I recently said no to a new project. Sometimes that can be a really good thing. It’s a sign of growth, of knowing your work’s worth and where you can really make an impact (and where you aren’t set up to win). But this one was tough because, creatively, it was something I would have absolutely loved to sink my teeth into, we totally would have rocked it, and it was a cool brand and great client.
At first glance, it was a great opportunity.
- The producer and CD at the agency delivered a very thorough creative brief.
- The films were already shot and beautiful.
- They had a solid idea of what they wanted the music to sound like, complete with a musical reference.
- The type of talent they wanted to work with – I know the best in the biz.
But over the more than six years of running my business and many more years as a music supervisor, I’ve had to learn the hard way a few times that, in order to truly rock a project, certain things are required – not just pretty creative.
It’s easy for me to jump right into crafting ideas, but I take seriously the responsibility I have to both my own company and that of my clients to do work that solves problems and is aligned with the businesses we each are growing into. Business-wise, the project simply wasn’t aligned with the stance we’ve taken as an agency rooted in extracting value for our clients.
There were two major aspects to this project that made it not a fit for my team.
1 – We didn’t know what problem we were solving.
When I asked why the brand was doing this campaign – what’s the point? – my contact didn’t know.
How will we know this project is a success, and what will have this project be successful? (I’m not really sure, that’s not my jurisdiction.)
My current favorite self-developed quote (lol) is:
“When you brief someone on a problem, you get a solution. When you ask someone to do a task, you get people doing things.”
“Doing things” can get us into a whole mess on many fronts and doesn’t set us up for really winning.
2 – The incentive structure didn’t make sense for what we do.
The thing is, the way they structured the pricing is how the industry does it.
- Parvin Music and three “music houses” would each get a very small fee to make one “demo” (FYI, we are not a music house, and we work hard to distinguish ourselves.)
- The client would review the four options and choose which track they wanted to use.
- That music team would finish their demo/song and get a larger licensing fee.
You’ll see why we’ve move away from this structure in the next section.
Here are the primary problems I see with this model in general.
1 – The most valuable piece of this project is the intellectual property, which is the creative idea, which would be mostly developed in Stage 1 of the project. This would be paid close to nothing and would have an only 25% chance of “winning” and getting the larger licensing fee (which was also about half what the market price would be).
2 – If we don’t know what criteria the client is using to determine if our track is the winner (because we don’t know why we’re doing the campaign or what would have it be a success), then it’s a real guessing game. Making a cool piece of music doesn’t even matter, because it might not be at all what works strategically for the project/business objectives/consumer. **A major reason we didn’t have this information is because we didn’t have the right people in the conversation.
3 – Having more options does not necessarily mean better results and often is the opposite. It’s like sex. Having sex with ten partners is almost never actually better than having sex ten times with one person you love. 😉 I completely get the intention behind having four music teams compete against each other for the best creative idea because the client wants to mitigate the risk of not getting one great option. But that only applies if you’re working with music houses that have very limited access to creative ideas.
Here are my proposed solutions.
We always develop the best solution for every project, so this isn’t a hard-and-fast way we do things necessarily, but we do have specific frameworks from which we work. The intention here is that how the project is structured is directly aligned with what the brand needs.
1 – Give a full brief that includes the brand’s challenges, where they have been and where they want to go, goals of this project, what would have this really be a win and how we will measure that, ON A PHONE CALL, WITH KEY STAKEHOLDERS.
Often key stakeholders are the Account Director at the agency, Creative Director in charge of the idea, and the Brand Director/Manager who can speak to the goals of the campaign. We always, always diagnose the problem before defining potential solutions.
2 – Employ the help of ONE music partner with varied capabilities and access to many artists to create ALL demos.
This ensures richer collaboration, less work for the agency and brand, and that the upfront work you’re asking this partner to do WILL pay off, because they have a 100% chance of winning the job (and then can compensate all artists more evenly for their work, where applicable).
*I realize that this does require knowing that this music party can, in fact, deliver on what you need. Ask questions upfront to make sure they have the capabilities, ask for case studies of how they’ve done this for other clients, maybe they can even offer a guarantee, or for the first project you work on, choose one where you have plenty of time to hire someone else if they can’t deliver. You have options here.
3 – Allocate more time and money upfront to get the best potential solutions for the problem.
I’m NOT saying to pay more for the project necessarily (although sometimes, to get the value you want, more money is appropriate). I’m saying put more emphasis on the upfront problem-diagnosing and creative development that is so crucial to a project that yields high returns.
A word on risk.
I understand that we are all trying to reduce risk and increase reward in everything we do. There are a lot of ways to do this that work for both parties. We’ve started to provide three pricing options for every project, each with varying degrees of risk for reward. That way, the client can decide how much music is worth to them and their brand, and how much risk they’re willing to take on (or not) in relation to price and based on their business.
In conclusion – Gorgeous creative can be tempting; but it also has to make sense for the business and be structured to incentivize the brand, agency, and music partner towards the same goal – a kickass campaign that sells more widgets and turns strangers into fans.