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Why ‘sticky’ jingles often work best

Musicians have a word for jingles: “sticky.” But the stickiest jingles don’t need to be masterful musical compositions. Sometimes they needn’t even be in tune. A visit to the office of Rob Deemer reveals why.

Deemer, 44, is an associate professor and the head of the composition department in SUNY Fredonia’s School of Music. He has a baritone voice that lends an authoritative timbre when he’s lecturing students about the art of writing music. Deemer earned his doctorate in composition from the University of Texas, and his works have been played by an impressive variety of performers, including the United States Marine Band.

Deemer’s office is stacked with instruments – a tuba behind him; a keyboard at the wall – but for this task, his small red melodica would do just fine.

“This is going to be a little a strange,” Deemer says, lifting the instrument to his lips, blowing air into the mouthpiece and using his right hand to press a succession of keys: low G-E-F-E-G-F-F-E-F-G-F-F-E-F-G-low G-B-D-C.

“Boom!” Deemer said. “Easy.”

He just played the Cellino & Barnes jingle. It’s basic, very basic, which is Deemer’s point: Jingles are simple and repetitive.

Virtually anyone can sing and remember a simple jingle, and that’s why they stick in our minds.

Any jingle writer will agree on this: The tune rules. “There is no substitute for a good melody,” said Steve Bartolotta, president of Markethold Productions Inc. in Penfield, which has created jingles for Alfred State College and Wegmans, among other Western New York clients. “Melody is the key to remember-ability.”

Jingle writers can still apply their musicality in other ways too. Anthony Casuccio, an East Amherst-based music producer who writes jingles nationally through his company Extreme Branding, has had clients ask him to create jingles with a “hit record sound.” His job, then, is to study the stacked vocals, distorted guitars and kinetic snare of a rock record and then channel it into a 15-, 30- and 60-second commercial song.

“I love harmonies in jingles so people can sing along,” says Casuccio, whose local jingles include Good Feet Store, Vinyl Outlet and the chanting “Milk Times Three.” “It adds production value and also gives something for the average listener to home in on. If they’re homing in on it, then they’re concentrating on it and it’s working.”

When Steve Rott of the roofing contractor William C. Rott & Son decided to get a jingle, he told his marketing agency he wanted a song “with a folksy type of feel, one you wouldn’t be annoyed with after a while.” With those instructions in mind, Erik Eustice of the marketing firm Of the Sea LLC worked with composer Joe Secchiaroli to develop a song with layers of strings and even an accordion.

For another client, Volkswagen of Orchard Park, the firm used a tuba to add an oom-pah-pah German feel, then introduced a banjo two-thirds of the way through the song. “We’re trying to find that X factor or element that doesn’t belong, but fits,” Eustice says. “It adds a certain surprise or unpredictability to the piece that completes it.”

Sometimes it’s best to just scrap all conventions. The Buffalo market’s best example is the jingle (or “non-jingle,” to be precise) for Mike Barney Nissan. It’s three words long (“Mike BAR-ney NEE-saaahn”), takes six beats if you write it musically, involves zero singing and has only the faintest traces of melody. As dealership owner Joe Caldarelli recalled, it was recorded 18 years ago in a radio booth by “four of us, maybe five people” that he pulled from the hallway. Inspired by Mighty Taco’s offbeat, chanting “MI-tee TAH-koh” jingle, Caldarelli wanted to try something different.

“I honestly didn’t know if it was going to work or not,” he said. “But the first week (the jingle aired), my kids were coming home from school saying, ‘Dad, you’ve got to stop that stupid commercial.’ That’s a winner.”

Deemer, the Fredonia professor, chuckled when he heard the Mike Barney jingle.

“It’s brilliant; I don’t mind saying that,” he said. “It’s the exception that proves the rule.”