Once again we’re going to turn The Actors Voice over to a chapter from the now out-of-print Casting Qs: A Collection of Casting Director Interviews. This time up, the topic is jingle singing. Yeah, that’s pretty dang specialized casting, but I’d hate to see this chapter go to waste, so here it is, archived for all time!
Some actors — many actors — sing. So, I decided to interview a casting director who casts jingle singers for advertising spots. That turned out to be a more difficult task than I’d anticipated. Turns out, producers do not call casting directors to find vocal talent for their clients’ ads. Instead, they rely on the heads of recording studios to offer up the best vocalists in town.
I spoke with two such studio heads in an attempt to demystify the process singers must go through in order to join the talent pool from which jingle singers are cast.
There Are No Jingles Casting Directors
“It is funny,” said Dain Blair, creative director for Groove Addicts. “In New York, there are a couple of companies that specialize in casting vocalists. That’s just not the case in Los Angeles.”
Getting on the Radar Screen
Blair summarized, “People get to us using many different approaches. Most singers will send in their demo CD or tape and discography and sometimes will include a photo.”
“It doesn’t matter to me whether there’s a picture or not,” said Marc Cashman, president of Cashman Commercials. “However, if the resumé is specific, listing jingles you’ve done, I’d hold onto that. If the resumé is about the musical you did in ’89, that’s no good to anyone,” he commented. Cashman prefers that the jingle singer provide a list of clients and production companies with whom they’ve worked. “That way, the producer can call up a rival company and get information on how the singer did with the phone patch or with people in the booth, etc. With that information, we can get a good vision of what the person is able to do and how they perform,” Cashman said.
Jingle singers send unsolicited submissions directly to recording studios, according to Blair. “It’s generally pretty easy for people to find out who to get their tapes to, when it comes to the major music houses. If a singer goes through a directory like LA411, he or she usually can find the top music houses on the west coast,” he explained. “Somehow, they find us,” Blair joked.
Frequently, the way singers find the studios is by referral. Blair explained, “We’ll be using some vocalists or musicians on a project who will refer somebody. When that demo comes in with a note that the singer has been referred by someone we’ve already worked with, their demo goes closer to top of the pile. No one is going to refer someone who isn’t talented, so that helps with our screening process.”
Cashman concurred. “We find jingle singers primarily through referral by another producer who says, ‘I just used this singer and they were great, you’ll love them, they were easy to work with.'”
Whether sent by referral or unsolicited submission, Blair and Cashman both indicated that demos they receive will be heard. “We listen to everything receive,” Blair promised. “And that’s a lot of material. I have a straw basket here behind my desk filled with demos. Any time we have a break in the action, we go to the basket and start listening to demos. We are always looking for a new voice or a unique voice. Of course, we have to have a need for that person’s type of voice. If I hear a good voice but the style is a duplicate of the style of people we already work with, I may not hang on to that demo.”
What to Include on a Jingle Demo
According to Cashman, ideally the demo should consist of “jingle snippets from work they’ve already done.” However, neither Cashman nor Blair indicated that jingle singing is closed to newcomers.
Blair stated, “People don’t have to have done commercials before in order to get hired by us. Singers should be sending in something representative of their vocal style, what they’re good at. I’d prefer not to hear whole songs. Sixty to 90 seconds of their voice (a verse and a chorus) is fine, and then that should fade out and go into the next thing. The number of selections should be anywhere from three to 12 selections. I usually know within the first two pieces whether the person has the talent or style we’re looking for.”
Cashman indicated a preference for a full range of genres represented on a demo. “With your demo, you need to put together a spectrum of different styles you can do: uptempo, ballad, rock, jazz, pop, hip hop, country; whatever’s in your repertoire.”
Blair, however, suggested specialization. “On your demo, don’t try to be all things. You are not a chameleon, so just do what you are best at. Go with your strengths,” he summarized.
Important to both Blair and Cashman was the separation of selections on the demo. “Individualize the tracks so that I can hop from one track to another,” said Cashman. “A medley shows me a range, but not a performer’s ability to go from A to Z. I only hear them going from A to B.”
Blair added, “Make sure that you don’t oversing. Know when to sing under control and know when to open it up and show us your chops.”
Important Details for Demo Production
“There is a very specific way of singing a jingle that is very different than singing on an album,” noted Cashman. “Singers submit songs and many times, it’s difficult for a producer to make the leap on whether the singer can do a jingle. Jingle singing is a completely different animal.”
Blair concurred. “A demo with musical stage work on it is not going to get a singer a lot of work with us. We need chorus and verse that is recorded decently with decent equipment. We’ve gotten demos that were done all at the home of the singers, all themselves, singing, playing the guitar, having programmed the percussion. If the equipment is decent, a home recording is a fine demo,” Blair insisted.
“The hardest thing for singers who are trying to break into jingles,” said Cashman, “is putting the demo together. They don’t have access to jingle tracks. That takes some doing. I think there are a couple of places in Texas where you can secure jingle tracks that you can put vocals to. Singers may want to check on the Internet for resources to jingle tracks.”
Additionally, according to Cashman, “Singers can call the biggest jingle houses in the country (there are at least 20 monstrous jingle houses in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Dallas, and Atlanta, just for starters) and say, ‘I’m a professional singer, I sight-read, I work well with people, I perform well under pressure, and I want to put a jingles demo together.’ Those jingle houses might be able to help you put that together. Some music libraries have prerecorded 60s and 30s that you may be able to put vocals against. These resources make it relatively easy to produce a demo and at a reasonable cost,” Cashman assured.
One caution from Cashman involved packaging. “The mistake made by the majority of newcomers to the jingle singing industry, and it’s real critical, is sending demos out with no spine printing, no tray card, no cover. All that expense [to record the demo] and there’s no spine information. Without that, on the shelf, they’re invisible. I throw them out. I’m not going to take the time to make a tray card to put on your CD. You spent all the time and expense and you didn’t think about how I’d be storing your CD,” Cashman warned.
Studio In-House Demos Are Different
“Our demos are the time to experiment with people of different styles,” said Blair. “We just finished a project for Burger King. The client was not sure what they wanted, vocally. On our demo presentation to the client, we had five different composers working on it. We experimented with someone new as a vocalist, just to try it out at that point. Sometimes something we’ve tried out ends up being what the client wants, as was the case with Burger King. The client heard the vocalists on our demo and immediately gravitated toward a certain voice. That’s the one we ended up using,” Blair said.
Jingle Sessions Require Specific Skills
“Recording a jingle is more like recording a voiceover than recording a song for an album,” said Cashman. “The client is there physically or on the phone, listening. There is time pressure, and you’re asked to do multiple parts, many passes. There is a lot of pressure for the singer. You’re under the gun to produce for the ad agency, the producer, and the client.”
Cashman continued, “In advertising, you may need the singer tomorrow, you may need them in years. Years ago, a girl sent in a demo. I thought she was fantastic. She was killer. I really wanted to use her, but I didn’t have anything going on that she was right for at the time. I called her and told her I was looking forward to the opportunity to get her in the studio. She said, ‘Great. But I may be on the road by the time you call.’ Sure enough, by the time I called, she was on the road doing backup. This was Sheryl Crow. She was fantastic and she was just someone shopping her jingle demo just like everybody else.”
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000789.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.