2020 Christmas Campaigns: The Music Supervisors Behind the Ads

By Vicky Bennett / GMS Administrator

In all the doom and gloom, it’s nice to see each of the heartwarming Christmas campaigns slowly being released in time for Christmas.
Since their releases, we had the absolute pleasure to speak with some excellent Music Supervisors who sprinkled some festive musical magic onto our screens this year!

We spoke to the following Music Supervisors:

Leland Music has worked on “Give a Little Love” John Lewis & Waitrose campaign. We had the pleasure of speaking with Toby Williams, who was the music supervisor collaborating on this project.

The Christmas Campaign starts with showing us that a boy has got his ball stuck up a tree, a girl comes over to help and throws her heart-shaped umbrella up to knock it back down, thus, setting the tone of the advert with the symbol of love already used to help another. The rest of the advert continues to be inspired by acts of kindness from the public during the pandemic. It ultimately encourages viewers to “give a little love” to others, which is what we all need this Christmas.

  • With this in mind and given the circumstances, at what point in the year did you begin working on the campaign and what logistics and compromises had to be taken into consideration to ensure the whole process ran smoothly in time for release?

    Toby: We were approached by adam&eveDDB in the summer to collaborate on their 2020 Christmas campaign. Naturally, by this point in the year, there were unusual circumstances to factor in both conceptually and logistically. The “Give A Little Love” idea, which was at the core of their thinking from the outset, offered a relatable and humble message in what is a complex and trying year. Of course, there were unique obstacles to be negotiated (unusually, there were no opportunities for face to face collaboration…) but huge credit must go to Celeste and her songwriting partner Jamie Hartman – who were able to immediately relate to the concept following our initial, “virtual” discussions.
  • At what point in the process was it decided that John Lewis & Waitrose wanted to support the message “Give a Little Love”, and what were the next steps you took once this had been settled?

    Toby: The “Give A Little Love” message was at the core of the creative from the outset.  The simplicity of it, and the fact that we can all relate and be part of this way of thinking – gave us a clear direction musically. Essentially – the audience would need to relate the song, performance and artist in a similar way. In this sense, Celeste and “A Little Love” were ideal.
  • How closely did you work with singer-songwriter, Celeste, to ensure the message from John Lewis & Waitrose, “Give a Little Love” was clearly conveyed to the viewer, through the music?

    Toby: Celeste and Jamie were certainly able to take the lead and it was a joy to hear the song develop through the course of our involvement. As with every John Lewis & Waitrose Partnership campaign, we worked in tandem with the artist, songwriter and the team at Polydor to ensure the song connected with the spirit of the brands’ messaging, and fully connected with their evolving visual.
  • Do you have any personal highlights or memorable moments from working on this campaign?

    Toby: Yes, a couple… Firstly, the first time we heard “A Little Love” in demo form was a thrill! We are all huge fans of Celeste so any new music from her is if I’m honest!… But in this instance, her connection to the brands’ message from the outside was extraordinary. Also, at regular intervals throughout the process, it was a joy to see the various animation styles coming to life.

SixtyFour Music has worked on the “Kevin The Carrot” Aldi Christmas campaign. We had the pleasure of speaking with Nick Payne, who was the music supervisor collaborating on this project

The Christmas campaign consists of Aldi continuing Kevin The Carrot’s adventures by bringing in a new character, Harry the Hedgehog, who helps Kevin through an epic journey to get back home in time for Christmas told through a complimenting medley arrangement of magical movie moments.

  • When collaborating on this project, what made everyone come to the mutual decision of creating this medley of iconic musical movie moments to use within the campaign? 

    Nick: A certain amount of trial and error, a need for all themes to be instantly recognisable and of course obtainable. We played around so many different themes in the research stage, but these two just seemed to work brilliantly. Aldi also has a history of using Home Alone, I think its the third time its been licensed for their Christmas campaign so its becoming a bit of a theme for Kevin.
  • Taking into consideration that the music selected from Pirates of the Caribbean and Home Alone is very opposite in their musical tones and story narratives, how did you rearrange the score to ensure they ran smoothly from one to another?

    Nick: They illustrate quite different scenes so the dramatic shift from to the other helped with the story to some extent. Furthermore, the arrangers and I tweaked the tempos and the orchestra line up to work across both pieces, recording the cues as a performance (albeit under some restrictions created by the pandemic) also helped with the natural flow from one to the other.
  • Given the circumstances of this year, when did SixtyFour Music begin the process of this campaign and how has it differed in logistics to previous years, especially with a full orchestral performance involved?

    Nick: We started working on this in April, creative searches first, then when the tracks were decided we began playing with the arrangements, some time in mid-August I think. Recording the orchestra was quite a different experience. We had to record in sections, with everyone 2 metres apart and then clean the live room between the sections’ performances. The clean took a couple of hours each time so it was quite a long day! 
  • How closely did you work with Wave Studios to ensure both the sound effects and score complemented each other to tell the story as best can be?

    Nick: Very. It’s very collaborative so we are able to comment on each other’s contribution without any issues. This year I think the music worked harder than it usually does so the sound design was much more delicate. The clients really wanted us to score the action musically and tell the story as much as possible with musical devices which meant that the sound design had to be held back somewhat. I think the end result is really impressive both sonically and visually.

Zebedee Budworth has worked on the 3-Part Sainsbury’s Campaign:Gravy Song‘, ‘Perfect Portions‘ & ‘Big Sarnie‘. We had the pleasure of speaking with Zebedee, who was the music supervisor collaborating on this project

The Christmas campaign starts with the first of three adverts, “Gravy song” which shows old footage of a family spending Christmas together (as they all do)! with the voiceover of a phone call to dad who sings his special song, to his daughter, for his beloved gravy. The second advert, “Perfect portions” presents a mum and her son taking a heartfelt trip down memory lane about how dad used to carve the turkey. And the final advert, “Big sarnie” features two cousins having a catch up discussing Boxing Days eating leftover Christmas dinner sarnie’s at their nan’s house. 

  • Knowing that you had to focus on three different stories rather than just the one, can you tell us a little bit about your process for the 3-part campaign? 

    Zebedee: I’d entered discussions with the directors of the campaign early on before anything had been shot to work out potential paths to explore with the music. After 2020 it felt really important to bring something different to the table when compared to previous Christmas campaigns – perhaps the festive magic that we all need this year is one that could be found in memories. The music developed along with the film, with ideas being bounced back and forth between me, ThirtyTwo, Factory and the creatives. It was of utmost importance that the music supported the narrative while adding depth to the emotional journey. 

    In each of the campaigns, the audience witnesses the memory being built collaboratively throughout the conversation, and I wanted the music to reflect that. The campaigns needed to capture the sound of retrospection, gradually peeling back the fog of time to reveal a shared moment. I drew some sonic inspiration from lo-fi artists such as Sparklehorse and Ian William Craig; these are both artists whose choice use of older recording technologies places their music in a space both familiar and unknown, an imperfect reproduction in an era of perfect sound, an emotionally resonant broadcast from an unplaceable past.

    The music needed to have a hint of Christmas, though I didn’t want this to be overbearing. The nature of the campaigns after such a difficult year meant that the usual approaches to music in a festive campaign would not be suitable – too many sleigh bells would render the footage ingenuine, and an emotional piano piece would prove to melancholic when contemplating the togetherness of family at a time when we might not be able to see our own loved ones. Each of the campaigns tells a different story, though the message remains consistent, which is something that the music helps to convey.
  • These three adverts are an earnest nod to the current Covid situation, by showing different families keeping in touch on the phone. Through these heartfelt phone conversations, they all share one thing in common: tender memories because of the classic Christmas foods from Sainsbury’s. How did you ensure that the sentimental message “Food is Home. Home is Christmas” was clearly conveyed to the viewers?

    Zebedee: The music needed to help actualise the world being spun by the memories in the footage and recollections of Christmas past held over the phone. I wanted to work with sounds that had the same hazy quality as the camcorder and VHS tapes, making a collage of different sounds associated with Christmas and home. You can catch snippets of bonfires, cutlery percussion and voices clouded by reverb and altered by tape delay as if the pause button had been pressed on the cassette, or a favourite moment that replays over in your head. An earlier version had a more prominent cello part, though it proved to be a bit too saccharine when combined with imagery and script! A subtler approach was needed, so a gradual build was implemented as the warmth of the memories filled the conversationalists, and hopefully spills out into our very own living rooms. Gavin Bryars’ Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet was an inspiration on how to create music that blooms into something quite beautiful over every repeat of the motif, developing and growing stronger with every loop. I wanted the music to feel as if the build would carry on after the phone call, with the feeling of home and warmth that had been recalled staying with them for the rest of the day.
  • How closely did you work with Factory to ensure both the sound design and the music complemented each other to tell the story as best can be?

    Zebedee: With the footage, phone calls and music all going on at the same time there was a lot to juggle! A process of refinement took place with the composition over the course of the production, which was evaluated to make sure that everything was working in harmony. There were concerns that the frequencies of the telephone might not cut through enough, what with a lot of the sounds used coming from similar sounding-technologies. An earlier version leaned more heavily into the sounds of old VHS tapes, though proved a little overbearing once the voice-over had been added, and so a little recalibration was required. It’s always great to work with Factory – everything really came together to create a unique and quite striking campaign.
  • Out of the three campaigns which did you enjoy working on the most and why?

    Zebedee: I spent a lot of time with each of the campaigns and really feel as if I’ve shared Christmas with each of the families over the years, so I don’t think I could pick. (It’s Gravy Song of course!)

Soundlounge was the music consultancy company who helped with the musical creative on ‘If You Were a Toy, What Would You Be?’ Smyths Toys Campaign.

  • Given the circumstances of this year, when did you all begin working on the campaign and what logistics and compromises had to be taken into consideration to ensure the whole process ran smoothly in time for release?

    Soundlounge: Soundlounge acted as Executive Producers on behalf of Smyths, working side by side with the production team at BlackBook Music who were just magic. Soundlounge were first made aware of the campaign in February, briefed in April and started work alongside Blackbook Music in May. For Blackbook music (the production team) the project was in the works from last November as they had brokered a long term deal with Smyths and Sony for the animated character of ‘Oscar’ and released 3 tracks across all DSP’s and created animated content prior to releasing the Smyths Christmas campaign in November. 

    From early May we had to get new lyrics written for a copyrighted track that worked with a very early storyboard. We auditioned and received ideas from 5 lyricists until we could get agreement from the client and the agency, discussions on the execution of the performance were lengthy. 

    We used a grammy award-winning arranger from the US Rob Mounsey who specialised in philharmonic orchestras, choirs and has worked with the likes of Elton John, Natalie Cole, Dave Koz & George Michael.  All parts had to be written, demoed and signed off before we could start auditioning. The audition process consisted of about 50 – 60 video auditions which were sent in and narrowed down to a top 5 and presented to the client – Albert Attack was chosen who proved to be an absolute star. He lived up north but came down to London several occasions to record with his mother in our studios. We had to be doubly strict with him and he and his mother effectively had their own studio whilst we spoke to them through an intercom. Then came a 20 piece children’s choir which was the easy bit. Creating arrangements and rehearsals for them had to be done in small groups of 4 who were within a ‘bubble’ and recording them remotely from our studios a group at a time with a choirmaster WORKING REMOTELY was more challenging – this then had to be mixed to form one choir. Plus all the parts for a 60 piece orchestra, who all recorded separately and orchestrated from the London studio, which Nick Patrick (part of the Black Book Music team) worked on to produce the final mix. 
  • At what point in the process was it decided that Smyths Toys wanted to support and reiterate the same message from last years advert, featuring their take on Beyonce’s ‘If I Were A Boy’ with, ‘If I Were a Toy’  and what were the next steps you took once this had been settled?

    Soundlounge: The use of the track was a given but as described above there was much discussion on the new lyrics from last year’s version, it was important to the client that the concept of the lyric change symbolised ‘if the world was a toy’. We had recorded everything for a 40-second commercial. This is where Blackbook Music showed total creative genius – watch the ad and see if you can see when it got changed.
  • How closely did Soundlounge work with Black Book Music throughout the production?

    Soundlounge: Soundlounge worked very closely with Black Book Music, the MCcanns team and of course the Smyth marketing team to ensure that everybody was literally ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’.
  • Do you have any personal highlights or memorable moments from working on this campaign?

    Soundlounge: When Tony Smyth THE CEO, said “it was the best commercial ever!!

Thank you to each Music Supervisor for taking the time out to speak with us, and we hope you all stay safe during this festive season! Have a Merry Christmas!

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