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The Beat Goes On--to TV Jingles

Advertising: Two rock band graduates make their past pay off in music for commercials.

February 12, 1998|JEFF BAENEN | ASSOCIATED PRESS

EDINA, Minn. — A drumroll kicks off what sounds like a swinging party in the 1960s. Day-Glo corpuscles squiggle, cells divide and a toe-tapping skeleton snaps its fingers to the beat on the TV screen.

The music--raucous, infectious and flavored by a roller-rink organ--sounds like a lost gem of Frat Rock. Your immediate reaction is, where do I get that song?

But you won't find it on compact disc. It exists only in a 30-second commercial for Fairview Health Services. And it's one of the latest audio creations of Bob Hest and Steve Kramer, who turned to writing arty jingles after the demise of the eccentric rock band the Wallets.

For Hest, who managed the Wallets, producing music for commercials "feeds right in to delayed adolescence."

"This is so much more fun [than being in a band], I can't tell you," Hest said, sitting in an armchair in the suburban Minneapolis office he shares with Kramer. "Did you ever bale hay when you're a kid? You're never gonna do it again."

Kramer, 44, and Hest, 47, have parlayed their musical experience into an eight-year career coming up with catchy sonic pitches for such clients as Target Stores, Pillsbury, MTV, Time Warner, Chevrolet and Dairy Queen.

"We'd run out of options. There were no other things left for us to do," Hest said of the Wallets' breakup.

Kramer added: "Except kill ourselves."

Along with the Replacements, the Suburbs and Husker Du, the Wallets spearheaded the post-punk Minneapolis music boom of the 1980s. Kramer would sing and lead the five-member band on an accordion. But the group's only bid for a national hit was the novelty song "Totally Nude," and after nearly a decade together, the Wallets said farewell at a 1989 concert at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.

The next day, Hest and Kramer started their ad-music agency.

Hest had a friend who did commercial voice-overs, and he and Kramer had talked for about a year about getting into the business.

"Then, when the time was up with the Wallets, we just kind of went, 'Let's do it,' " Hest said.

Hest and Kramer also were encouraged by Bill Hillsman of North Woods Advertising in Minneapolis, who is credited with the innovative ad campaign that helped elect Paul Wellstone to the U.S. Senate in 1990.

Since a hard first year in an office over a Minneapolis shoe store, Hest and Kramer have seen their grosses increase as their reputation has grown. Hest is reluctant to provide figures.

"We didn't know anything. We were so stupid," Hest said of their beginnings.

But Kramer said they learned a lot through trial by fire. "We never had a snafu that anyone really knew about," he said.

"We've always been able to scramble," Hest added. "We've never been late. Ever."

Target Stores, a discount retailer based in Minneapolis, used music from Hest and Kramer in its spring and fall fashion TV ads. The 30-second spots opened with a dreamy vocal, followed by a quick jump to pulsating pop music.

"It sounded like something you maybe have been hearing on the radio," said Rod Eaton, Target's director of sales promotion. "You had the feeling that this is the very hippest, latest music."

Integrated with the ads' images of colors, shapes and textures, the music underscored Target's message of hip, affordable clothing, Eaton said.

"The whole company really likes the spot. We feel they did the job," he said.

In another Hest-Kramer TV spot, singer Jearlyn Steele Battle belts out a blues tune while dressed in a leather jacket for Wilsons The Leather Experts. For a proposed Budweiser radio ad, Hest and Kramer had Twin Cities bluesman Dave Ray deliver a hipster poem through a cab dispatcher's microphone.

For Fairview Health Services' "dancing corpuscles" regional ad, Hest and Kramer called in 10 rock musicians and re-created a 1962 party in the studio.

"We wanted music that would be extremely fun, and we have only 30 seconds, so it's got to create a mood immediately," said Emily Scott, creative director and copywriter for Lynch Jarvis Jones in Minneapolis, the ad agency that created the spot. "If we did nothing but make people happier for 30 seconds, we would be satisfied."

For advertisers, ordering new music that sounds familiar is much cheaper than buying the rights to a familiar hit, said Jack Trout, president of Trout & Partners, a marketing strategy firm based in Greenwich, Conn.

"A lot of people like to create the James Bond music but they don't want to pay for it," Trout said.

Hest--whose short hair, heavy glasses, loafers and sweater vest give him the look of a TV sitcom dad--is the producer, lining up the clients and hiring the talent. Kramer, as wild-eyed as the "Seinfeld" character of the same name, is the musical force and composes the tunes.

*

Although Kramer can reproduce almost any musical instrument from synthesizers and samples stored on CD-ROM, he prefers the live feel of studio musicians.

"They're all friends of ours," said Hest, whose wife, jazz singer Cookie Coleman, has sung on their projects. "So it's just like a big party in here."

For the last five years, Hest and Kramer have operated out of an office next to Hudson-Forrester Studios. That allows them to book recording time without the expense of running a studio.

The office is quiet during a recent interview, and Hest and Kramer keep it that way. No background radio is on, and there are no employees to cause distractions. The only noise is when Hest and Kramer bring their dogs to work.

Among recent projects, the duo has completed a short industrial film for Andersen Corp. featuring different styles of music, such as zydeco, Tex-Mex and Cajun. They also plan a CD of soundtracks for movies that don't exist.

"I was talking to my daughter about what I'm going to do when I retire," Kramer said. "And she says, 'You already do that now.' "

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