Wake The Town
Stuck in Motion
Contemplative Reptile
  • International Edition
  • USA Edition
  • UK Edition
  • Australian Edition
  • Canadian Edition
  • Irish Edition
  • German Edition
  • French Edition
  • Singapore Edition
  • Spanish edition
  • Polish edition
  • Indian Edition
  • Middle East edition
  • South African Edition

Why We Need to Think About Music Differently with Sean McBride


Arnold Worldwide’s chief creative officer speaks to LBB’s Ben Conway, in association with SoStereo, about giving up the accordion and using music nobody can ignore in ads

Why We Need to Think About Music Differently with Sean McBride

Without music, creativity would not be the same. Whether it’s a rhythm and cadence provided in the background, or the transcendent emotions music can push to the foreground, so much of our creative history is linked to music and its unique ability to communicate directly with our senses. 

It’s that link which this interview series, supported by SoStereo and inspired by their What About the Music podcast, sets out to explore. In this series, we’ve spoken to high-profile industry figures about how music has influenced their relationship with their craft, and get their take on the process of marrying melody to creativity. 

Up today is Sean McBride, the chief creative officer at Havas’ Arnold Worldwide, a Boston-based creative agency that is known internationally for its comedy ads and brave ideas. Sean arrived at the agency in 2008 as an associate creative director and has since risen through the ranks, becoming CCO in 2019. During his time so far at Arnold, he has helped create campaigns for the likes of Progressive Insurance, Volvo and more, and used his copywriting background to start the agency’s ‘Institute for the Comedically Gifted’ residency programme - an initiative to provide opportunities in advertising for comedy writers from non-traditional backgrounds.

Speaking to LBB’s Ben Conway, Sean discusses his own personal relationship with music, the ad music that inspired him to join the industry in the first place and why - more than ever - the songs in ads need to be “unignorable”.

LBB> You started as a copywriter - what roles and experiences brought you to where you are today as CCO at Arnold Worldwide? 

Sean> When I got to Arnold, I basically just threw myself into the work and the relationships. I tried to make everything I worked on as good as it could be, and tried to have fun doing it. I blinked, it was 12 years later, and I was CCO of the agency I love.  

LBB> What can you tell us about your current role, and are there any current projects you are excited about? 

Sean> I take the role of CCO really seriously, and then I try not to take much else very seriously after that. I miss being just a writer sometimes, but then I remember it’s a crazy honour to have a group of brilliant, hard-working, hilarious people recognise you as their leader. We’ve always got exciting projects cooking. I’m pretty sure I’m not allowed to divulge the latest. Stop trying to get me in trouble! 

LBB> So, we are here to talk about music! What are some of your earliest and fondest memories of interacting with music, and how would you describe your relationship with music today?  

Sean> I grew up in a musical family. My grandfather was an opera singer (never met the dude, but here he is). First-generation Italian immigrant that she was, my mom signed my older brother and me up for accordion lessons when we were little. Eventually, we got a piano instead – right around the time my brother and I started refusing to be seen carrying accordions around. I never fully took to the piano (much less the accordion), but a few years later I picked up a guitar on my own, and that stuck pretty hard. 

LBB> What’s your favourite-ever example of music in an ad?

Sean> Arnold’s ‘Milky Way’ spot for Volkswagen is a big reason I got into it this industry. It might just be the most perfect use of music in advertising history. And, for me and lots of other people, it was an introduction to the music of Nick Drake.  

LBB> What’s your process like - for you personally, and with your team - to find and work with the perfect track for a project? 

Sean> Every once in a while, lightning just strikes and you know the right track for something instantly. But most of the time, for me anyway, there’s trial and error involved – watching things against picture and seeing what feels right. I have a Spotify playlist I’ve been adding to for years and years titled ‘Songs for Ads’. I usually start there. I do think those of us who play and obsess over music have a leg up in this process. It helps to have a vast library of things to reference, and some musical terminology to throw around, even if it’s just to communicate more clearly with a music house. 

LBB> If you had to pick one moment where music played a pivotal role in your career, what would it be? One moment or one project, and why? 

Sean> Tough to pick just one. I do remember one specific project where I was an ECD on a campaign, and I really disliked the first rough cut I saw. I tried moving around pieces, looking for different scenes or footage, and we just didn’t have anything else. Finally, I asked the team if they had thought about music, and they told me they had, and asked if I would like to see their first pass.

I watched the same cut once with the track they’d chosen, and was like ‘oops, sorry, ignore all that other shit I said, it's good’. A clear reminder of the power of the right track. 

LBB> What’s the most frustrating thing about dealing with music? And what improvements would you love to see?  

Sean> The way media works now, we have a lot fewer shared cultural moments. So, a lot of the cultural shortcuts we used to use – the celebs, or the references to big cultural moments, or the universally recognised songs – just aren’t there anymore. To me, that means we have to think about music differently – it needs to get attention without the power of recognition. And that means the music we use needs to be gutsy, exciting, weird and unignorable. 

A great semi-recent example - Apple used that O.T. Genasis track with the kid just riding a bike in a circle a few years back. It instantly stood out, so damn hard. My brothers and I were singing it, my kids were singing it, and you just had to find the track instantly. If we can’t use music everybody already knows, let’s use music nobody can ignore.

LBB> On the other hand, what brings the most satisfaction when dealing with music?  

Sean> Discovering new music is one of the absolute best things in life. And picking music for the work you’re making just naturally accelerates that. A lot of my favourite music in life is music I was exposed to via this job.  

LBB> Oftentimes we see that unless music is the campaign, music is the last thing on a campaign's line-item or priority list. Is that your experience? What might a solution to that issue look like? 

Sean> Yes, this rings true. Creativity isn’t a linear process, but most businesspeople sure want business to be. So yeah, we tend to answer to a blueprint about how the creative process is going to go. You present your idea on this date, you revise your idea on this date… it makes it almost impossible to start from somewhere in middle - even though that’s often how ideas start. I wish I knew how to fix it. 

LBB> If you could give one piece of advice to creative or production teams about how to handle music, what would it be and why? 

Sean> Leave time to experiment. And resist the urge to share options with a client if one track is the perfect track. Sorry, that’s two. 

LBB> Finally, what music are you listening to now? 

Sean> Oh man. Well, there are always two categories with me. There’s the ‘I listen to this when I’m working/writing/travelling’ category, which (sadly) tends to get more airtime. That tends to be ambient/electronic music, and for the last few weeks, I’ve been stuck on Bibio. And then there’s ‘I listen to this to LISTEN TO THIS’. That tends to be guitar rock, and a friend recently turned me on to King Buffalo. 

view more - Music & Sound
Sign up to our newsletters and stay up to date with the best work and breaking ad news from around the world.
SoStereo, Mon, 17 Apr 2023 12:44:00 GMT