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Making Commericals: What Color Is The Music?

Commercials for The Gap always get the music right.

Gap introduces colored jeans with an upbeat toy piano.

By Michael Fickes 

Commercials for The Gap always get the music right.

Commercials for The Gap always get the music right.

Check out the most recent commercial created by Peterson Milla Hooks Advertising in Minneapolis (https://vimeo.com/60494529). It uses a toy piano, manufactured drum loops, an acoustic guitar, pitch-shifted vocals and some scratching – created by electronic recording artist Ki:Theory.

The spot introduces a new line of Gap jeans that are no longer just blue jeans.

It begins as several young women appear and form a line – in front of the trademark white scrim. They are wearing brightly colored jeans. They pose and their jeans flicker through Gap’s bright palette of denim colors: yellow, pink, blue, orange, purple, brown, you name it. The women dance and walk toward the camera and out of the frame.

Next, a line of young men troops onto stage showing off the multicolored jeans for men. The women return and a jumbled dance breaks out.

Colorful music

“The agency wanted original music that would represent the colors of the jeans in the spot,” said Paul Robb, creative director and co-founder of HiFi Project, a music house with offices in Los Angeles, Minneapolis and New York. “I work in the LA office, but we needed resources from all of our offices for this project.”

“We cast a wide net,” added Chris Heidman, a producer and composer in HiFi’s Minneapolis office. “We created a lot in-house and then we reached out and asked bands for tracks that might work in a 30-second spot.”

A partner and executive producer in the firm’s New York Office, Jack Bradley suggested asking Ki:Theory for a track. Bradley had worked with him in the past and had developed a relationship with his manager.


Ki:Theory ran with the assignment. “He came up with an updated mid-90s break beat sound,” Heidman said. “It is made of samples of his own voice and a lot of bits and pieces of electronic sounds.”

Break beat is electronic music with a distinctive, broken rhythm pattern. Robb describes the effort as re-contextualized break beat. “You re-contextualize by putting one type of music [break beat] through a blender and re-imagining it as a different kind of music,” he says.

Except for the ending, Ki:Theory’s work is pretty much as it was when he sent the first pass. “It was a great song to begin with,” Heidman said. “But recording artists aren’t used to commercial timing, and the 30-second point of the first version didn’t work as an ending. He worked out several new beginnings and endings – when you change the ending, you have to change the beginning.”

Heidman likes the finished piece. “This is unique in the world of electronic music – and in commercial music,” continued Heidman. “I haven’t heard anything like these vocals before. He created layers of his own voice and applied effects that alter the pitch. Then he added reverb.

“The toy piano plus the layered vocals are the song. The drum and acoustic guitar play supporting roles.”

The rough cut

Editor Brett Astor at Channel Z in Minneapolis did the rough cut to other music. “We had the concept,” she said. “It is about denim evolution: the jeans evolve by changing colors. We made the pants change color to the beat of the music. The color story of the jeans was an important part of the spot.”

Astor roughed in the color changes for the rough cut. Later, Minneapolis-based Pixel Farm created the final effects.

“We were trying lots of music, but when we found this piece, it did everything we wanted,” she said. “It is an amazing sound. It pulled everything together.”

Few brands have a commercial footprint as recognizable as The Gap. Gap commercials are recognizable after a few frames of white scrim and a few bars of music.

Within 30 seconds, you have a new idea about the The Gap. After this commercial, you see denim in a rainbow of colors.

January 17, 2013