The History Channel approached us to produce the soundtrack for “King,” a series of specials to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. This assignment was unique because aside from Tom Brokaw’s upcoming interviews with luminaries such as Bill Clinton, Harry Belafonte and Bono, the producers had no new material to add to the familiar stock of images charting the charismatic preacher’s life.
It became a challenge: to tell King’s story in a new way, and to a contemporary audience. How could an audience see the story differently when they had likely seen every frame of footage many times? Though history suggests the past, the network viewed this grand narrative as one continuous, uninterrupted “now”— an epic that must evolve with current perspectives.
Although U2 usually disapproves of other musicians covering their songs, we managed to persuade Bono’s camp to allow use of the tribute “Pride (In the Name of Love).” While a huge triumph, ultimate success still hinged on finding a performing artist who could rise to this occasion, and, through our supervision and guidance, transform U2’s arena-rock anthem into something equally rousing and majestic, but with a voice wholly their own. What he needed was an impassioned collaborator with the vocal chops and popular appeal to capture the magnitude of King’s dream so it would continue to smolder in the public consciousness. Some people are just born for the role, and in the case of R&B sensation John Legend, the soulful Grammy winner’s sincerity turned out to be the perfect complement to King’s monumental integrity.
From the beginning, our founder advised Legend that the appropriate mood of the song should be quietly restrained in keeping with the subject matter, yet raw and unvarnished to inspire a younger audience. With Beckerman’s co-production and arrangement coupled with Legend’s poignant delivery of solo voice and piano, the interpretation was subdued but intense — wistful, yet filled with an elegiac grandeur.
No simple remix, our rendition of “Pride” did more than celebrate King’s legacy. With John Legend’s grace and emotional conviction, the song brought a sense of immediacy to the shots that once rang out in the Memphis sky, allowing thousands of new viewers to see and experience the 20th Century icon as if for the first time. It was so successful that Legend released it on his studio album, Evolver, which then led to the track’s re-release on Yes We Can: Voices of a Grassroots Movement, a CD inspired by Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Since Legend had already begun playing the song live in his concerts, he certainly had enough practice by the time he reached 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to perform for the president himself. We’re pretty confident that went smoothly, too.
In 2006, John Williams created a theme for the NFL on NBC. It’s a classic Williams theme with a timeless orchestral setting, brilliantly invented and executed to capture the spirit of football, telling the story of two world-class competitors going to war.
In 2008, on the occasion of the Super Bowl on NBC, the network needed something special – a surprising transformation for the NBC football brand. They asked our founder, Joel Beckerman, to add a twist by creating new thematic material while staying true to the iconic Williams’ signature. The evolved theme needed to appeal to both the mega-loyal football fan and the widest global audience. We needed to bring what was timeless about the composition to the epic present-day clash between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots.
The solution was a unique hybrid— classic orchestration, rock, electronic and soundtrack elements were all brought to the new effort, along with new melodic ideas and sections featuring a 70-piece orchestra. Furthermore, Beckerman and the Man Made team re-envisioned the context for Williams’ theme creating a variety of different moods and instrumental variations to match every emotional story point anticipated in the game. Triumph, tension, optimism, and rapid-fire excitement enlivened the musical palette available to the broadcast at the push of a button, all predicted weeks in advance.
The NBC Super Bowl broadcast attracted an average U.S. audience of 98.7 million viewers, making it the most watched Super Bowl in history to that point, and the second most watched program in television history. NBC chose to continue using the new music past the big day, and it has been a staple of both NFL on NBC and NBC Super Bowl broadcasts for the past four years.
How do you build a relationship with your clients? Engage, inspire, and delight them by giving them a gift of something fun and completely unexpected. In the fall of 2012, this was our goal for AT&T’s sponsorship at Atlanta’s premier cosmopolitan music festival, Midtown Music. As the Sonic Branding Agency of Record for AT&T, we provide strategic guidance on all Sonic activations, including those pertaining to free audible loot.
To help the brand connect with customers, we created an exclusive ringtone to be downloaded from the festival’s app store, and later worldwide on att.com. The 21-second melody would feature the four notes for the brand’s Sonic Logo, seamlessly integrated into a catchy pop tune that is instantly and universally appealing.
The band we approached on behalf of AT&T goes by the bright-eyed moniker, Neon Trees. Their genre-spanning songs cross multiple radio formats from adult contemporary, to rock, alternative and dance, uniting an audience that skews comfortably between lovers of Liberace and Lil’ Wayne, bridging both with infectious percussion and finger-snapping. We worked with the high-energy foursome to produce a hugely successful ringtone version of “Everybody Talks,” the smoking lead single off their second studio album Picture Show.
It’s exactly this kind of edgy, street-smart partnership generally associated with lifestyle brands like Pepsi or Nike that allowed AT&T to gain brand attribution and recognition with every download on the site. By surprising their customers (now newly-minted Neon Trees fans) with a sonic goodie-bag with indie pop/rock street cred, the telecom juggernaut was now humanized: down-to-earth, approachable, and with excellent taste in music.
The groundbreaking series Intervention, had been a hit for A&E for nine seasons, but the show needed a refresh for the tenth season in 2010. Revitalizing an existing franchise is a common challenge. With Intervention the goal was to go back to the roots of what made the show so popular –unvarnished storytelling about the horrors of addiction, trials of treatment, and glory of redemption.
The Man Made Music team identified a Moby song that was a perfect fit in most ways. “Wait for Me” told the story powerfully, both in lyric and mood; a pleading message to friends and family to keep hope alive for their loved ones. However, the original song and arrangement didn’t really speak to the redemption and optimism that was core to the Intervention storytelling, so it begged the question: could we shape and add to the emotional storyline of the song while being true to the integrity of the artist’s vision? Moby gave us the nod to give it a try. He was a big fan of the show.
Man Made Music added percussion, orchestral soundtrack flourishes, and an optimistic yearning vocal riff to “Wait for Me” to make the ending soar. Moby was pleased. A&E was pleased. The Intervention tune-in for the season opener jumped 12% from the previous season’s finale. Mission accomplished.