Inside View: Hummingbird Productions
Founder/executive creative director – Hummingbird Productions • Nashville • www.hummingbirdproductions.com
Markee: Hummingbird Productions is one of the longest-standing ad music companies in the U.S. and is in the Clio Hall of Fame for its iconic Budweiser Frogs sound design. You’re a leader in the art of sonic branding — what exactly is that?
Mr. Farnsworth: “If you’ve ever gotten to the end of a :30 commercial and asked yourself, ‘Who was that for?’ there’s a fundamental problem. You should remember what the brand was, and music can assist in branding the spot. In its purest form it can be the N-B-C tones or the Budweiser frogs or a song that represents the advertiser. But sonic branding is not just a jingle — it can be the Aflac duck quacking the company name or the Vonage mnemonic.
“We did the ‘Always Coca-Cola’ sonic branding, and it entertained people through many spots: the polar bears, world rhythm, wacky clay animation, spinning Coke caps. The only thing they all had in common was ‘Always Coca-Cola’ — it was the glue that held the campaign together. On one hand it was a jingle, but we also put cool rhythms, beats and sounds with it. You can be both: cool and memorable. That’s what we strive for.”
Markee: Are there trends in commercial music today?
Mr. Farnsworth: “There are definitely trends. Buying hit songs is one, but I think people are getting tired of that. Relying on cheap, synthetic library music with no emotional dynamics when there’s so much great music out there is another.
“Using indie groups is a huge trend, and in Nashville we have some of the coolest indie groups in the country. I started out as an artist when I first came to Nashville and then stumbled into commercials. Hummingbird represents some of these young independent artists, and they bring a real freshness to music that we can shape to sell products. We intend to put together a label, aligned with the artists’ record labels, which will specialize in placing artists on commercials. A lot of agencies want to be more involved with artists than just having them on their spots. They want to be able to tour them and find other opportunities together.”
Markee: What are some recent stand-out spots on your reel?
Mr. Farnsworth: “We won a Cannes Lion for our music in the Tampax spot “Running.” We also wrote music featuring a local indie Nashville artist in Paula Deen’s Smithfield Ham 2010 summer commercials; writer/producer Aaron Howard wrote the laid back Barry White music vibe on the Dunkin’ Donuts “Dark Roast” spot; and we composed music for TV spots introducing new voting machines in New York City — the vocal version features the Grammy Award-winning a cappella group Take 6.
“Additionally, we are doing all the radio spots for the Foundation for a Better Life. This ongoing “Pass It On” campaign, distributed to over 11,000 radio stations nationwide every year, creates a theater of the mind with dialogue and sound design for historical characters like Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill and Mother Teresa who represent values like courtesy, persistence, kindness and courage. The Mother Teresa spot received a 2010 Gabriel Award recognizing creativity with an emphasis on messages inspiring to the human soul. It is very gratifying to be a part of the Foundation For a Better Life campaign and [to] work with the awesome team at Values.com.”
Markee: You’re keeping pace with the explosion of stereo 3D with your Hummingbird3D audio process.
Mr. Farnsworth: “We started experimenting with creating the illusion of 3D sound for clients with commercials or other stereo TV content who are stepping up to 3D. Working with Russell Sherman, a scientist in Kansas City, we developed Hummingbird3D, an audio widening effect that works well with high-frequency sounds and is cost effective for clients.”
Markee: What else is on the horizon for Hummingbird Productions?
Mr. Farnsworth: “We’ve done a number of musical theater projects, but one of my dreams is to be more involved in the film world. We have been getting some work from film producers who understand music and work intimately with it. Now we have our own film in development: The Tom Lee Story, a true story about a black man who saved a boatload of people in a Mississippi River accident near Memphis in 1928. Our intent is to do for blues music what O Brother, Where Art Thou? did for bluegrass music. We are currently in the process of raising funding for this incredible project.”