and I think that’s the best delivery of it, when it really hits and people just keep on wanting to think about it.
MD: True. And I would much prefer having something like the music that you guys do stuck in my head rather than a lot of the jingles whose styles were big in the ‘80s. I don’t want talk shit about any brands, but like a cat food commercial, you know.
Scott: I’m nowhere near knowledgeable enough on the history of advertising to speak on this, but I would say that it seems to me that in the last ten or fifteen years, marketing has gotten smarter, music has gotten smarter, consumers have gotten smarter, so the music had to elevate past that kitschy cat food thing where all the lyrics are about the food and it’s a whistley, cheesy thing. I think it just needed to be more real, and it’s evolved to that. That’s why I think a company like Music Dealers does so well, because you guys are dealing with how many thousands of real bands, and you’re finding places where real music works with visual components. And it seems like people and the clients are loving it. I mean, that’s the deal, right? It’s legitimate, it’s not bullshit. I think people see through that pretty quickly these days, especially in the YouTube age, just with the need to catch people’s attention so fast. People smell bullshit and they’re flipping the channel in two seconds.
MD: Truly. Have you got any specific or concrete advice you would give to someone who wants to get to your place and edge away from the bullshit side of things?
Scott: I’d say the first thing is, especially if you’re anywhere near Chicago or any city, to know people. Talk to people. Again, things come from knowing people. It’s not an “island” type of business, so I would say the first thing is to be social, be out there, and of course be honest and nice to people. I do believe in the karma concept, and things do come back if you put them out there, to some degree. Secondly, I think musically speaking you should learn to do as much as you can. I worked in restaurants for years and I would liken it to the general manager of a restaurant — if any one person in the restaurant leaves, the general manager could pick up that job. I feel like the same sort of thing is basically where this business is now.
You need to learn how to play as many instruments as you can, learn how to write, learn how to record, learn how to engineer, learn how to run a computer because, let’s face it, all of this is done on technology now; so, it really is a job where you have to be a jack of all trades.
And that’s kind of the fun of it, too, you know. At least for me. That’s the two pieces of advice I would give: learn to do as many things as you can (and do them well), and get out there and talk to people to put yourself out there.
We’re super grateful for Scott taking the time out his busy schedule to share some insight on the custom music process. Which nugget of Scott Fritz’s bearded wisdom (he does look very sagely, doesn’t he?) proved most helpful to you? Share your own custom music experiences in the comments section below. Or, if you work in a brand, video game, TV show, or film and are seeking a custom song of similarly anthemic proportions, hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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