Michael Gross has been an Integrated Broadcast Producer and Music Supervisor for TBWA\Chiat\Day in Los Angeles for the past 5 years, working with brands such as Pepsi, Gatorade, Nissan, Visa, and the Grammys.
As Music Supervisor, Michael has licensed music for scores of campaigns across a wide range of budgets. He has also produced original music and worked with top music talent to write for special projects. He particularly enjoyed working with David Banner on the “Evolve” campaign for Gatorade, which became an iTunes hit after the song broke on TV.
Michael curates and event-produces Chiat’s annual music & arts festival, 5353 Fest, which features the best up & coming musical talent. Artists who have played 5353 include: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Dengue Fever, Fitz & the Tantrums, Local Natives, and Class Actress.
As Producer, Michael recently worked with the Recording Academy on their 2012 TV campaign for the Grammys, featuring Bon Iver, Foo Fighters, Skrillex, and Adele. He’s shot film, documentary, commercial, and viral content projects on 4 different continents.
Michael lives in his native town of Venice Beach, CA. His favorite song of 2012 is “Only For You” by the Heartless Bastards. Michael bleeds Laker purple & gold and has absolutely zero patience for boogieboarders.
R&G: How did you get your start in the music supervision business?
MG: Music supervision is a part of a broadcaster’s responsibility on a broadcast project. We work with a creative team – our art directors and copywriters – to come up with a brief of what the music should be on our respective projects. It’s on the producer to then, most of the time, go out and find an entity – a company, a supervisor – to find the track. Alternatively, if we want to record some music, it’s the producer’s job to find the music company that’s going to record the original music composition. Music supervision is already kind of baked into what a traditional producer’s role is on a TV project within the ad agency world. Coming up, I was assisting senior producers and executive producers on their projects. I was very eager and enthusiastic about music on those projects, and really kind of owned it as much as I could. That kind of rubbed off on the creative teams and creative directors that I was working with on those specific projects – that I was passionate about it. When somebody’s passionate about something, it can never hurt. From there, it became… “Well, that guy knows a good amount about music. Ask him to help you out on your project.” I started building up my relationships that way with producers and also with creatives in the building. That kept growing and growing until I became myself a producer and started producing my own projects. 5353 Fest was another big door-opener for me; it’s is a music and arts festival that we’ve been putting on for the last few years, featuring art from within the agency and also really great California bands as a celebration of the culture of the agency. We do that every year.
R&G: How long did it take you to move up in the ranks to become a broadcast producer/ music supervisor?
MG: It can take anywhere from 2 to 5 years – sometimes maybe longer – to move from entry level within the department to a junior position or a producer position. It took me about 2 ½ years. Music was always something I was doing on my projects as a producer. Now I have my own production responsibilities that I handle for the agency and our clients, and then I have music projects across the range of clients within the agency, but I mainly produce for Gatorade.
R&G: Is the commercial filmed first or do you look for music once you receive the specs from the client?
MG: It depends on the project. It depends on the creative, really, and how much music is built into the idea in the conceptual phase. A lot of times, we’re going to be composing something, and we do that after we film the commercial. If we want to license a track, we could have a song already sold in when we sell the idea at the beginning or we go through a lengthy, lengthy search process to determine what the right track is.
R&G: What’s the most rewarding part of the job for you?
MG: The most rewarding part of the job for me is sharing music with the people on the projects – the creative teams. I just love getting them in a room and exposing them to music they haven’t considered. Those sessions are really fun; I value the face-to-face presentation when it comes to music, because with links it’s easy to get lost in the quagmire of being overwhelmed with things to click on and download. I really do try to get in front of the creative teams and present ideas in person and explain my rationale as far as why I think a song would be good for their ad. You can push the creatives in those situations too; you can explain yourself and you can take more of a risk. When you can take more risks, I think it benefits the creative process greatly.
R&G: What’s the most challenging part of the job for you?
MG: Music is often the very last thing that is considered for a project. As often as it isn’t, it’s the last thing or the finishing piece on any TV campaign. We record it; we final mix it; those are the last things we do. Editing, color, and picture are things we do before that most of the time, so when music is kind of the last thing that’s considered, it’s a small part or piece of the pie. It’s frustrating working within those parameters, especially when, even though it may be the last thing on the priority list, it’s often the most important part of the commercial and how it’s received. The music that’s on there, with a flip of the switch, can change an emotion and an audience’s response – an emotional reaction. The wrong piece of music on there can definitely lower the emotional response to a film. Within that, the notion of being safe is also a challenge: we have this type of project, so we have to put an upbeat rock track on there, or we have this type of project, so we have to put something vaguely hip-hop. I’m looking for ways to push those boundaries. What I look for from good work is something that surprises me. I want to say, “How the hell did that end up on film?” It’s brilliant, and yet it’s so left field. Those are the things that inspire me when I look at supervisors and directors that I greatly respect: their choice of music and how it works. In advertising too, in terms of the commercial music companies that score music that we often work with, I’m looking for who’s doing things that are different vs. who’s doing things that work really well from a safe perspective, and those are harder to find.
R&G: DVR household penetration is estimated to reach over 51% of homes by 2016. What is the best strategy to get an advertiser’s message out to viewers that use TiVo to skip ads? Is this something you consider during the creative process?
MG: TiVo’s incredible; I’m not going to lie. It’s amazing. A place like Chiat doesn’t think of ideas in that traditional television outdoor or print kind of mindset that has dominated advertising for the last 50 years. We definitely come up with ideas and look to implement them on a 360 level. We call it media arts. We’re looking across a variety of media to implement an idea, so when you open it up on that kind of scale, you can create ideas that are non-traditional, for which how you implement them is exciting and new, and how you see them is a new frontier. These are all conversations that we have on a creative level within the agency – between our creative directors, copywriters, art directors – about new and challenging ways to reach audiences besides just what they’ve seen on television.
R&G: What are your thoughts on bands being seen as “sell-outs” for licensing their music to brands?
MG: In a lot of ways, I come from a background myself that was about not selling out. I grew up with that mind frame and was militant in school. Now I find myself in advertising and talking about how we want to be culture movers and shakers. I definitely see the bullshit, or the evolution in how people change and try to make decisions about music and how it’s used in the world of commerce. My response to that is there’s some music that I consider sacred as a supervisor and I won’t get near it as far as putting it in projects. That’s my perspective, personally, but I know that there are other people with that perspective as well. There are creatives in the building with music that they consider sacred, and they don’t just put it in any kind of commercial project. I think bands need to weigh each opportunity as it comes and make a decision that’s best for them and their music.
R&G: What’s the best way for an independent or unsigned artist to get on your radar or be considered for one of your campaigns?
MG: The best way to get on my radar is to be recommended by a trusted source through my friends in the community, someone whose opinion I value, who might sit me down and play me their music. I listen to enough music that it’s hard for me, like anybody, to go through a bunch of unknown acts. I also use my web sources and local record store recommendations. It’s like a Twitter feed, if I can make that analogy: you start to see something turning enough and you start to pick up on it and say, “Maybe I’ll pay attention to that.” You listen to one song, and that could be all it takes. A band like Tame Impala, last year, for instance, was kind of low level on my radar; I heard one track, immediately fell in love with it, and was obsessed with it all of last year. Things in this day and age, they just kind of pop up and if you’re paying enough attention, you’ll take a chance on something new. There’s also the live experience of Coachella or South By Southwest, where you can kind of happen upon something and discover it new at this whole new level, which is kind of the best reaction to music.
R&G: What’s your all-time favorite use of music in an ad?
MG: I’m going to say… Not my all-time favorite, because let’s just not go there… But one from last year that I thought was really cool was that they put up a Black Angels song ["Young Men Dead"] to a Fable III Revolution game commercial, which I thought was really inspired. I thought the Chipotle Back to the Start spot from last year, which had Willie Nelson covering Coldplay [The Scientist"] , was beautiful. I thought that the Ozzy Osbourne ["Crazy Train"] Honda commercial from this year was really cool and well done.
R&G: What’s on your iPod right now?
MG: I’m loving the Heartless Bastards record. I’m loving Frankie Rose. I’m also rediscovering MC5 right now. Sharon Van Etten. Haim’s cool. I love the Lambchop record. Santigold, Chairlift, Blood Orange, Widowspeak, White Denim, to name a few.
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