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The Art of Creating Musical Messages in Political Ads


In the run-up to the November elections, political ads proliferate. WRTI’s Susan Lewis looks at how music contributes to the message.


Baker Sound Studios' President Rick DiDonato and Music Director Chuck Butler talk with WRTI's Susan Lewis about how music is used in political ads.

Radio script:

Susan Lewis: In just 30 seconds, political ads aim to tell a story. Different music, under the words, can reflect the candidate, the voters, or the culture. Rick DiDonato, president of Baker Sound Studios, mixes pre-recorded music, and Music Director Chuck Butler composes original music—for both parties. Particular instruments are uplifting and inspirational.

Chuck Butler: Soaring strings work well, but a solid French horn is always great for importance and seriousness and a solo trumpet is very good for saying patriotism. Piano is always great to give this Americana sense.

Rick DiDonato: Or they could go down small, down-home, countryish, just a guitar.

SL: And the negative ad?

A solo trumpet is very good for saying patriotism.

CB: I’m thinking very much along the lines if, like, I was scoring a horror film.

SL: Or a more neutral, newsy negative. The music creates its own emotional narrative.

CB:  If I can get the emotional arc of the music to support the narrative arc... then the spot gains an impact it doesn't have otherwise. 

SL:  Baker Sound Studios has produced radio and TV ads for candidates from both parties, including Marco Rubio, Michael Nutter, George W. Bush, and Ed Rendell, as well as nonpolitical ads for corporations and nonprofits.  

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.