Music & Ads: An Interview with Domino & Droga5

At AdForum, we love music as much as we love ads and I had the pleasure of talking to Ben Morris, Senior Creative Director of Synch Licensing at Domino...

by Jeff Finkle , Adforum


At AdForum we love music as much as we love ads and I had the pleasure of talking to Ben Morris, Senior Creative Director of Synch Licensing at Domino Publishing Co. about music in advertising and the role of the record company in licensing songs. To get the ad agency’s perspective, Mike Ladman and Ryan Barkan, Music Supervisors at Droga5, were kind enough to lend their point of view. 

AdForum:  It seems to be the "Golden Age" of songs in advertising and in the past year especially. songs have really had an impact on some great ads. How does Domino go about placing songs from their artists into commercials? Does the agency usually approach you about a specific song, or do you have an artist that you are trying to promote and you look to fit their songs into the right ad or campaign? Also, how does that process work on the record company end? 


Ben:  I wouldn’t say there’s a specific process as each day is different. Some days I’ll be reacting to briefs agencies have sent. Most briefs will describe the brand, tone of the commercial and what they want the consumer to feel from the spot. Usually there’s a couple of tracks to reference. My job is to suggest options from Domino’s catalog that meet those requirements. Sometimes you have a ton of tracks that fit the bill and some you have one or two. 

Others I’ll be meeting music supervisors / producers to play them new tracks from Domino. Pitching tracks that I think have value in the sync-licensing world. It really just depends on the day but the end goal is still the same - gain as much exposure for our artists and make them a bit of money whilst doing it :)


 AdForum: There’s a clever ad for the new Google Pixel, "Life by You, Phone by Google" that showcases a song from an artist on your roster, Django Django (great name by the way), that was developed by the creative team at Droga5.Domino has had a successful year in syncing their artist’s music into commercials. Can you tell us about a few of your artists’ songs that people might have heard in ads this year? 


Ben:  Droga5 rock! I have great relationships with Mike and Ryan, who now head up the music team. There definitely is a mutual respect from either side that makes working together on campaigns a pretty seamless process. 

Prior to the Google Pixel ad, Domino and Droga5 worked together on a couple of other excellent campaigns. Earlier this year “The Last Goodbye” by The Kills was featured in a stunning commercial for Under Armor which featured Michael Phelps. It has over 11 million views on Youtube and would have been hard to miss on TV during the Olympics. 



AdForum:  It seems like a great boom for an artist or band to have their songs appear in a national campaign.  Are there still artists with the old Neil Young attitude of not wanting their music to be directly associated with a brand’s voice?



Ben: There are definitely artists out there that don’t want any brand affiliation - I work directly with a few. I will say, the stigma attached to having your music paired with popular brand seems to have subsided somewhat.  Every artist has a different perspective. A large part of my role is to help create these opportunities with agencies to showcase their music without compromising their aesthetic or principles.


AdForum: This has been a great couple of years for music and advertising. It seems likes songs have gone from being in the background of ads ten years ago, to being a necessity in creating the feel and substance of an ad. What do you think it is about the right song that gets people reacting emotionally to a commercial and wanting to share an ad in a way that even the most creative copy can’t?

Mike & Ryan: Music is the great connector of human feelings. It has that intangible way of eliciting emotions from people – what we call “the feels.”  When the story of a spot is paired with the perfect song, the brand’s message has a greater chance of connecting with and being retained by the consumer.  Advertisements with music are now, more than ever, a place for music discovery and as has always been, people want to share what music they like and as such, share via new technological means.

AdForum: I’m glad Ben brought up “The Last Goodbye” as it was my favorite Olympic ad.  The song not only set the hauntingly powerful tone that resonated throughout the ad but seemed to help relaunch Michael Phelps “the brand” back in the public eye. Did you have an inclination during the production of that ad that it would hit all the notes, so to speak and illicit such a strong a response from viewers of the ad?

Mike & Ryan: We were not here when this spot was done, but believe it was more about ‘the feels’ – many pieces of music were tried on this spot during post-production and once this song was cut, it was unanimously supported as the obvious choice.


AdForum: Ben, there’s a line in the song “Default” by Django Django "You thought you'd set the bar, I'd never tried to work it out" which seems like a perfect fit for the "Life by You, Phone by Google" spot, which showcases the iconic bar; not to mention the tone of the song fits the ad like a glove. How did that song end up being chosen and how much of a boom is that to the artist to have a song they may have recorded a few years back, get heard in a huge campaign like this? 

Ben: I originally sent ‘Default’ in a pitch to Mike and Ryan for the spot. That being said,  I’ll have to defer to those guys as to why they picked it ;)

The exposure for the label and artist for a sync in a large ad campaign like this can open a lot of doors. It’s not often you get paired with arguably one of the biggest brand names in the world, whilst getting paid to do so! Whilst sales and streams for the track have increased significantly, syncs like this tend to open more doors down the road for the band and label. It also definitely makes people pay attention to what’s going on at Domino.


AdForum: Was there a campaign Droga5 has worked on recently where your team had an existing song in mind for a campaign and that song was the spark for the creative work to follow?

Mike & Ryan: What comes to mind for this is "Water Fountain", which was used in the "Memories by you, Phone by Google" spot for the Google Pixel campaign. The spot required a song that would cut well with the stop motion of the pictures and I believe this song was on the earliest rip video of the spot. Due to the lyrics matching up well with the imagery and the sound, the spot was cut to the song. 


AdForum:  Domino represents numerous artists, including bands with huge followings like The Kills and Arctic Monkeys. Out of all the songs from your stable of artists that you've seen brought to life visually through an ad, is there one that made you think about that song in a completely different way?



Ben: A couple of years ago a Guinness spot featured The Cinematic Orchestra’s ’To Build A Home’. I’m not sure how familiar you are with the song but it’s a beautiful piano-driven track, which is pretty melancholy. It’s been used before to reinforce scenes like that in TV shows and promos in the past. The Guinness spot kind of turned it on its head. It featured a group of guys in wheelchairs playing basketball, sweating, wrestling over the ball and falling out the chairs. It had a very masculine aesthetic, a feeling that I wouldn’t usually associate with that song. It’s wonderful.



Check out the Domino site for their roster of artists and upcoming tour dates and enjoy this original video for "The Last Goodbye", directed by Samantha Morton, that is as emotionally powerful as the Under Armour ad, 




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