It doesn't happen often, but every once in a while I get to work on a project that has the potential to make a real difference in people's lives. That was certainly the case with a campaign I scored for The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission in 2015.
I became involved when Alyson Peters of Alkemy X recommended me to Lancaster-based Spencer Advertising. In a subsequent conference call, Spencer Creative Director Dan Hooven explained that dozens of Turnpike workers have been killed by motorists who fail to slow down in construction zones. The agency had developed three dramatic ads that would spotlight the problem and (hopefully) increase compliance with speed restrictions. Two of these would be for broadcast, while the third would run on screens in Turnpike rest stops.
The first of the three takes place at an accident scene. The ad has an eerie, dreamlike quality, and Dan referenced several little-known pieces of music that had the haunting quality the agency was looking for. I stuck pretty close to these examples for the first half of my score, which is just a simple piano melody bathed in reverb and doubled by a boys' choir. The second half is less melodic, with warmer piano chords evoking a sense of pathos. The spot aired regularly at the outset of the campaign, and is still being featured on social media.
The second spot intercuts a series of Turnpike workers describing the danger they face in their jobs. The agency had no idea how to handle the music, but I thought that a groove would help "glue" the narrative together. I used electronic percussion to suggest the mechanical rhythm of construction equipment, and then reprised the warmer piano chords from the end of the first spot. This one received a lot of airplay, and I was thrilled when the Art Directors Club of Philadelphia honored it with a LOUIX award.
The third spot uses animation to make its point. The agency suggested "rock" music, so I produced several demos from different corners of that world. The piece they ultimately selected draws on bands like Ministry and Gravity Kills to create an industrial rock sound that compliments the stark look of the visuals. Once the basic track was in place I added some sound design elements to support the graphics and drive the message home.
Since working on this campaign I've become much more aware when driving through construction zones--and apparently I'm not the only one who got the message. PennDOT reported a 70% reduction in work-zone deaths in 2016, and no fatalities for the first quarter of 2017. They noted a similar reduction in crashes and injuries. Music is obviously just one of the elements that made these spots effective, but I'm proud to have played even a small part in a campaign that has demonstrably saved lives.
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.