Forty years is a long time for anything in culture. Even TV’s longest-running scripted show, Fox’s The Simpsons, is a young ‘un in these parts at just 30.
That’s why NPR, which is evolving as quickly as anything else in media, thought it was time to freshen up its familiar theme song for weekday morning news show, Morning Edition.
“That B.J. Leiderman theme is beloved,” said NPR CMO Meg Goldthwaite, “but we felt it was important to refresh it. You hear hints of his Morning Edition theme throughout [the new piece] in homage to his incredible work. This piece is something that will be forward-facing for the next several decades.”
To make the change, NPR turned to New York City-based Man Made Music.
“Candidly, Man Made Music is the best in the business,” Goldthwaite said. “They have re-themed many iconic programs. We knew that Morning Edition, being that it is so beloved, needed to be treated very cautiously. But it was such a fantastic process of hearing everyone and incorporating everyone’s input. Man Made Music really took everything in and then worked with us through many, many versions.”
Man Made Music started the process by breaking down what the brand really means to people.
“We asked ourselves ‘how do we convey the level of trust and authority that NPR as a news brand and Morning Edition, in particular, really carries with its audience?’” said Amy Crawford, vice president and supervising producer, Man Made Music. “We really thought about that intimate morning experience and considered what the right soundtrack would be to score that experience on a daily basis.”
After determining that the keywords to the Morning Edition brand were trust, intimacy and eclecticism, Man Made Music set about composing the new score, which can be heard in the video above.
Once a composition was created, Man Made Music recruited an orchestra, complete with strings, brass, keys and a slide guitar.
“We really wanted to make certain that we had live strings, live brass and an incredible conductor,” Goldthwaite said. “I was in the booth while it was being recorded in late December and it was amazing to watch. The other thing that was crazy about it was that so many of the people who played on that piece dropped other gigs so they could come be part of NPR’s Morning Edition theme. People were really excited about being a part of it.”
Man Made Music was also tasked with coming up with different versions of that main sound to capture different tones and emotions. The production company had to consider Morning Edition’s overall sonic brand since it lives on many places besides such the radio, including on podcasts; smart speakers, like Amazon Alexa; and on apps, like NPR One.
“We had a lot of fun creating what we call blue bubbles, which are the audio interstitials that Morning Edition uses to transition between stories,” Crawford said. “We really thought about how we could create these moments of emotional transformation. So if you’re going from a really difficult story to something more lighthearted, or vice versa, how can music help cleanse your palate as a listener, so that they’re able to be able to report on these emotionally wide ranging stories without causing real emotional ups and downs? What can we do to smooth things out with music?”
The change is a big enough deal that even TBS’ Conan O’Brien covered it, of course adding his own lyrics:
To hear more about how Man Made Music collaborated with NPR on this project, listen to our interview with Crawford on this episode of The Daily Brief Podcast:
And subscribe to The Daily Brief Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get podcasts for newsmaker interviews, in-depth conversations and creative insights, with new episodes delivered each week.