Gear Seven/Arc Studios/Shift
I Like Music
Contemplative Reptile
  • International Edition
  • USA Edition
  • UK Edition
  • Australian Edition
  • Canadian Edition
  • Irish Edition
  • German Edition
  • French Edition
  • Singapore Edition
  • Spanish edition
  • Polish edition
  • Indian Edition
  • Middle East edition
  • South African Edition

Raymond Loewy: “There’s No Way to ‘Talk about’ Music. That’s What Makes It Music”


The New Math partner and composer tells LBB’s Adam Bennett what he’s learned from 30 years of making music for picture - including why clients need to “stop apologising” to their music partners

Raymond Loewy: “There’s No Way to ‘Talk about’ Music. That’s What Makes It Music”

If there’s something Raymond Loewy doesn’t know about music and advertising, it might not be worth knowing. 

And if that makes the New Math partner and composer of thirty years sound long in the tooth, it’s not a fair reflection of the man. Over the course of our conversation, Ray animatedly expresses his thoughts on the state of music like a young fan breaking down the science behind their favourite album of the moment. 

Across those three decades, Ray has been a part of countless award-winning pieces of music in ads, with highlights including Super Bowl spots such as the joyful revival of Wayne’s World with Uber Eats.  In that time, he’s been through enough creative briefs to know what keeps the ideation process moving, and what brings the conversation to a halt. 

Here, Ray breaks down his expertise on how creatives and composers can best connect to produce the perfect soundtrack to any given ad. To pick his brain and reflect on the best ways to discuss music, LBB’s Adam Bennett joined him.

LBB> Raymond - if you could give one piece of advice about music to any creative reading this now, what would it be? 

Raymond>  Stop apologising for not being able to do the impossible. Over the years I’ve had thousands - maybe tens of thousands - of calls to discuss music, and the number which haven’t included some kind of apology for a self-diagnosed ‘lack of knowledge’ of “how to talk about music and sound” is a rounding error.  People tell us ‘I just don’t know how to talk about music”.

But there is no single defined way to ‘talk about’ music. That’s what makes it music. It can’t be verbal. If there were a way to fully and accurately describe music in verbal or written language, it would kind of obviate the need for music itself.

LBB> Why do you think people are so quick to apologise? Do they feel embarrassed not to know more about music? 

Raymond> That might be part of it. It feels like a lot of people believe there is some kind of secret language, filled with words like ‘crescendo’ and ‘massig', which is totally foreign to them. Like, as soon as a call is over, we composers get back into our lizard suits and start speaking in tongues. 

But the irony is that there is nothing to know. You might as well say something should be ‘louder here’, or ‘relaxed there’. The thing is, music is such a subjective and personal thing - the way you describe it is fundamentally your way of describing it. That doesn’t change whether you’re a classically trained musician, or a fan articulating what’s great about your favourite album. 

At New Math we’re quite unique in that we try to get all of our composers on our calls. The reason for that is we want to avoid passing off instructions second hand. If someone says that they want ‘jazz’, that encapsulates roughly a million sub-genres with utterly distinctive characteristics. It’s often only by being present in a conversation that you truly understand the precise meaning behind a person’s description of music. 

LBB> What if someone were to play you a piece of music and say ‘we want it to sound like that’. Is that more or less helpful than describing it verbally?

Raymond> That’s more helpful. But it can also mean you get caught out with certain snags. Back when I started out in the business, about 80% of our jobs were with companies who wanted a specific track by a specific band that they couldn’t afford. That’s a really tough way of working because in seeking to imitate it you’ll inevitably come into contact with legal teams who send you back to the drawing board at various stages of the creation process. 

And, needless to say, nobody gets into painting because they want to make a great replica of Starry Night. The same goes for musicians and the thought of a career imitating other artists.

That happens much less now, but getting hung up on certain aspects of a track at the expense of the bigger picture is still something you see frequently. Demo love is real, neurologically speaking. 

Overall, however, this is something that’s gotten a lot better over time. It’s fashionable for people that do what we do to bemoan how the industry has changed for the worse over the past few years, but an increased appetite for original music is certainly something that’s gotten better. 

LBB> That’s interesting - why do you think that’s improved? 

Raymond> Well, it’s gotten better in the sense that I cut my teeth and spent my formative years in a time where nobody could afford to pay for the big track by Chumbawamba or whoever it might have been. That’s because Chumbawamba were making all their money from selling albums and tours, and they didn’t need to licence their music. 

Now, because of how much the industry context has changed, stuff gets licensed all the time. So the market for imitations is much diminished, given the real thing has become much more attainable. 

LBB> So, what’s the ideal way for someone to describe music to you and your composers?

Raymond> My absolute dream would be someone coming to us with four or five references ready to go. They might say, “listen to the awesomeness of this track by Death Grips with its dark, ferocious energy, and then this scene from Sleeping Beauty with its ethereal whimsicality, and then look at this other commercial and how its music helps the joke being revealed at the end - can you make all that happen in a thirty-second track?” 

And I’m just like, yeah, I can’t wait to make that happen. You don’t need fancy language, you don’t need to get technical, speak a special language, or have certain prior experience. Just tell me you want something ferocious. That’s more than enough for any composer worth their salt. 

You only need to speak English. Speak in feelings, and the mood you want to achieve. We can work with that. 


view more - People
Sign up to our newsletters and stay up to date with the best work and breaking ad news from around the world.

Genres: Music & Sound Design

New Math Music, Thu, 26 Jan 2023 08:20:52 GMT