Opinion

My life in advertising: scoring drugs, porn and commercials

Glenn Dormand Chit ChatIn this guest column, Glenn Dormand aka Chit Chat von LoopinStab formerly of Machine Gun Fellatio and currently MusicMAX, on how he went from writing music for porn to TVCs, repurposing work in unexpected ways, and why you might get paid in chicken. 

I came to make music in advertising by making music in porn. How I got into porn is a longer story for another time but it was definitely a major stepping-stone to getting to work on some truly abstract art being dressed up as commerce.

Hours spent underscoring the ‘in and out’ left its mark on my already addled mind but it also gave me and my fellow musicians a little dough to invest in our own pop music release: 18 tracks that no record company was likely to ever go near put on to one self-funded CD, Unsound Sounds.

One track, Isaac or Fuzz became a minor novelty hit on Triple J, got us a record deal and began the live music career of Machine Gun Fellatio.

Another track, Horny Blonde Forty, the lyrics for which were cut and pasted from contact ads from sex mag, Naughty Sydney, became the outro for The Whitlams’ No Aphrodisiac, which got me an ARIA and a publishing deal.

Yet another song, Blacklamb, an early porn-scored track became the theme to a Cottee’s Sport Crush commercial and slowly the phone started ringing for some odd commercial work.

The Cottee’s ad led to a crazy commercial for a large soft drink brand, which for the purpose of this article I’ll call ‘Solo’.

The company decided to reinvent the Solo Man from the mustachioed he-man to a hard-working tradie getting off with a hot blonde all night, depositing at a sperm bank.

Music for ads was supposed to be a ‘sell-out’ for indie musos like myself in the late 90s, but here was this lunacy being offered for us to underscore and they wanted to give us $10,000 to do it.

Subversively the female groan used in our track was taken from an especially-explicit scene from a movie we scored during our porn days.

Many years later when our indie-kids star was well and truly tarnished, an ad director told us the story of how he wanted: “edgy, like those guys who put the porn track sound effect in the soft drink ad”. He told us that not knowing it was us. This spot won a bunch of international awards and also became our first commercial to be banned.

Another TVC of ours that was banned was a tampon ad which advertised a new snakeskin-patterned pack.

The spot involved an Indian cab driver and a live snake, which erupted from a handbag to bite its owner. This spot, which was clearly written by a man hadn’t considered that women weren’t interested in connecting menstruation with aggressive, venomous snakes.

Thankfully the agency paid us before the ad was banned which allowed me to set up a new studio with their $20,000. Keep in mind the music took a day to write.

Another TVC initially banned involved another tradie-esque character, this time surfing a wheelie bin down a suburban street to try and catch his beloved stolen can of Solo.

After some legal text in tiny font was added to the bottom of the screen it eventually ran for five years and allowed me to buy my first house.

One thing we learned early was give a point of difference. So we only did weird, and fortunately weird ads are the ones that win awards.

Most ads at the time wanted sound-a-likes, and we refused to do them. Again, this meant we got respect and more work.

The closest we got to a sound-a-like was for an online stockbroking firm, where we did a spot with someone dressed as a screen mouse hand-busting kung fu moves on an office of lazy stockbrokers.

The temp music was an obscure Yoko Ono track. So we downed a six-pack, I hit the mic channeling Yoko and three hours later it was finished. It was weird as fuck, won gold at Cannes and two months later the cheque arrived and I bought a reasonably high-end second-hand car.

During this time we realised that ad directors hated the commercial side of the industry, they craved to be indie and the more disheveled our studio was for meetings, the more they loved it.

Strangely, a dingy room strewn with guitars, ancient keyboards and littered with drug paraphernalia was the perfect set for an ad meeting of the era.

They refused to leave. In several cases they would up our cheques so that their substance of choice awaited them for these “genuine artist” meetings.

We also learnt a valuable lesson: the more we charged the less the client wanted to change.

The TDK ad below was our first big production TVC and we presented all the audio (including foley) mixed in a stereo pair and they never changed a thing. The cheque they sent us kicked off a three-month bender where we discovered the true value of eight-balls.

We also found the inverse was true with billing. We took a job with a fledgling chicken franchise that for the purpose of this article I’ll call ‘Oporto’.

They offered us bugger-all money and made endless changes over a six-week period. When they were finally happy they then had the gall to say “we want to run it in NZ as well, but we don’t have any more money.”

To which we replied “Well, you do have chicken, so send us chicken”. Three days later $5,280 worth of Oporto vouchers arrived at the studio. To quote my business partner, 3kShort, we were “chickenaires”.

Our road crew used them up over six months and put on five kilograms each.

As we progressed into the new century the work began to dry up as agencies realised they could get unsigned artist tracks for almost nothing with the lure of becoming successful on the back of the Ad.

Nick Cester from the band Jet told me that when the band did that worldwide iPod commercial they got paid almost nothing – not even an iPod – yet that spot broke them in America.

So that’s when it ended, and I had porn to thank. And the two industries share commonalities. The most obvious being that making a few porn films was a lot of fun but to continue would mean a permanent shift in my moral compass brought about by the acceptance of exploiting people.

The ad industry was exactly the same, just a little worse.

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