Composer Adam Miele Talks Scores, Jingles, & the Musical Grind
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
Music has been part of WNW Member Adam Miele's life from the outset. In our interview below, we talk about his musical upbringing, his creative process, and the day-to-day grind of a composer. He's produced Grammy-nominated albums, written commercial "jingles by the pound," recorded personal projects, and founded his own music production house called Bear Studios. Adam relishes all these simultaneous labors of love. "There’s a great satisfaction that comes when someone is willing to compensate you for your creative efforts."
Tell us a bit about your creative background. Who is Adam Miele and how did he get here?
I grew up in a very creative family. My parents were both Broadway performers when they were in their 20’s and I grew up singing and dancing and performing. Music was a big part of my childhood. I would always plunk around on the piano, writing little tunes and melodies.
When I was 24, I moved to NYC to go to school for audio engineering. While I was in school, I got an internship at a music production house in the city where the majority of their work was writing custom music for ads. I didn’t even know that existed! I was an intern for a few months and then was offered a job as the personal assistant to the owner. I would do everything from assisting him in recording sessions to picking his daughter up from school. It kept me very busy and I learned a lot.
Very quickly, things got busier and I was asked to start taking on more and more recording projects. I ended up working with a lot of amazing musicians as an engineer. I was in the studio a lot with Naughty By Nature and learned a lot about the production side. I recorded most of Jaheim’s “Another Round” album, which ended up being nominated for 3 Grammys. That was an awesome time. I was exhausted! The knowledge I learned in all of those early sessions is what allowed me to start creating my own music on a professional level.
I eventually started writing on some commercial spots and slowly started adding more and more spots to my reel. I’ve been writing music for ads full-time for the past 11 years and have been lucky enough to write music for some amazing clients (Disney, Nike, IBM, AT&T, M&M’s, Mountain Dew, NASCAR, Gillette etc). I started my own music production house called Bear Studios, about 2 years ago and have no plans of slowing down!
How would you describe your musical style?
My musical style is all over the place. Writing music for ads is pretty demanding when it comes to different styles. I get briefs every day for something different. One day it’s a jazz standard, the next day it’s radio pop, then it’s cinematic orchestral, followed by hip-hop. I feel like a cliche way to describe myself is a Jack of All, Master of None! My personal preferences for the types of music I like to listen to and write are modern pop, indie pop/rock and also cinematic orchestral. I just like listening to those types of music and I feel like they are the most natural genres for me to write.
What do you see as the turning point in your creative development and career?
The first commercial that I ever wrote the music for was a Macy’s ad. I remember them telling me that it was down to me and one other piece of music. I couldn’t sleep I was so nervous! The next day I found out they were going with my music I was ecstatic! It was really the first time that I really thought to myself, “ok, maybe you can make a living in the music business.” I really redoubled my efforts after that and just wanted that feeling over and over. There’s a great satisfaction that comes when someone is willing to compensate you for your creative efforts. That was the first time it happened and it was a turning point for me because I still chase down that feeling.
You most recently worked on M&M’s Super Bowl spot. How’d you come to get the gig?
I got that gig through another music house (Pulse Music). They reached out to me in a freelance capacity to help them gather and create potential music for that spot.
Can you share some of the creative challenges and breakthroughs that came with the brief and your process? The music for the spot feels really triumphant, which works perfectly with its twisted humor. When did you realize that was the right direction?
The spot was created for Mars (M&M’s) by BBDO in NYC. Initially, they were looking for a variety of genres that might fit the spot to enhance the humor, but also keep the epic nature it needed. I submitted probably close to 10 pieces of music with varied genres and I’m assuming many other composers did as well. Eventually, they decided that a custom piece of music was needed to get across exactly what they wanted. They wanted it scored a certain way and to have an almost euphoric feeling to it. They knew what they wanted, which was very helpful for me, because then I knew exactly what they wanted.
The piece I wrote for that spot ended up being one of I think 3 or 4 pieces that they were liking and considering using. They had some specific notes about some sections they wanted addressed. After that round of revisions, it was narrowed down to my piece and one other. The powers that be then ultimately chose my piece as the winning track and that’s how it happened. I did a couple more minor revisions, but the piece is very close to how I originally presented it. I feel bad for the second place guy because he’s a good friend of mine haha! Hey, you win some you lose some! I’m a Pats fan so, I won the commercial and lost the game.
Is comedy something you try to incorporate as a composer?
If the project I’m working on is overall comedic, then yes. Sometimes I need to decide how literal to go with the music. Obviously, the grand orchestral nature of the M&M’s Super Bowl commercial when played by itself isn’t funny at all. Only when combined with the hilarious visuals does the music then add to the humor. Other projects might require a more obvious tongue and cheek nature to the music to help the visuals because the visual may not be as funny. It all depends on what feels right for each spot.
What’s your general process for scoring commercials? Do you have parts and pieces of compositions that you stockpile? Or do you more often compose directly to the spot?
Most of the work I do is custom writing for ads. I write a lot of music for ads and a lot of it gets sold or licensed, however even more of the pieces I write don’t get chosen for what I initially wrote them for. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad piece of music. Commercials can only have one piece of music and for whatever reason, my music may not get chosen. It’s still a quality piece of music which then goes into my music library to be licensed or sold later for another project that might need a piece like that.
How does composing differ from making music for personal projects?
The biggest difference is when composing for ads, I’m writing for someone else. Most of the time in the ad world, they are very sure about the type of music they want. It may not be the type of music that I like and yet, I need to write it anyway. It’s great because it expands my musical view to places I would never have seen. There are also hard deadlines which I love! Compose it, submit it, and on to the next one! I never seem to finish my personal projects because there are no deadlines.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
This is embarrassing, but I started learning to play the guitar because of Dave Matthews. Loved him! Max Martin, The Beatles (of course), The Strokes, Coldplay, Thomas Newman, Michael Giacchino. I’m a mainstream kind of guy.
What would be your dream project or job, or is it already on your resume?
My dream job would be writing records with Max Martin. He’s number one for me.
What’s your most treasured possession?
Well, I’m guessing you mean personal possession, so if my family is already a given, then I would say my 1905 Washburn acoustic guitar. It makes everything sound great.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Ha! I wanted to be a pro soccer player. I was All State soccer in high school.
What do you do when Not Working?
I have an electric stand up scooter that I like to cruise around on and find neat hole in the wall restaurants. It’s super fun and tasty! I’ll go see a show every once in awhile; I like Netflix too.
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
I’m working on a short film and a personal album. I’m mixing some records for another project and as always, doing lots and lots of ads! I always wanted to use the slogan “Jingles by the Pound.” If you’re wondering what I’m doing at any given time, it’s writing jingles by the pound.