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Original Music: Hearing is Believing

No matter what visuals are integrated into a TV campaign, the music behind the narration and imagery is the language that people will best understand.

By Bob Farnsworth
Founder/Composer Hummingbird Productions/Nashville

Bob Farnsworth Founder/Composer Hummingbird Productions/Nashville

Bob Farnsworth
Founder/Composer Hummingbird Productions/Nashville

Normally, people say “Seeing is believing,” but I would like to offer my theory that it is more accurate to say: Hearing is believing. I’ve discovered, as a musician and composer, that we generally trust our ears more than we trust our own eyes. I wonder why that is? Perhaps it’s because our ears always are open, even when we sleep. I’ll leave that to scientists to figure out.
Speaking of great thinkers, a great deal of thought must go into the design and implementation of music for commercials. In the world of advertising, the sound of music that can be heard behind the announcer’s words is remarkably powerful. This is especially true when conceiving the music that will accompany an important, new advertising campaign. If I play a snappy, funny little tune on the piano while I say the words — “I really felt sort of melancholy when I woke up this morning. I didn’t even feel like getting out of bed” — the music heard behind my words would make me sound like a liar.

On the other hand, if I was playing a somber tune while saying the words — “This morning I woke up, the birds were chirping and the sun was shining” — people listening to me would, once again, think I was a liar. I’m not happy; I’m sad, because the dirge-like music they can hear elicits a more powerful human response than the words I’m saying.

No matter how closely we think today’s synthetic sounds can replicate real instruments, it always blows us away when we are allowed the opportunity to compose original music for ad campaigns employing an entire orchestra. When recording tracks using just electronics and digital instruments, the music tends to “stair-step” and the emotion within the piece of music isn’t conveyed properly.

Because of the human element involved when someone actually plays an instrument, the music can rise and fall naturally and organically — like an ocean wave. A human musical performance always allows much more subtlety, nuance, and flavor to be expressed than a completely digital version.

As another creative outlet, we musicians and composers enjoy when we have the opportunity to create a remix for a brand’s existing theme music. This is a great way to infuse a successful ad campaign with new energy. I love working on remixes and mash-ups because it keeps brands sounding fresh.

Indeed, music is the international language. No matter what words you say, the music of your voice is the language people will understand. So I ask us all, what sort of music do people hear when you walk into the room?

Whether we are speaking our music or we are playing our music on an instrument, we must distinguish between mere notes and music. That’s one of the most important aspects of the creative art in music; there is much more to it than stringing notes together. There is the emotion and the feeling that is conveyed when music is created from notes, and that can best be realized when the emotion needed in the project is understood by the composer and musicians. It’s much harder to get it right when you try to pull that emotion out of a prerecorded piece that was done for another project.

There always will be a place for all types of music in film, video, and advertising. My hope is that the right piece of music is the one you decide to use, each and every time. And remember, Hearing is believing.


Bob Farnsworth founded Hummingbird Productions, one of the oldest full-service music production companies in America, in 1979. Its award-winning material includes: “Always Coca-Cola,” and “I Wish I Were an Oscar Mayer Weiner.” For more information, visit www.hummingbirdproductions.com.


October 29, 2014