So you think the worlds of rock ‘n’ roll rebels and TV advertising don’t mix? Santa Monica’s EliasArts, international TV advertising soundtrack giant, begs to differ. EliasArts has recently snared such independent music icons as Joey Santiago of the Pixies and DJ Nic Harcourt of KCRW to sign on as music and licensing directors. The Pixies have been credited by some with being inventors of alternative music as we know it. Likewise, Nic Harcourt is known to have shaped the face of independent music tastes internationally.
The fact that the EliasArts building on Main Street was once Bob Dylan’s studio is just the tip of the iceberg of the many ties to rock ‘n’ roll that the legendary company can boast. Founder Jon Elias has produced albums for such rock luminaries as David Bowie, Grace Jones, BB King, Alanis Morissette and James Taylor. In 1989, Elias recruited Duran Duran for his first solo album, Requiem for the Americas.
The place gets rock heroes – who hardly need the work or money – to join the unlikely ranks of the corporate world of advertising. Ann Haugen, Executive Vice President and General Manager of EliasArts tells the Mirror. “We have clients representing 700 of the Fortune 1,000. That’s the kind of relationship that attracts a Nic Harcourt.”
EliasArts can be thought of as an angel of opportunity offering talented new bands fresh hope for exposure and money – in a culture where even their biggest fans think nothing of downloading their music for free. Or, some may argue, it is a pact with the devil, using engaging music to lure the unsuspecting public into buying products for corporate profit.
During a chat in his sound room at KCRW, Harcourt had this to say: “The kind of money that a band can make from a network TV commercial is serious. It provides great exposure, which is hard to come by with commercial radio restrictions. MTV doesn’t even play music anymore. Times have changed. The old rock ‘n’ roll myths no longer can go unquestioned. Everyone has their own opinion on this. But when a band like Groove Armada or Apples in Stereo is put into a TV commercial, it’s a significant unique opportunity for the bands. And it’s an opportunity for me to do something creative in new territory.”
When asked the same question, Martin Pazzani, CEO of EliasArts answers: “It’s not a pact with the devil. That’s taking it too far. I don’t find anything negative about it at all. Someone might have said that years ago, but look at it now. Music has been an important part of the communication process for a long time. What’s so interesting now is music has a lot more applications than ever. In addition to TV, we have radio, websites and environments that can be sonified. We customized environmental sound for a train station in Paris, and all the sounds on the first ThinkPad.”
In addition to attracting celebrities, Haugen explains: “This place can be used as a springboard. Our music supervisor found a fascinating artist off the streets, named Dito, and he became one of our top composers. Dito Montiel grew up in Queens and wrote a book about his life called A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. The book led to a screenplay. It got picked up and won Sundance Film awards. We did the music for the film. He still comes back and visits, and is so sweet. He even remembers my mom, and is always part of our family. Jonathan Elias attracts all these people that want to be mentored by him. These guys came here because of his reputation.”
Harcourt, in addition to keeping his day job at KCRW, also does film scores independently. “I love film. If I collaborate with the right person it can be fun.” He adds, “I’m working on a movie with Ben Affleck, his directorial debut. It’s called Gone Baby Gone. He’s a creative writer who’s made a living as an actor. Independent film is more collaborative than major studio movies, which makes it so exciting.” Is there any TV commercial project he won’t work on? “Well, there are some I wouldn’t do,” he answers, “for example, because I’m a vegetarian. Everyone has their own opinion on that question. Times have changed, but you have to be careful what you represent.”
Rock ‘n’ roll in the mainstream commercial world will continue to raise eyebrows – and some hard questions – but once worlds collide, clearly there’s no turning back.