Friday, May 1, 2009

Music as an Advertisement

Here is an interesting excerpt on how to use the musical program as part of the advertising campaign for a theater. It comes from Epes Winthrop Sargent's 1915 book on motion picture advertisement. Sargent wrote a column in The Moving Picture World, and much of the material for this book was drawn from that column. He also wrote a book on screen writing.

At the beginning of this chapter, Sargent makes the claim that treating music as a co-attraction is an Australian innovation. He then outlines the criteria a manager should look for in a leader (i.e., musical director) and weighs the advantages and disadvantages of different instrumental combinations for accompanying pictures. Note that he specifically advocates against both the illustrated song and the piano and drum accompaniment unit—both of which would have been associated with just that nickelodeon-style show against which the picture palace aesthetic is beginning to define itself.


Music makes for business—Value of music as a talking point—Best musicians not always the best picture players—Credit the house and not the leader—Making music help dull days.

Music—the best you can afford—is a distinct and valuable advertisement. More than one house has been raised from failure to success through a change in the music, and many Exhibitors have found that it pays to adopt the Australian idea of making music a co-attraction with the pictures instead of merely an accessory.

[32] If you can get a good one, an orchestra is the best form of music, but there are very few really good orchestras in motion picture theatres. In this sense "good" means not alone competent players but musicians competent to play the pictures. Above a certain point the skilled musician is not well fitted to become a picture player. This does not mean, of course, that the worst musicians make the best picture players.

A really high class musician, particularly a leader, is apt to regard playing the pictures as beneath the dignity of his professional standing. He may consider the pictures to be of vastly inferior importance to the work of his band and will build a musicianly program and adhere to it through the thunders of Wagner's mightiest moments disturb the death bed of the heroine and the lilting measures of Mendelssohn's Spring Song fill the house while battle rages. The picture is not overdrawn. It has happened and is happening daily.

On the other hand, an effort to strictly play the pictures with an orchestra will be equally futile. The rapid changes in the tempo of the story would require an abrupt shifting of the selections that would be quite as disturbing to the patrons. The aim should be to establish in the leader's chair a man familiar with the library of good music. Let him see a rehearsal of the pictures before the regular performance opens, selecting then a program that will be in general accord with the pictures to be shown, not playing entire selections through, but not changing with each shift of scene.

Where they can be had, men who have played vaudeville of burlesque houses are better suited to the work than men from the dramatic houses, for they are more used to quick shifts and changes and to "following the act." Most orchestras are led by the first violin, but the Turner and Dahnken houses report excellent results with their leaders at the drums; these players having less to do. A system of lights at each desk is employed instead of baton signals.

Where possible, the orchestra pit should be sunken, not alone because the glare of light on the white music sheets

[33] fights the screen, but because music from an unseen source is more in accord with the general idea of picture presentation.

As a reward for playing the pictures properly, and for other practical reasons, a short selection should be played as a number between subjects. This not only gratifies and appeases the vanity of the players, but it serves as a break between stories, enables the lights to be thrown on that the house may clear without confusion and rests tired eyes.

These musical interludes may be made a distinct asset. Flash a slide to the effect that Mr. Chopin will be glad to play request selections. Ask the patrons to write the names of desired selections on cards to be had at the rear of the house, as in Figure 6.

Figure 6.—Request card for musical selection.

If the selection can be played, notify the patron by a form post card filled in with the address from the request card. The form in Figure 7 is recommended. The cards should be filled in with the name of the selection and the day and date. By assigning request selections to dull days, some extra business may be created.

Feature your orchestra in the advertising. Play them up, but before you start tactfully explain to "Professor Chopin" that you are going to do some press work for him that must not be taken by him too seriously. He is liable to acquire too good an opinion of himself and

[34] want more money. In the same way it is better to feature the house orchestra than the leader and his band. If he resigns, or is dismissed, you still have the attraction.

Next to an orchestra, the better class of mechanical orchestras are best. For some reasons a device of this sort is to be preferred to a band, since the music is handled by one man and changes can be more evenly made than when there are many players, some of whom think more slowly than others and always are a little late in changing over. Another advantage is that part of the musical appropriation may be diverted to paying for the instrument and at the same time more money can be paid the operator and better results had.

Figure 7.—Notification card for musical selection.

Third in value comes the pipe organ. This is not as flexible as the orchestral device, but on the other hand it can give the sustained note that is the best form of accompaniment and can be swelled in tonal volume for the big scenes. The best accompaniment is never intrusive, and the aim of the players should be to supplement the effects on the screen instead of sharing the honors.

With all of these forms of music it is possible to work direct advertising. Give morning musicales or Sunday afternoon performances in towns where pictures may not be run on that day. Concerts at an admission price may be countenanced where pictures will not be. If no fees are permitted, make them invitation affairs without charge, getting your tickets, where possible, into the hands of the better class of your patrons and giving programs that

[35] will appeal to them. Do not confine your efforts to the patrons. Reach out for the people you are not getting. They may come to a concert where the pictures will not attract, and once they get to know your house, they will be more apt to form a habit of coming.

Do not let your programs be too heavy, nor yet permit them to become cheap, and give the program with as much style as possible. If you introduce vocal numbers do not use stuff of the illustrated song type. Perhaps the local music teacher can help you to get some good talent cheaply in return for advertisement for herself. Get up the sort of concert that will create a demand for more. Work the local papers for special mention. If there is a musical club in town enlist their interest. Make the scheme work in as many ways as possible.

At the regular performances give the same prominence to the music. Have a program printed for the day or print a list of selections for the week and announce that the daily program will be taken from these, the selection being shown by card or program letter or number. This should be done only with selections presented as such and not while the picture is running on the screen.

Failing even an organ, recourse must be had to piano either alone or in combination with other instruments. The once popular combination of piano and drums was a hideous thing that has been outgrown. The drummer was handy to work his traps, but today it is the picture that counts and not the sound effects. Piano and cornet lacks the balance of piano and strings. The second instrument should be strings, and a cello rather than a violin, if possible. If a third player can be added a saxaphone [sic] will give the combined tone of brass and wood. If this may not be had use a clarinet. If piano alone is used, it is a good plan to have some relieving novelty, such as a chime of bells or a xylophone. These should not be used while a picture is on the screen, but for a brief interlude.

Because you can afford only a piano is no reason why you should not give proper care to your music. Indeed it will pay to be even more careful, since you

[36] have so little to offer. The smaller the volume of tone the better it should be.

No matter what form of music you employ, be willing to spend money for a musical library. Get the new selections and see that these are played; not the jingly stuff from the cheap houses, but the hits from the musical comedies, good marches and the like. Of course you will need the product of the popular song publishing houses, but set apart some of the dull nights as "popular" nights and use them then.

Though it is contrary to accepted belief, NEVER permit a popular song hit to be played during a drama, and in a comedy only when it fits in. Consciously or otherwise, the patrons will mentally repeat the words of the song and interest will be divided between music and the screen. This is one of the little things, seldom noticed but always important.

Trade slides should be discouraged, but there is no objection to a slide stating that "all of the music played at this theatre may be had at Jones' Music Store, Holtoa Block." If Jones is a live wire he will see that you get the newest and best, either free or at reduced cost.

There are three kinds of music. One kind keeps patrons away, a second is barely good enough to pass, and a third makes business. The latter means constant alertness some expense and a lot of worry—but it is worth it.

Source: Epes Winthrop Sargent, Picture Theatre Advertising (New York, 1915), pp. 31-36.

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