and make it real creative logo 3By Trent Rentsch

Danger, there’s a breakdown dead ahead. And just maybe, you’re in way above your head. These lyrics mean a lot to me. To understand why, we have to go back to 1980. I was a 2nd Semester Freshman at South Dakota State University, trying too hard to fit in with the theatre crowd. Too much plaid (the shirt of the moment for the cool kids), too much booze, too many off the mark jokes (while everyone else was clever as hell). A square peg trying to fit in a well-rounded groove.

Music1 webI was busy trying too hard one night at a post-play all-nighter. The word “Poser” wasn’t a thing yet, but one of the more frank members of the group was just drunk and fed up enough that she pretty much called me one. I had it coming, but I was just drunk enough that all I could think was what a Bitch she was. That same moment, “Breakdown Dead Ahead” by Boz Scaggs came on the stereo, and Boz pointed out where I was, if I didn’t just shut up, chill out, and be myself. Between the Bitch and Boz, things changed after that night, and I began the long process of finding my place in the group, rather than trying to be a cheap imitation of everyone else.

Music is a powerful thing. I’ve yet to meet a person who hasn’t been transformed in one way or another by music; most of us have many songs that we would consider the “soundtrack” of our lives. All the big brains have acknowledged music’s power. Nietzsche said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” Jack Kerouac said, “The only truth is music.” And Shakespeare wrote, “Music oft hath such a charm to make bad good, and good provoke to harm.” But for all the power music has, it’s not magic, and science has been trying to prove it for years.

Darwin hypothesized that “musical notes and rhythm were first acquired by the male or female progenitors of mankind for the sake of charming the opposite sex. Thus musical tones became firmly associated with some of the strongest passions an animal is capable of feeling, and are consequently used instinctively.” Recent studies by neuroscientists show that our favorite songs flip the switch in our brains that floods our system with all the neurochemicals that take us to our happy place.

Regardless of how it works, music has a powerful hold on us. It’s why we all have such strong opinions about it. It’s also why some clients are so insistent that you use their favorite song in their ad, rights be damned.

I find choosing the right music for a piece of production to be both the most important and frustrating part of the process. The taste of the target audience has to be considered, then the tone of the piece, the voice-over, the flavor the client wants… throw all of that in the mix, then try to find a piece of music that answers all of those demands. I don’t care how large your music library is, it’s a tricky proposition.

I worked with a Program Director who had a “unique” way of choosing music for the ads he cut. He had a great voice, so he was in demand, but he really didn’t have a lot of time for the Production Room, so he would grab a couple of random Production Music records (yeah, way back then), and a stack of carts (look ‘em up, kids), then cue up the first track and cut the ad straight to cart, one take. Then he’d cue up the next track and do the next ad the same way… and the next, and the next, until he’d gotten through his stack. He was very proud of his “system,” and never understood why some clients would complain about his music “choices.” He never got the message, but I heard it, loud and clear.

Get the music right, you touch the listener on a deeper level; get it wrong and you risk losing them. It’s really that simple. However, as I mentioned, your choice isn’t always that simple. When in doubt, I find following my own taste is a good guide, even if the music the work requires isn’t my thing. If the feel, the tone, touches me on some level, odds are it will do the same for the listener.

You know the tune, sometimes it just takes a while to hear it.

Trent Creates words, voices, audio & music. His current professional home is Krash Creative. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


On the Soundstage



May 01, 2002 16395
by Steve Cunningham Most of my clients get CD copies of their finished projects, including those that want the finished tracks sent as mp3 files via the Internet — it’s cheap insurance and a nice touch. As a result, I duplicate...