Central Florida music fans may have noticed something familiar about the voice singing the jangly bit of garage-pop called "Together" featured in a recent commercial for the Honda Insight. The band singing that song — they call themselves Rabbit — is a band from Central Florida; however, it's not a band that emerged from the clubs of Orange Avenue or the TransCon factory studios of yore. No, Rabbit is a band from Mount Dora. Specifically, Rabbit is a band that exists solely in the spare bedroom of a ranch house north of downtown Mount Dora.
In that bedroom, there's a piano, a rack of guitars, a couple of amps, a brand new Mac Pro, some outboard mixing gear and a vocal booth that consists of a lamp, a chair and four roped-together mattresses. CD-Rs and hard drives are stacked up in the closet and a whiteboard leans against a wall with a scribbled list of pending tasks underneath a column labeled "Rock Salt."
"This is where the magic happens," laughs Devin Moore. It's Moore's voice in the Insight commercial, the same voice that used to front local power-pop trio Bloom. These days, Moore is one-half of Rabbit, but the "magic" that he's referring to isn't the alchemical sparks of a brand-new band working out their kinks in a hastily configured rehearsal space. Instead, this unprepossessing studio is the home of Rock Salt Songwriters, a joint venture between Moore and Ashton Allen (a solo artist and former member of Gainesville alt-rockers Big Sky), and its primary dedication is to the art and craft of making music for commercials, TV shows, films and wherever else a music supervisor needs just the right tune.
A decade ago, the thought of legitimate musicians — especially musicians with indie-rock credentials — making music for commercials would have been unthinkable. Today, though, with CD sales shriveling on the vine, artists are looking for all sorts of revenue streams to keep their musical projects solvent, a development that's occurred in tandem with advertising agencies and big-name clients looking for a hipper, more grass-roots approach to the music that they use to brand themselves.
"It's definitely gotten cooler because so many more bands are doing it now," says Allen. "But they're doing placements of songs they've already done. I had this idea, instead, to write songs specifically for placement, so I talked to Devin about it and just got convinced that we could do it, that we could write the sort of songs that people are using in film and TV work."
Although Allen and Moore were self-assured that they were capable of penning the perfect non-jingle jingle, the actual process of getting those songs into commercials and TV programs was more mysterious. Despite previous experience with an agency that scored commercial placement for some of his solo material, Allen's idea for Rock Salt was unusual.
"I went to `my placement house` with the idea that we would be able to offer same-day turnaround on the music — mixed, mastered, commercial-quality — that people need. Most of the time, placement agencies get a request and have everyone on their staff go through everything they've got to see if they've got a match. A lot of times, they don't have a match, so they'll send something that's close and just hope for the best.
"But I was thinking, if we're writers, and we have a studio and we've got no day job, how about when they can't find something, they come to us and we get a shot to provide them what they don't have?"
With that idea in mind, Allen and Moore got to work, writing and recording dozens of micro-songs ranging from 30 seconds to a minute in length to show to ad agencies. The songs spanned genres from "classical to country to rock, to jazz, acoustic … whatever we could think of," says Allen.
"The first ones were easy," says Moore. "It was just like, ‘Here's a pop-punk tune that might be on the Disney Channel.' There were no rules, so they were really simple and we were just pulling from stuff we had heard."
Eventually, the duo — through Allen's placement agency — got a bite and recorded a song for Pacific Sunwear that was used on radio spots. The assignment gave them some indication as to what their future workflow would be like.
"We had a day to write a piece," says Moore. "And the only direction they gave us was ‘We need something happy and up.'"
"You see everything," laughs Allen when talking about the instructions that Rock Salt receives from their various clients. "It can be something either totally specific with references to other songs and movies, or you can get something super-vague like ‘upbeat, positive, cool.' You almost have to read between the lines."
"It's a lot easier when they say, ‘We want a Coldplay rip,'" laughs Moore.
After the Pacific Sunwear placement, the two began scoring more and more work, ranging from theme music for the University of South Florida football team to bed music for car-dealer ads and spots for Frito-Lay. The PacSun ad also led to the formation of Rabbit, a band neither of these former band members planned on forming.
"We did the PacSun song and they wanted a band. They were like, ‘What band is this?' And the placement agency was like, ‘What band is this?' But it wasn't a band. It was just us, just a song we banged out really quick," explains Moore.
"Even though Devin was singing on it, it didn't sound like his stuff, and it surely didn't sound like my stuff," says Allen. "But we liked the sound of it, this sunny California pop, so I called `the agency` back and told them that the band was called Rabbit."
"So we decided to start writing those sorts of songs together, as Rabbit," continues Moore. "The idea was just to amass this collection of songs, but we threw up a MySpace page for Rabbit and started writing real songs for it. It's like an alter ego or something."
That alter ego ultimately led to Rabbit's music being chosen by Honda as one of the bands to represent the breezy accessibility the company wanted to project for the Insight. And though the two take the idea of Rabbit as a band seriously, it's unlikely that you'll see them packing into a van to hit the clubs on a tour any time soon; the brisk, dawn-to-dusk business of Rock Salt is Allen and Moore's primary concern. The income that Rock Salt brings in is not only enough to cover the duo's personal and business expenses, it's also given both of them the financial freedom to pursue their own musical ambitions in a stress- free fashion.
"It's been able to facilitate both Devin and I being solo artists without having a label," says Allen. "In our free time, we're able to work on our own stuff and pursue it at our own pace."
"I can do whatever I want now, without worrying about who's going to pay for it," says Moore. "In fact, I just finished up a 12-song solo record and I'm probably just going to end up giving it away, because I can."firstname.lastname@example.org