Rock ‘n’ roll sells. It always has. But here in 2005, we have Zeppelin selling Cadillacs, the Stones licensed to Microsoft and Iggy Pop being used to hawk Royal Caribbean Cruises. Aerosmith is there for Buick, The Who gets you to look at Clarinex and Bowie might tempt some to send FTD flowers.
Clockwise, from top left: Owner/composer John Ferreira; chief engineer Mike Tholen at the Helios; the hard-working Genuine crew of studio manager/asst. engineer Brian Beggs, executive producer Dave Dakich, Ferreira and Tholen.
It’s not new, this use of classic songs to appeal to a highly targeted demographic, but it does seem to be more prevalent as the dollars go up. Perhaps that’s why it’s refreshing that an original rock track for Coors Light in 2002 created more brand identity and more buzz than anything else on television. And it shows no signs of letting up.
The 60-second “Love Songs,” with music by John Ferreira and produced by his Chicago music house, Genuine Music (www.genuinemusicinc.com), is a dynamic, guitar-driven, vocal-effected homage to ’70s rock that struck a cultural chord. Its opening, “I love football on TV/shots of Geena Lee/Hanging with my friends/…and Twins!” plays to multiple fantasies that seize beer-drinking young men, but it’s the song itself, and the sound of the track, that fueled the appeal. After the commercial aired, the Genuine Website registered more than 400,000 hits, many asking how they could buy the “song.” Hollywood took notice and made the Twins a part of Scary Movie 3 — with a new version of the song. Saturday Night Live even did a parody.
“The whole thing just clicked,” says Ferreira. “It had it all going — a little sex, a little fantasy, a cool rock track with a singer nobody knows. And then it’s just pumped through the airwaves over and over again. It just hit pop culture, and it got to the point where everybody was singing the song. I heard it on Sunset Boulevard, and that’s not even the hipppest track we’ve done.”
“We have done some very cool ads for other clients before ‘Love Songs,’” adds Genuine executive producer Dave Dakich, “but that really put us in a rock market. It had this feel, where it wasn’t just great hard rock, but it was an album-type track — very un-jingle as far as the sound.”
Since then, the Genuine crew has gone out to L.A. to record a full-length song version, worked with the producers of the Scary Movie series and landed a weekly gig with ESPN Sports Center, where every Sunday night, they cut a new 90-second segment for the show, tailored to that day’s NFL action. All-new lyrics and a whole new track, every Sunday afternoon, posted to Genuine’s Website for ESPN to pick up.
The craze over the song helped put the small music house on the national map and created a lot of awareness among car and beer companies, which tend to lean toward energetic, moving spots. Genuine has since done Budweiser, Jeep, Ford Mustang, NASCAR, the U.S. Army and many others. Not bad for a single-composer, four-person original music house that doesn’t even employ a rep to bring in jobs.
Slimmy on a Sunday, singing his “Love Songs” into a U87
The strength of Genuine starts with the talent and personality of its owner, John Ferreira. Born in South Africa to Portuguese parents, Ferreira fled to Europe at the age of 17 and began playing in bands across Spain, Italy, Portugal and the south of France. He came to New York in 1990, then landed in Orlando writing and producing for Universal Studios. Soon bored with that, he moved back to New York, then to Nashville, before finally settling in with a local band, the Groove Merchants, in Chicago.
After he had done some studio work in town, Sun Paradise Records hired him to produce, and later he began ghost-writing for commercials. In 1995, he decided to open his own shop, with Oldsmobile and Kellogg’s as his first clients, but continued to use studios like CRC and Streeterville to record. By the following year, he opened his own studio.
Today, Genuine, a single-room facility in the River North gallery district of Chicago, is busting at the seams with classic amps, vintage modules, prized old recorders and guitars, guitars, guitars. (The vintage keyboards — B3, Farfisa and “the Wurly,” among others, reside in “the keyboard room.”) Past the modern kitchen/lounge area, it has a lived-in, working-musician vibe, a testament to many 4 a.m. nights meeting the compressed deadlines of today’s ad market. Ferreira is the owner/composer, Dakich the executive producer, Mike Tholen is chief engineer and Brian Beggs is studio manager/assistant engineer. First and foremost, they are all musicians, and while they work in a variety of styles, they all love classic rock. They’ve stocked Genuine to get that sound, starting with a 16×4 Helios console.
“Sonically, it’s amazing,” Ferreira says. “It’s a simple board but it just rocks. The mic pre’s are extremely dynamic and the EQs are simple but get what you need. The coloring of it is just awesome, and we track pretty much everything through it. If we need a more tube vibe, we’ll use the [Telefunken] V76s and V72s. If I need compression on guitar, I can go straight to the Neve 2254s. But most everything is Helios. I just think it’s so much easier to get a good sound out of good gear than trying to get a good sound out of bad gear.”
“This console came out of a radio station in Canada,” Tholen explains. “It was installed there in the mid-’70s, and when we got it, there were four faders with tape on them, with ‘Dan,’ ‘Jimmy,’ ‘Stephanie’ and some other name. So whatever DJ was in that day would just pull their fader up. On the mic pre gain pot, on the filters, the whole channel strip, there were fluorescent stickers that said, ‘Do not touch!’ Only four channels had ever been used. Our only real tweak was to actually exercise the pots ’cause they had never been moved.” [Laughs]
Nearly everything done at Genuine is tracked live and wet with effects, and nearly everything, at least for the rock tracks, runs through the Helios before being sent through a RADAR (for its converters; it also serves as master clock) to Pro Tools. (Whenever possible, Tholen prefers recording to the two Studer J37 1-inch 4-tracks.) But beyond that, there are no recording formulas, except perhaps for singer Steve “Slimmy” Simoncic, known for the distinctive “Love Songs” vocal heard every Sunday night throughout the fall.
“Slimmy’s chain never changes,” Tholen says. “It’s a mid-’70s U87 with the backplate redone by Tracy Korby. That gets shoved into channel 13 on the Helios and gets filtered from there at about 80. He doesn’t need EQ or anything. Over the insert of that, I always throw a Neve 2254 with some mild compression. That gets direct outs into RADAR, which goes into Pro Tools. But 99 percent of what Slimmy does here goes from quiet to loud to quiet again. So at the same time, I split off out of an echo send and go into these old Telefunken U73V tube push-pull, Fairchild-type compressors. I go into one channel of that, out and back in a second channel, then bring it back on channel 14 of the Helios, tracked side-by-side with the clean vocal. When we go to mix, those loud parts are mixed in with the clean and it adds a hell of a lot of attitude.”
For Ferreira’s 1959 Les Paul Junior, Tholen goes straight into a custom 1-in, 6-out splitter, then to a Dual Rectifier and a Diezel VH4. Both amps go to different cabinets in the live room, each miked, typically, with an Sennheiser 421 and a Coles 4038. “Once I bring those four mics back into the Helios, I usually mix all four down to one bus. I like to get all my sounds while I’m tracking, so there’s not four tracks to deal with when mixing in Pro Tools. If it’s not right, we’ll re-track it.”
While “Love Songs” raised the profile, Genuine has been producing A-list work for years, often on location. Comfortable enough with FTP delivery, e-mail approvals and video downloads, they also travel extensively. “We’re a small boutique-y company that likes to remain nimble,” Dakich says. “We can produce and perform music anywhere in the world, and we’re just an airport away from doing it. We’ve been to Italy to record a 90-year-old mandolin player for a pizza commercial. We went to South Africa to record tribal drums for Budweiser. We just got back from Abbey Road, and we go to L.A. regularly. Just recently, we did a 70-piece orchestra conducted by Alf Clausen for a Nintendo spot.”
They also were recently in L.A. recording the sounds of the new Mustang’s engine, driven by Bobby Unser Jr. on the Pacific Coast Highway. Ferreira took those engine sounds and turned them into a broken, grungy, yet very musical version of “Star Spangled Banner,” which Dakich describes as what it might sound like “if Jimi could strap on a Mustang.”
Genuine has certainly benefited from the ad agencies turning to rock ‘n’ roll to attract the Boomer generation, but Ferreira has a long record in a variety of styles. “Music is a very personalized thing,” he says. “Ads need a specific look, so every time they shoot, it’s with a different director. There’s a little more loyalty with picture editors who they feel comfortable with. But a good music house has to do everything. When I write harmonies, I write at the piano. When I rock, I pick up the guitar. For gospel, I pull out the B3. R&B and hip hop, I sequence at the MPC 4000 because I love the groove. We might go from full-blown orchestration in L.A. to a four-piece rock band to big band horn sections. Anything. But we always take the same approach in that we do most of our production live and we track to real gear. We take our time to make it sound like a record.”
The danger, of course, in hitting big with a track like “Love Songs” is that the ad market is quick to pigeonhole houses as a certain type. To that, the Genuine team responds by pointing to the variety on their Website or their reel. “But,” Dakich says, “if we are pigeonholed as doing authentic, kick-ass rock tracks, there could be a lot worse things to be.”
Tom Kenny is the editor of