Making her mark with a soft drink jingle, Mary Frisbie Wood writes for commercials just like any pop song.
If TV advertising is the new radio, then songwriting is steering dangerously close to the new marketing. That's the delicate line between art and commerce that's been toed for more than 15 years by Mary Frisbie Wood, a veteran jingle writer and commercial music producer who founded music company Frisbie in 2006.
Having made her mark writing pop songs for Pepsi in the late '90s and early 2000s with writing partner Clifford Lane ("The Joy of Pepsi" featuring Britney Spears, Aretha Franklin and Faith Hill, among others), Wood first learned about the importance of putting songwriting before product placement when she and Lane were tasked to write what became "Move Over," a Pepsi jingle-turned-pop song for the Spice Girls that appeared on 1997's Spice World.
"The way we would write commercials is the same way we would write songs -- we always wanted to write a great song first," Wood says. "We started writing all these hooks -- 'next phase, next wave, next craze' -- to define what this idea of 'Generation Next' meant, and then we kind of went, 'Oh, no, the product. We got to go back and get the product.'"
Cut to 2012, where bands like the Black Keys, Phoenix, fun., Foster the People and others are building their careers on the backs of high-profile commercial synchs -- creating a satellite industry in the process for musicians who create sound-alike songs for commercials when said bands turn them down. Wood founded Frisbie based on the idea that she could bring well-known musicians to create original music for brands with a distinct sound (the Candy Butchers' Mike Viola, Wilco's Jim Sansone and former Odd Future member BrandUn DeShay are among those who've worked on recent assignments) -- no copycats necessary.
"One thing I think about a lot is how music producers are the new A&R people, and it just makes me wonder about how younger people are writing songs," Wood says. "There are 10 key categories that tend to get used over and over again, and I worry that people are putting the blinders on pretty early on in their artistic career when the goal is just to get on the new radio."
Though the New York-based Frisbie specializes in creating original music for advertising and TV (Wood and composer P.T. Walkley compose the music for Nickelodeon's "Team Umizoomi"), it does offer the occasional synch placement for agencies -- sometimes with access to the original artist. The Gap and ad agency Ogilvy, for instance, licensed Frisbie artist Gordon Voidwell's "Ivy League Circus" for its spring 2012 "Be Bright" campaign, but asked for some tweaks. "That was one where they loved the song but the lyrics weren't right, so we were able to get the artist in the studio and rerecorded the vocals."
Although Frisbie's phones are constantly lighting up with requests for the hottest indie bands of the moment, that wasn't always the case when Wood was pitching projects nearly a decade ago with Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes or with singer Inara George months before she became a tastemaker darling as part of the Bird & the Bee. "There's always that fine line of being too soon or not soon enough," Wood says.
But it's precisely those artist relations that have kept Wood high on the call list for music supervisors like Rani Vaz, head of music production at BBDO, who worked with Wood on many of her previous assignments and has more recently tapped Frisbie for original music to score spots for client General Electric. "There's a trust that people have working with her. They know they're working with somebody who will take their integrity into consideration," Vaz says. "She won't bring somebody a project that doesn't feel right for them."
Jerry Krenach, director of music production at mcgarrybowen, admires Frisbie's studio chops. "Mary gets it-she curates music in a really careful way. She's a great vocal producer, too."