Behind Old Spice's Wolfthorn Music — Breaking It Down with Marmoset Composer Graham Barton

Graham Barton Original Music Team Marmoset.jpg

There’s undoubtedly an art in getting people to stop in their tracks, to subtly convince people to invest their attention and money into a product or message. Then there's factoring in how all the other streaming content is also competing for viewers, so if someone's going to pause, it really better be worth it.

As far as clever and creative concepts go, Old Spice is on the top of most's lists — humorously enlightening while always stepping outside the box of what's expected. So when Wieden + Kennedy reached out to the Marmoset Original Music team, there was no question of us creating their latest commercial’s score.

In this particular project, the script described the main character as a wolf — who rides a motorcycle and of course, smells great. Different, unusual, and definitely pause-worthy. We knew we had to deliver equally stop you dead in your tracks kind of music.

“We jumped in at the exploratory stage,” says Graham Barton, Marmoset’s Original Music Composer. “I gave them several different songs, one was early ‘80s heavy metal, the other one I was inspired by that era of Duck Tales, so that was pretty late ‘80s. I also channeled a variety of vintage commercials, it was a little bit of a tribute to the old Crossfire ads. I included vocals in the pitch right off the bat — one is very Eagles sounding, one is really happy, and the one that went through is very chanty. We had to cast a wide net."

These songs that our producers pitched were roughly 30 seconds long, essentially full-bodied sneak peeks. Nonetheless, they exemplified a very developed palette of what our team can do. With Graham's personal background in classic rock and metal, he began honing into a specific time period (late '80s) to source his inspiration from. He offers up some of the places that helped guide his approach to constructing the Old Spice original score:

"There was a really small window from '89 to about '94 when they were really playing on like the hair metal," says Graham. "Music around the era of Power Rangers and Beetlborgs was inspiring to me. For the most part, genre-wise, when I heard about this project I knew I wanted to channel a similar energy.”

With three songs serving as viable representations of Graham's and our producers' creative brawn, the versatile pitch exemplifies how inspiration can be rooted in the most vintaged of abysses. It's music that's subconsciously rooted from childhood — but isn't that a sign of classic, and better yet, music that sticks with you? Why else would something carry over so many years later. The project's success could be due to this kind of uninhibited creative wandering along with a combination of knowing where strengths lie.  

With Graham's vocals being a perfect match for channeling a specific kind of era (aka late '80s, early '90s) he notes the importance of recruiting when a project calls for it. For instance, if Old Spice called for a pop or indie vibe, Graham would instead recruit talent who matches that vocal tone a bit better. "I don't always get to sing on the songs I compose," says Graham. "So to be able to sing on the "Wolfthorn" [Old Spice] song was really cool."

Graham composing three songs that encapsulate different moods and genres illustrates the art of staying versatile, a tactic that can set you apart from your competitor. But there's also another variable at play that matters quite a bit, there's an invitation to collaborate openly.

"I’ve worked for other companies where they send something first try to see if it sells," says Graham. "But at Marmoset we kind of fine-tune before we send. Sometimes it can be the second version that we send or it can be the thirteenth version by the time we end up sending it off to the agency. It’s hard to talk about because any time you mention it to anyone it sounds like boasting, but we just care."

Check out the complete project below featuring Graham's catchy original score below.

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