Music in Advertising

June 17, 2015

Hello Everybody,

I’ve written a short article examining the music in the new “Do You Know A Muffin Man” commercial that’s been broadcasting recently. It’s written for more of a general audience than what you find on IPAP, but I thought that many of you might be interested nonetheless. It’s cross-posted from my personal blog: 12-Tone Telephone. If any of you feel moved to make comments, please do so there.

What’s Thumbtack?
Rhythm and Message in America’s Hottest Spot

Abstract: Thumbtack’s “Do You Know A Muffin Man” distinguishes itself by using an old-fashioned jingle to present its message. While it does an undeniably excellent job at communicating Thumbtack’s brand promise, certain details of the music’s rhythm inhibit Thumbtack’s product identity from being efficiently impressed upon the viewer. In this essay, I will attempt to answer the following questions:  1) Why is it hard to acquire and retain Thumbtack’s identity? 2) Is there an easy fix for this problem, and 3) Are there principles embedded in this solution that can be applied to future projects outside of Thumbtack?

Meeting the Muffin Man

As we enter Mid-June of 2015, Thumbtack’s new “Do You Know A Muffin Man” is easily my favorite broadcast advertisment of the moment. Its jaunty music, sympathetic plotlines, and friendly wit all combine to make for an engaging and memorable 30-second spot in which a variety of hapless do-it-yourselfers turn their small tragedies into small triumphs with the help of the professional service providers found through the Thumbtack app.

Based on my experience as a viewer, ‘Muffin Man’ is clearly an attention-grabber that does an excellent job at educating the viewer about Thumbtack’s brand promise. The situations the characters find themselves in are highly amusing yet also highly relatable. I can immediately understand the types of problems in my life that this app will solve. However… after three or four viewings of the spot, I realized that I still had little to no idea of the product identity. That is, I knew there was an app that would fix my lights, my deck, and my life, but I didn’t really know that it was called Thumbtack.

Why is this? After thinking about it, I believe that the reason it was difficult for me to process and retain Thumbtack’s product identity stems from some extremely specific interactions between the words and rhythms of the jingle.

Please click here to read the rest of the article on 12-Tone Telephone

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Classical Clubbing

September 30, 2013

A bassoonist friend of mine suggested that you all might be interested in this recent article by Sarah Robinson of Classical Revolution and noted critic Greg Sandow. It discusses a wide range of topics, but primarily focuses on how to adapt your music and performance style to different types of venues and the pros and cons of performing in alternative spaces.

We’re Back!

September 25, 2013

Although things have been quiet around here recently, there are some exciting features that will be coming in the next few weeks, including an interview with a very special guest who will of great interest to most of you.

In the meantime, have some fun with this fantastic web page called “Boil The Frog”. It creates a playlist that will connect (almost) any two artists. For example, I’ve had great luck connecting Guillaume de Machaut to Katy Perry, and John Williams to the Pet Shop Boys. You can find it here:

Sibelius Software Update

February 20, 2013

Many of you probably remember the previous posts that discussed the situation with Sibelius and its continued development or lack thereof. There is now an update to that story: the fired Sibelius development team has been hired by Steinberg (makers of Cubase) to develop a new software notation environment. The complete story can be found here:

New Resource for Flutists

February 7, 2013

Hello –

I thought that many of you would be interested in this site put up my the Swiss flutist Mats Möller. It’s a mini-textbook of sorts for extended flute techniques that includes both audio and notation examples.


This article comes from my former flute professor, Dr. Roger Martin, the Professor of Flute at Tennessee Techonological Unviersity in Cookeville, Tennessee, where I got my Bachelor’s in Flute Performance. During my last few years there, we knew he had started to develop a strange problem – his fingers wouldn’t do what he “told” them to do. We knew he was immensely frustrated with this and I am so glad he has written about his experiences. Focal Dystonia is a mysterious and much misunderstood problem and I reprint his article here with his permission.  You can find out more about the TTU Flute Studio by going to their website:

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The Individuality of Change

December 11, 2012

Photo: Alex Barth

Photo: Alex Barth

We’re in the midst of some pretty big changes.

Multiple orchestras across the US are facing huge deficits and are putting the pressure on their musicians to make enormous sacrifices while hoping to preserve the artistic integrity of these organizations. It is not my intent to discuss or debate the current issues, but instead address how individual musicians may respond to these changes.

The future of classical music has been a breeding ground for infighting in the ranks. Gary Sandow’s blog eloquently discusses these challenges and reading the comments to his blog posts have expanded my horizons since sometimes, the arguments are ones I haven’t necessarily considered. It baffles me how some don’t appear to believe that things are shifting, or they believe that we’re merely in a chaotic part of the cycle and things will return to “normal” soon enough. I think the concept of normal is changing, and we’re beginning to see shifts and artists who are no longer satisfied with what once was.

It’s no secret that I’ve begun creating a new path for myself. I’m shunning the audition circuit and seeking creative freedom. I’ve never felt happier or more liberated. I’m now able to more easily deal with criticism. Rather than doing what everyone else is doing, I’m doing my own thing. Because I’ve done so much soul-searching and have arrived at a musical philosophy that works for me, I feel that I’m better able to look at these issues from a balanced mindset since I have no self-preserving interests in the matter. This is what works for me, and this is where the beauty of these changes lies. Musicians will be empowered to begin making individual choices about their careers, and I believe they will become more able to sustain careers while making a living.

Did I see the current lockouts coming? No. I’m not involved in the orchestral world; however, I am a trained musician. I’m aware of how music schools and conservatories place emphasis on orchestral training. When I think back to my college days, I think about all the time I spent working on excerpts. That training took precedence over the various chamber music experiences or solo performances. I trained to become an orchestral musician. I believed for many years that getting into an orchestra was the pinnacle of a serious music career (that, or making it as a soloist…the orchestral career seemed more likely).

Because I was so involved in this training, my ears were closed to pearls of wisdom that I may have received about doing things my own way. It’s not like I wasn’t interested in entrepreneurial ventures. I even researched taking some business classes, but I wasn’t able to enroll in any due to various issues.

We had a “Business of Music” class that was offered for a few semesters but by the time my schedule allowed me to take the course, the person teaching it had moved on to a different school and no one replaced her since it was an elective. More and more schools are adding essential courses to their curriculum to expand students’ skill sets, but the question still remains of, “What is academia emphasizing? Are students being encouraged to become free-thinking individuals with creative dreams or are they simply being trained in a system that better fits what used to be?”

I’ve instead spent my own time expanding my horizons. I knew what my options were and I faced reality. Every musician’s circumstances are different; however, one thing remains the same. Every musician must take personal responsibility for their career. We’re lucky, you know. We can and should be able to adapt as artists when something happens that knocks us off kilter.

The changes that are coming and that are currently happening will affect everyone individually. I am inclined to believe that funding will begin shifting to smaller groups and individuals. I believe that audiences want to be personally connected to artists and they want to know exactly where their money is going and for what project. Crowd funding successes through platforms like Kickstarter and GoFundMe confirm this. Audiences will have to be cultivated on an individual basis. No audience is the same.

Perhaps the orchestral audience is diminishing, but I don’t believe the audience for the larger art form is diminishing. Be brave, be courageous and above all, find your audience. Be creative in your artistic endeavors, but also approach your art with an entrepreneurial mindset. If a concept or idea doesn’t work, then try something else.

The shifting winds have the potential to either harm or help the parties involved. I want all the musicians to come through these storms unscathed, but I know that won’t be the case.

I’m pretty excited about these changes. If you allow the changes to happen and forget what you thought you knew about classical music, then the future becomes a collective of individual change. Let’s keep it going and support each other.

©Alexis Del Palazzo, 2012

A Dark Day for Music Lovers

December 5, 2012

It is with a genuinely sad heart that I pass along reports of the deaths of two major figures in music. Both Johnathan Harvey and Dave Brubeck have passed away in the preceding hours.  Details can be found here:

Jonathan Harvey – Jonathan Harvey dies aged 73 (Guardian UK)

Dave Brubeck – Dave Brubeck, jazz pianist, dead at age 91 (Chicago Tribune)

I had the privilege of having an extended composition lesson with Mr. Harvey and also got to hear him speak on a few occasions. While I’ll leave it to others to say all the things that should be said about the high quality of his music and teaching, I will encourage you to listen to some of his music. His repertoire has a wide range of styles and emotions, but there should be something for just about everybody. Much of it (although not his most famous works) are available on Spotify and Tombeau de Messiaen might be the most appropriate given it’s subject matter.

While I am not a frequent listener of Mr. Brubeck’s music, I did, in fact, enjoy some earlier this very week. His lively and charming arrangement/performance of Leonard Bernstein’s “Maria ” appears in a crucial scene of the wonderful Silver Linings Playbook.

Halloween Digest

October 31, 2012

What is the scariest Classical music?

Part 1 can be found HERE

Doug Perkins specializes in new works for percussion as a chamber musician and soloist. His performances have been described as “terrific, wide-awake and strikingly entertaining” by the Boston Globe and he has been declared a “percussion virtuoso ” by the New York Times. He has appeared at countless venues around the world including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Spoleto USA Festival, the Ojai Festival and the World Expo in Lisbon, Portugal. He was a founding member of So Percussion.

Doug has been playing parts of Simple Songs for the last month in the US and Mexico and, this winter, will be playing the entire record live throughout the US. Visit ( to see where and when he will be performing.

It’s a funny coincidence, but this is the second time in the past week or two that New Focus Recordings has come up on the blog since, in addition to putting out your new album, they’ve also recently released some very fine projects by Claire Chase, who we just featured in the wake of her MacArthur Genius award. Given your résumé and fan base, you undoubtedly could have released this project with any of several new music labels – you’ve worked with many others in the past – why was New Focus the right home for this recording? Do you see the idea of the ‘record label’ as something that still has conceptual relevance to artists or is it at this point solely a means facilitating distribution?


When I was setting out to make this record, I felt it was important to release it with a record label and New Focus was where I most wanted to be.  I really admire my label mates and am thrilled to be in their company.  Dan Lippel (guitarist extraordinaire and member of ICE) runs the label and was very supportive, helpful, and involved in every step of the process (in a great way).

I feel like there is still relevance in record labels.  As you mentioned, I am in great company at New Focus.  Their releases have a certain aesthetic profile and commitment to great production.  I believe that this can foster a loyal listenership across the label that benefits all of us.  The best thing that a label can do is help create an foster a community.  Making the kind of music that we all do, it is important to have a supportive home and at the very least, it never hurts to be part of a great team!

Aside from having the freedom to go back and fix any little mistakes that might come up, do you perform the same piece differently depending on whether it’s for a concert or a recording?  If so, what issues are you thinking about when you craft a studio interpretation? I ask this question specifically because of Michael Gordon’s “XY” and some of the choices that were made in recording that piece. (Regular readers will recall that, in preparation for this interview, we linked to a video of Doug explaining the piece, which can be found here) Personally, I’ve heard the piece in concert several times, most recently in a tremendously good performance by Justin DeHart at the soundON festival. What struck me (pun only partially intended) is how different a listening experience this recording is compared to a concert and how those differences are almost entirely the result of the recording process.

[ed. note – I would explain the differences to our non-tech savvy readers like this: In concert, there is a small set of drums in one place on the stage and sound moves from that singular place outwards to the listener. In this recording, on the other hand, the microphones are set up so that rather then coming from a single spot, the drums are spread out across the entire width of the stereo field. That is, that the leftmost drum will come out (almost) entirely from the left speaker and the rightmost drum will come from the right. The other drums are spaced between those two spatial extremes. So, in the recording, alternately hitting the two outermost drums would create an antiphonal ‘ping-pong’ effect in fact, just such an effect is heard during the portion of the piece previewed in Itunes)]


In choosing to go with a wide stereo spread, the 5-piece drum kit transforms from a single complicated sound monolith into a 5-voice choir engaged in an intricate counterpoint. What this does, to my ears at least, is help to clarify the ‘algebra’ of the piece, if you will – it’s patterning and polyrhythmic structure. What you lose, however, at least in my opinion, is some of the piece’s emotional spectrum. It isn’t violent and loud and provocatively overbearing (although, to be sure, it’s provocative in other ways).    I’m not trying to sound negative, as I think both approaches reveal things about the piece that are, to some extent, mutually exclusive within a single performance, but I’m looking for insight into how you, as an artist, negotiate these trade-offs. In any event, I think it’s absolutely marvelous that a piece for 5 bongos can offer the same range of interpretive perspectives as ‘the great symphonies’™

Your insights about the Gordon are very accurate and astute.  If you ever see me live, you will see a different version of the piece than what you get on the record.  When I play live, I start similarly to the record to try to get people in tune to the slow moving harmonies that are there.  I then quickly move to a more and more breathless performance of the piece where I play with ever increasing abandon and try to bring the audience along with me as I push myself to my musical and physical limits.  In the studio, it was quickly clear that this communicates as noisy and clunky in the context of the record.  We worked hard to make the piece feel large and overwhelming on the record while maintaining a clarity of vision to the harmonic aspects of the piece so that the listener can get entranced and not just annoyed at me hitting my drums to hard.


Moving back to performance instead of recording, but keeping with the idea of interpretive choice, the score to David Lang’s “Unchained Melody” tells you when to play an instrument, but doesn’t tell you what instrument to play. That is, the player has to assemble his or her own percussion battery to accompany the glockenspiel. How do you begin to go about choosing instruments for something like that? What freedoms and/or limitations does that add to the interpretive process?


For David’s piece, my choices came fairly organically.   I was just messing around with my boxes of “noises” in my studio and kind of fell into my version.  The process was more like adding spices when cooking than anything else.  I would add a sound (like a beer bottle) and it would leave me feeling like I needed something rounder.  Maybe that would lead me to a temple block and that might lead me to a hunk of metal.  I just kept doing this until I ended up with something.  I will say that the sounds are always in flux.  I am playing the piece this week and spent some time tweaking just yesterday to reflect my feelings now.  I love David’s percussion music because in is always growing and changing with me.  Also, the freedom that he gives us in the score means that no two “Unchained Melody” performances are alike.


In talking with people over the years, I think that there is many classically oriented musicians who are interested in performing more modern and contemporary music but are a little intimidated, especially by the rhythmic challenges. Can you recommend any exercises or techniques that might help a non-percussionist start to make that leap from the rhythmic language of Stravinsky, Copland, or Bernstein to music like David Lang or Michael Gordon?

Hmmm…  at one level, I would say that if you can deal with Stravinsky, you should be just fine with these guys.  I would say generally that a little work as a percussionist is good for everyone.  If you are a musician that is worried about rhythm, join a drum ensemble, a gamelan, or a rock band!  Learning to groove in these kinds of groups do wonders for anyone’s core sense of rhythm.  I know that I am a drumset player (and bassist) at my core.  Even though it has been years since I have done either thing seriously, my groove and time are all born from these experiences.


Thank you, Doug for being so generous with your time and your thoughts. I’m sure our readers are just as disappointed as I am that you have to go now. Any last thoughts on the album?

I would just encourage everyone to give the record a listen.  If you are enjoying the record, come see a show, drop a line, or tell your friends (or the internet).  More importantly, I encourage you to dig deeper in to some of my old records or other music by the composers on the record.  My musical friends and I need more listeners, and advocates like you (if you are still reading).  Join the team and help get our kind of music heard!!!  I am extremely proud of the record and hope you enjoy it too.

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