Warner Chappell's Keith D'Arcy on R.E.M., Music Podcasts and the Joy of Deep-Catalog Syncs

Plus, what artists really want out of brand relationships

Keith D'Arcy is svp, sync and creative services, at Warner Chappell Music Publishing. 

With 24 years of professional experience as a music producer and supervisor at Kobalt, SONGS Music Publishing, EMI Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing, Sony BMG Music Entertainment and ad agency Bates Worldwide, Keith has placed hundreds of songs and artists in campaigns for global brands like Apple, Coca-Cola, Nike, Miller Beer, Cadillac, Google, Reebok, Hershey's, Mercedes, BMW, Intel, Fidelity, American Express, Pepsi, Victoria's Secret, Fisher Price, Northwest Airlines, Verizon, Corona, Heineken and Viagra. 

In his spare time he's an avid record collector, reissue producer and author of liner notes. We spoke with Keith for our Liner Notes series to learn more about his musical tastes and journey through the years, as well as recent work he's proud of and admired.

Keith, tell us ...

Your earliest musical memory.

My earliest musical memory is the opening theme from the Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cartoons. I learned much later in life that it's actually a song from 1937 called "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down" by Cliff Friend and Dave Franklin. It's fitting that I now work at the company that publishes it. I was a big Saturday morning cartoon watcher, and the theme songs from Scooby Doo, The Jetsons, and The Flintstones were my first musical loves. I'd get up super early, get a bowl of cereal and sit in front of the TV until my parents got up and forced me outside to play. Often, I'd be up so early that I had to suffer through the farm report and then Davey and Goliath before the network cartoons would kick off at 8. The most memorable theme songs were from Underdog, The Banana Splits, George of the Jungle, Josie and the Pussycats and all of the Sid and Marty Krofft shows.   

Your first concert.

My older brother Mark and I were in the KISS Army, which was their fan club. I was just a few years too young to see KISS when they came to town, but my brother got to and boy was I jealous. My first concert was the Cars at the Providence Civic Center. The sound was incredible, but they were not a very exciting live band. My appreciation for their music has only grown over time, and now that I've learned a bit more about music history, I find it fascinating that they were connected to Jonathan Richman's band The Modern Lovers, and that Ric Ocasek was in a folk-rock band called Milkwood that sounded a lot like CSN&Y.  

Your favorite band or musician.

R.E.M. was and always will be the most important band to me. They were so mysterious and so different from everything I'd known about. I first discovered them riding around in my pal Dave Andrews' car, who had a cassette of Murmur. I actually disliked them when I first heard them because I'd been conditioned by pop radio and early MTV. It was either the only cassette in the car, or Dave just loved it that much, and slowly but surely, I "got" it. Those are the bands I treasure most—the ones that don't make sense at first, but you listen enough and suddenly it clicks! The Jesus and Mary Chain were like that, and so was Gang of Four. 

I remember the morning I heard R.E.M.'s "So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)" on American Top 40. I literally cried because I thought it'd ruin them with the rest of the world in on my secret. It didn't, and they just got better. I listened obsessively until Monster, and by then my musical obsession was in full swing and there were a million other things demanding my attention. A lot of the other bands I loved were a direct result of reading interviews with R.E.M. Peter Buck worked in a record shop in Athens, and he always name-checked his favorites, so I'd go and hunt those down. Another thing that stood out to me was that they shared writer credit among the four of them, no matter who did what. They're all still friends.

How you get your music these days.

I'm a big record collector, so I spend hours and hours on eBay. I have want lists galore (easily a thousand watched items saved on my Discogs account), and my musical interests are pretty broad. I'll scour Bandcamp for hours, and I listen to stuff on YouTube to see if it's something worth buying. I follow other record collectors on Instagram, trade records with a friend in Sweden a few times a year ... and listen to a ton of music-related podcasts. I even buy cassettes every once in a while, although our cassette player is still sitting in the top of my closet. I subscribe to both Spotify and Apple Music. Whenever I hear something I like, I follow the artist and add a song to a playlist called "Digital Digging" so I can keep track of my finds.

Your favorite place to see a concert.

As if ... that's one of the things that's most painful about the pandemic. Before we stopped being able to see live music, I loved going to Music Hall of Williamsburg and National Sawdust. Elsewhere and Brooklyn Steel were always fun, and Rough Trade because you could shop first. I used to live in Hoboken, so I went to the fabled Maxwells as often as I could in the late '90s. I grew up in Rhode Island, and I saw a million great shows at The Living Room and The Rocket from about 1985 'til 1994, when I moved to Hoboken.

Your favorite music video.

Hmm ... that's a hard one. I guess my answer would be the MTV shows 120 Minutes and I.R.S. Records Presents The Cutting Edge. They were my favorite sources for music videos when I was in high school. The shows aired back to back on Sunday nights for a short time in the late '80s. They showed videos by the Replacements, Dinosaur Jr., Hüsker Dü, the Smiths, Aztec Camera, My Bloody Valentine, Teenage Fanclub, Blur and a ton of other cool bands. When I got to New York, my friend Felicia was working at MTV, and I used to bug her all the time to try and get me a tape of all the Trashcan Sinatras videos from the vaults. 

Your favorite music-focused TV show and/or podcast.

Since I talked about TV shows above, I'll recommend my favorite podcast. It's called A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs by British journalist Andrew Hickey. He tells the in-depth stories behind what he considers the most important songs in rock music, and his research is incredible. He started in the late 1930s and he's planning to take the series up to the year 2000. I think he's done almost 100 songs so far. There's also a great podcast about Harry Nilsson and the album he was making right before he died. It's called Final Sessions. Full disclosure—the Creative Services team at Warner Chappell produced it, and I think it came out great! The Ace Records Podcast has some terrific interviews, and Steve Greenberg from S-Curve Records has a new podcast called Speed of Sound that's full of insightful documentaries about key moments in pop history. The ModCast with Eddie Piller & Friends is also fabulous, but I think it's on hiatus. Eddie and Gilles Peterson founded the Acid Jazz label. He and his co-host Dean Rudland interview important figures from the '60s Mod scene and from the '80s Mod revival. I also listen to a lot of music histories and biographies on Audible. I recently listened to The Big Payback by Dan Charnas. It's about the business history of hip-hop. It's 28 hours long, but I polished it off in a week. Next I'm planning to tackle all of Simon Napier-Bell's books.   

A recent project you're proud of.

We've had some amazing syncs in the past few months, like "Smile" by Katy Perry and "Rainbow" by Kacey Musgraves for Target, "This Time Tomorrow" by the Kinks for Lexus, and "Ready or Not" by the Fugees for Gillette. But what I'm most proud of is how well my team at Warner Chappell has done during the pandemic. I joined the company back in October, and I feel like I had just gotten my sea legs when things went haywire with Covid. I hired four new people, and we were just getting into the swing of things by January and February. We're all pretty social people, so it's been hard for us to be working remotely and not interacting with each other like we would in the office. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, everybody's excited and keeping up with all the new music coming in. There are six of us in the ad sync department, and each person on my team has a particular musical specialty. Their pitches are on point, they're collaborative, and they help each other out a lot. We've landed some cool deep-catalog songs in ads, and that's often more exciting than the big, well-known songs. I can't wait to see what they do when the world gets back to normal. We've also been holding Monday-night virtual happy hours, something I really look forward to each week. 

Someone else's project that you admired recently.

There's an incredible Smirnoff spot from last year that uses the El Michels Affair's cover of "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" as a soundtrack. We co-publish the song because we represent Ol' Dirty Bastard, but it all happened before I got to Warner Chappell. 72andSunny NY did the spot, and Big Sync in London worked on the music along with Phil Kay at Woodwork Music. It can be tricky getting the music right in a spot that spans a whole century chronologically, but they nailed it. Bravo!

Smirnoff | Infamous Since 1864
How musicians should approach working with brands.

We always ask our writers what they're genuinely interested in, and then my WCM team relays that to their ad and brand client contacts. I think it's always much better when it's a genuine fit and an artist is passionate about what the brand does. We did a virtual showcase with Nathaniel Rateliff for GTB, the global agency of record for Ford, and he has a beautiful old Ford Falcon that he's personally restored. It's his baby, and he got to tell some funny stories about it during the showcase. Nathaniel pre-recorded a three-song acoustic set and did an interview with GTB's CEO, Robert Guay. He's a big music fan and the two of them clicked. It's been nice to do agency showcases during the pandemic, because people are so fed up with being stuck at home that they get into it more. We had over 1,000 attendees in real time for this one. Shout-out to my pal Matt Jacobson at WPP Group for putting it all together.

How brands should approach working with musicians.

In the same way an artist needs to be honest about what their passions are, and what kind of involvement they want to have with a brand, brands that do great integrations get to know an artist and really understand that artist's relationship with his or her audience. When done right, people feel comfortable with the connection, whether they're already fans or just hearing an artist for the first time through a brand project. We work with a lot of famous artists, and they take these decisions seriously. They'll ask what the brand does to foster inclusiveness across race, gender, sexual orientation and disability. They'll want to know a brand's environmental track record, how they treat their employees ... all those things need to align. At the end of the day, if it feels natural and fun, it's a good fit and everybody's happy.

What music can do that nothing else can.

It can make me cry like a baby ... "Gypsy" by Suzanne Vega does that to me. "Nightswimming" by R.E.M. and "From The Morning" by Nick Drake do, too. If I'm ever in a movie and I have to cry on command, I know exactly what to do! I listen to music for a living, and I spend all my spare time listening to music for my own enjoyment, but I never get sick of it. I hope some scientific miracle comes along and I get to add another hundred years to my life so I can listen to all the music I haven't heard yet. Even that's probably not enough time.  

What you'd be doing if you weren't in the music world.

If I had all the money in the world, I'd buy and sell rare records. I'd also get much more serious about crate digging. It's hard living in New York City and not having a car, but I love taking road trips to record fairs and shops in remote locations. In the mid-2000s, some friends came over from the U.K., and we drove up to Johnson, Vermont, to visit a record shop called Tones. Johnson is quite literally in the middle of nowhere. The whole town is a T-intersection with a record shop on one corner and a gas station on the other. It's so far north that I think the closest city is Montreal. Driving for six and a half hours just to look through used records is my idea of heaven!

Liner Notes is our interview series where we chat with folks in the music industry about their creative inspirations, their favorite bands and musicians, and generally what music means to them. For more about Liner Notes, and our Clio Music program, please contact Michael Kauffman.

Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd was editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio from 2018 to 2023.

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