What It’s Like to See Your Work Used in Apple Ads—A Music Producer Tells All

“It’s funny...people have this idea that music for advertisement is some kind of like corporate sell-out situation”

adele producer ariel rechtshaid mobile
Producer Ariel Rechtshaid (standing behind Adele) co-produced Adele’s “25” album, which won Album of the Year at the 2017 Grammy Awards. /Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS

Ariel Rechtshaid is more than the songs you recently heard on the latest Apple Watch and iPhone 11 commercials. But with each of those two commercials accumulating more than 29 million views on YouTube in less than three weeks after their debut at Apple’s September keynote event, it’s safe to say the home Steve Jobs built has only elevated the music producer’s already illustrious resume to higher heights.

Rechtshaid co-produced Vampire Weekend’s “Sympathy,” which Apple wove into the Apple Watch Series 5 commercial. And his music composition and supervision company Heavy Duty Projects helped electronica artist NVDES make the adrenaline-pumping “Brazooka” song that soundtracks the iPhone 11 commercial. After Apple’s event NVDES saw its online search activity on Google soar to the most it has been December 2018, according to Google Trends. Meanwhile, people searched for Vampire Weekend’s Father of the Bride album, which “Sympathy” was on, twice as much two days after its Apple collaboration compared to the day of because people were still curious about the featured song.

Rechtshaid—who’s produced for Beyoncé, Adele, Madonna, Userr, U2, Justin Bieber and many more artists—never really anticipated external validations during his career, not until he was nominated for Producer of the Year for the 2014 Grammy Awards, alongside eventual winner Pharrell Williams. “When I got nominated that was like the first time I ever thought about the Grammys in my life, to be honest. All that stuff always felt far fetched and like a fantasy,” Rechtshaid told ONE37pm. “The Grammys just seemed like this other world of a grown-up, real mainstream musicians and producers. Suddenly, I’m getting nominated for making one of the weirdest records of my life.” 

Since being Grammy nominated, the 40-year-old producer, who previously topped the charts in the mid-200s for producing Plain White T’s “Hey There Delilah,” went on to work with the aforementioned big-name artists in addition to Charli XCX, Haim, Calvin Harris, Carly Rae Jepsen and more. The acclaimed producer spoke with ONE37pm about how him working with Apple shouldn’t be considered “selling out,” his Sex conversations with Madonna and how the Rebel Heart legend compares to Adele in the studio.

How was it working with Apple?

Ariel Rechtshaid: Apple is an awesome company, obviously. One song I did with Vampire Weekend they licensed for their commercial. It’s an exciting thing to be a part of. I don’t know what else to say because they kind of do their own thing and you don’t really know until it’s done. 

What is it like making music for brands?

Rechtshaid: The Heavy Duty Projects company I’m a part of does music for a campaign that’s custom for that campaign and is not available on streaming platforms. People go nuts about that in the YouTube comments trying to find it. Agencies usually come to Heavy Duty Projects with an idea. The ones that I come to us generally know the roster of people we work with and they’re coming to us for stuff in that world. They caught on to the fact it’s a lot of the same people that work on records they were trying to license anyway. Sometimes there’s a brief and we submit. Sometimes they dig through our catalog and oftentimes the catalog has to do with music that didn’t make it on a different record. 

I thought it was something like an A&R is in the studio with you saying, “Hey, this song needs more bells for our commercial.”

Rechtshaid: It’s actually a really creative process. It’s funny because a lot of people have this idea that music for advertisement is some kind of like corporate sell-out situation. Maybe it is sometimes. But, not for us. For us, it’s a chance to experiment and use stuff that didn’t fit in the confines of pop music. It’s something that can be a bit expansive, orchestral or ambient. Sometimes it is a pop song that was on a Vampire Weekend album. In the case of the NVDES song, it was a slightly more orchestral version of it.

Sometimes people ask me, ‘How do you decide when you’re doing artist project and this?’ It’s really not that different. Every Time it’s in the studio cooking what you can that’s interesting, fun and keeping yourself inspired. Of course, with any project, you do something you love and someone comes back to you with comments and it sort of eats away at your vision. But that’s a collaboration, always.

You were nominated for the Producer of the Year Grammy in 2014 and a year later you were all over Madonna’s Rebel Heart

Rechtshaid: I don’t know if that had anything to do with it. That had more to do with my relationship with Diplo. He introduced me to her. There’s always a brief period at the beginning of a record-making process where whoever is invited goes in the studio to see what the chemistry is. We always had good chemistry. 

Madonna is a legend. What is Madonna’s dynamic in the studio?

Rechtshaid: She’s bossy (laughs). She’s bossy, hands-on and involved in the studio a lot. It’s to a surprising degree when you think of someone who’s been doing it for so long. Then you realize that’s why she’s been doing it for so long. 

What was your favorite session with her during the making of that album?

Rechtshaid: The music was all fun and we can talk for hours about that. Once the ice broke down, I got to really start talking to her about “Madonna,” the sort of myth and legend. I told her my parents had the Sex book when I was a kid. [Madonna and I] got to go through it page by page. She told me every story about every picture. I talked to her about the ’80s in New York, Basquiat and really got to talk to her about all the full-on nerd interview questions. Also getting to know her as a human being was really cool. She’s a really, really good person. 

You probably got one of the best interviews with Madonna ever. 

Rechtshaid: Believe me, I recognized that while it was happening. Every now and then I just had to go, ‘Fuck this shit. I want to know everything. I want to go in.’ 

One of the next major artists you worked with was Adele. Those are two icons of two different generations. Compared to Madonna, what is Adele like in the studio?

Rechtshaid: They’re different people. I spent a lot less time with Adele, only a few days. Adele comes in and is awesome. Anytime I’ve met someone on that level, they’re magnetic. There’s something amazing about these people and you realize it. Adele is a glowing, amazing person. The song we worked on together was written and I was kind of helping her put it together and produced it. She comes in, sings, and by the first take jaw is on the ground. I’m like, ‘Holy shit. She really is that amazing of a singer.’

Madonna is also like that. The minute she starts singing you’re like, ‘Holy shit. It’s Madonna.’ They both have iconic voices. It’s something that does not get taken for granted by me. But they have different personalities. Adele is still a kid and Madonna has been through a whole epic lifetime of stuff. They’re different. 

What was the last time you were in the studio with each of them?

Rechtshaid: Not since then. Since then, it’s been different projects. Another Vampire Weekend album. I’m working on another Haim album. I’m doing a lot of songwriting sessions with various people. Working on some stuff with The Killers. Maybe some Kacey Musgraves and The Killers. We’re working on ideas. … I’m always in the studio working on ideas and cooking up with various people. When it’s good, that’s when it comes out. That’s why I never really talk about what I’m working on before it comes out because you don’t know if it’s going to crystallize into anything. 

If there’s a guitar laying around, I’ll make a voice note of something on my iPhone, email it to myself and work on it later. There are no limits.

- Music Producer Ariel Rechtshaid

Changes in technology have always led to creative breakthroughs in music. The introduction of multitrack recording decades ago really revolutionized how music was made. For the 2020s, what is a technological invention or advancement you think would help you make music better and/or easier?

Rechtshaid: That’s a good question. No matter what happens, we always find a way to make it more complicated (laughs). I already think it’s so amazing that you can make music, literally, on your phone. I do it all the time. They’re not full songs, but I’ll be somewhere, and if there’s a guitar laying around, I’ll make a voice note of something on my iPhone, email it to myself and work on it later. There are no limits. 

I’m also interested in seeing in the next decade is how music consumption changes because I feel there is a little bit of a question on how that will affect the way music is made. Are people listening to music on Instagram videos? Are they streaming it? Are people listening to full albums anymore? I don’t have an opinion on what can make it better. I’m just curious as to how it shapes out. 

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