Audio Post / Music for Advertising – An Inside Look

Audio Post / Music for Advertising – An Inside Look

Commercial Advertising is a fast-paced industry, and can be a prosperous path for musicians and audio engineers looking for stable jobs in post-production. I’ve spent the last five years working with a well known music house in Toronto, and today thought to share my experiences and perspectives. It’s important to note that this information is based on my experience alone, and certain processes may be different from studio to studio.

The Advertising Industry – A Brief Summary

At commercial-focussed recording studios, our main clients are advertising agencies. These agencies are hired by brand-level marketing departments to come up with ideas and concepts for advertising campaigns that will spread the brand’s message to a targeted audience. The agencies write the scripts, and pitch their ideas to the brand clients, who will work with them to ensure the concepts reflect the voice and values of the brand. Once a concept is approved, the ad agency will get to work contracting out tasks to various production companies, with the goal of executing what was sold in concept to the brand marketing departments.

Music Houses / Studios – Our Role

The responsibilities of the music house vary depending on the needs of the project. Our services include music supervision, original music composition, original sound design, dialogue editing and cleanup, VO casting, VO recording, and mixing services. We are a team of composers, producers, sound designers, and recording engineers, who work with advertising agencies to help create the sonic landscape of their vision. After receiving a creative brief from the agency, equipped with an audio direction and accompanying references – we divide and conquer the tasks, working in tandem with each other to optimize workflow. Within days of getting a brief, we present music, SFX and VO casting options to the agencies, going back and forth with them until the core elements are settled. Once those pieces are in place, it’s time for the final stage. The session.

Virtually every day is a new job, and jobs seldom last longer than the day.

The Session

The session is where all things come together, the final stage of the process for the studio. Here we take our (hopefully) approved music and SFX, and bring the approved VO talent into studio for the recording session. Representatives from the ad agency join the session, as well as a voice director from our team, and collectively we work with the VO talent to capture a performance that reflects the vision of the agency and brand clients. We spend the session recording the script for each spot, often capturing a variety of alts, with open communication between the studio and the agency. Once everyone’s happy, the agency’s clients (the brand marketing team) are invited to join our session and listen to our work. Their job is to represent the brand / product, and make sure that everything we’ve captured aligns with the initial brief, and their company identity as a whole. Sometimes there can be multiple levels of approval on the brand side.

This is where things often go off the rails, and is perhaps the biggest complaint I’ve heard about the advertising industry. With so many layers of approval, we often find ourselves going back to the drawing board… again and again. It can also result in a lot of downtime, waiting for people to get in and out of meetings so they can listen to what you’ve done with a fraction of the focus and attention everyone in the session has been putting into it. That may be a jaded take… but I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone in the industry who hasn’t dealt with this. It can be a frustrating process…. but as we say… billable hours.

Some sessions last an hour, some span over multiple days. It comes down to external factors… the parameters of the job, the personalities of the clients, the quality of the voice talent, etc. Recording for advertising can be the easiest or hardest job in the world. You never really know what you’re in for, but you have to be prepared for anything.

The Final Stage – Mixing / Outputting

Once our VO builds are approved, we can release the voice talent and turn our attention to final mixing. The agency and brand clients may or may not stay for this stage, depending on how demanding and subjective of a mix we’re dealing with. Some clients feel particularly invested with this stage and want to control every decision. In any case… our end goal is the same.

There are a handful of different mediums we mix for in post production. Common ones include Broadcast Television, Web, Radio, Spotify and Cinema. Each medium has a different loudness standard to which we need to adhere. It’s crucial our mixes meet these loudness standards, else we risk being rejected by the respective broadcasters which will have major repercussions for everyone involved. Loudness standards are often measured in Loudness Units relative to Full Scale, and are as follows:

  • Broadcast Television | -24LUFS
  • Web / Digital Programming | -14LUFS
  • Traditional Radio | -18LUFS
  • Spotify Radio | -14LUFS
  • Cinema | 82LEQ (This can vary. It’s important to ask for a mix spec when dealing with cinema mixes.)

Once the mixes are done and sent off… the session is over. We back up the mixes and Pro Tools session, fill out a work report sheet for billing, and that’s that. The engineer gets to go home, and we do it all again tomorrow.

Have any questions? Feel free to leave a comment below.