I always advise my UArts composition students to treat every project like it's the most important of their career, because you never know which ones will stand the test of time and lead to other opportunities down the road. I first learned that lesson when a score I composed for a Temple Health radio spot in 1992 became a long-running theme and inaugurated one of the most productive client relationships in the history of MONSTER TRACKS.
The project had decidedly humble beginnings. I met producer Ron Cohen while scoring a sales video he had directed for the Philadelphia Inquirer. We hit it off, and he began calling me for original music and using Baker Sound for audio production. Ron was at Baker developing a new radio campaign for Temple Health when he took me aside to discuss a music challenge that had come up. Each spot began with a patient describing a serious medical condition and ended with Temple providing a solution, so he needed music that established a somber mood and then transitioned at the right moment to a hopeful conclusion. None of the stock music he'd auditioned was working, so it was clear that he needed a custom score.
That night I began composing to a rough edit of one of the spots. I called up an ominous sound on a Roland D-50 keyboard to set the mood and serve as an opening mnemonic, programmed a downtempo Peter Gabriel-inspired groove using some ethnic percussion samples, and added a haunting piano figure. When the hopeful "turn" came in the spot, I introduced a brighter piano theme, used an extended chord progression to build towards the ending, and resolved to a simple three-note melodic motif that seemed to sing "Tem-ple Health." The entire writing process took about 15 minutes. After adding a few additional elements, I put a mix together and married my score to Ron's rough edit of the spot.
Ron immediately liked it and asked me to create variations that would work with the other spots in the campaign. Within days these were approved by the client and on the air. And they aired constantly. Before long there was another round of radio spots, and then a TV campaign, followed by more radio . . .
The more you hear a piece of music the more familiar it becomes, and that's exactly what happened in this case. Through sheer repetition my score had become the Temple Health theme. No one had intended for that to happen, and when Ron later complimented me on the accomplishment I assured him that I hadn't done anything special in writing the piece. The music was certainly effective--I'll happily take credit for that--but it only became a signature because Temple continued to use it in spot after spot. After two years of solid use it had become a recognizable signature, and as Ron created new radio and TV campaigns for Temple over the next decade the theme served as the "glue" that provided ongoing brand continuity.
When Temple asked Ron to refresh their advertising in 1997 he decided to take a more personal look at the patients Temple had helped (an approach that is now standard practice in healthcare advertising). Like all great directors, Ron is essentially a storyteller and the new spots he created were like mini-documentaries. Most continued to employ a problem-solution structure, but the opening exposition became more about the patient than the scary diagnosis. Everyone agreed that my theme should be retained, so I eliminated the original ominous opening and extended the melodic second half, altering the underlying harmonies to deliver the right emotional support for each narrative. A number of variations were produced, the most-aired being this upbeat version featuring guitarist Jeff Kay performing the now-familiar melody over a jazz/rock-inspired bed that would accommodate a quicker editing pace.
One of my favorite reimaginations of the theme came in a country-blues version that underscored a story about a local farmer. Jeff again provides the guitar work (though here my writing for him was inspired as much by Genesis' Mike Rutherford as any country artist), and the multitalented Paul Jost is featured on harmonica.
A year later Ron asked me to create an arrangement that would work on a wider range of spots, so I produced this "generic" version that features a heartfelt soprano sax performance by Ron Kerber on the closing strains of the theme. This appeared on numerous Temple ads over the next few years.
The Temple Health Theme was the first composition of mine to remain in use for more than a decade, and I was extremely proud to have created something that an advertiser regarded as representative of their brand. The project also cemented a relationship with Ron that would yield many more successful collaborations. But what stands out to me now, after thirty years in production, is the straightforward process that brought it about. There were no demos produced, no lengthy approval process with endless rounds of revisions, and no hand-wringing over whether the piece was the ultimate creative achievement. I'll admit that I appreciate producers (and clients) who trust creative professionals to deliver what their experience tells them will be effective. That's what Ron (and his client) did in this case, and it turned out to be a "win" for everyone involved.
Chuck Butler is celebrating his 30th anniversary as Baker Sound's in-house composer. For more information about Baker's music division, visit our dedicated MONSTER TRACKS website.