iPhone 5 ad music composer Rob Simonsen talks about writing for Apple commercials

Think of it as an occupational hazard: While working on my column about the piano music in the latest iPhone commercials, I’ve become a Rob Simonsen groupie.

I couldn’t reach Simonsen before my column deadline, but I talked to him today and here are a few things that I learned: The guy is a huge Apple fan. Never mind  his music, he has starred in an Apple commercial. And Apple has dropped its cone of silence over him as far as dishing particulars about how the gig came about, what it paid, etc.

Quick background:

Simonsen is the guy who wrote the moving music that plays in the background of the spots pushing the iPhone’s photo, music and FaceTime capabilities. I’ve been enthralled by the soundtracks, as I wrote in my column.

Here’s my favorite

I asked Simonsen what he was going for in the iPhone pieces, which in my mind plays out like a narrative — loneliness, becomes determination, becomes victory.

“I think the thing I was trying for was a sense of connection and simplicity and humaness,” says Simonsen, a Hollywood musician who’s worked on the scores for “Life of Pi,” “Moneyball” and a number of other films. “I didn’t want it to feel robotic and manufactured. I wanted it to feel natural and simple.”

The result, Simonsen says, was a lesson to him that complex and big is not always better.

“I’ve written music for years now of such larger scale and it’s the small, little, solo piano thing that seems to have struck a chord with people the most,” he says. “It’s easy to get caught into the game of trying to outdo oneself or keeping up with the Joneses — the idea that bigger is better or more complicated is smarter. I think when it comes to music, none of that matters.”

You can see why Apple went with this guy. Simple. Beautiful. Elegant. It sounds like his philosophy is right out of Steve Jobs’ playbook.

It turns out, I’m not the only one taken by the music that plays in the ads featuring people living their everyday lives with iPhones in hand.

“The response has been incredible,” Simonsen, 35, says. “I’ve gotten, I’m still getting, emails all the time, and messages from people. It’s really amazing to be on the receiving end of something that has moved people, gotten through to people so much, especially with something that is so simple.”

Of course I wanted to know just how someone becomes a composer for Apple’s commericals. Does Tim Cook dial you up? Does Apple send scouts out to clubs and films to watch performers, dissect soundtracks and wrangle up some songwriters?

And of course, this is Apple, so Simonsen answered the way the folks in Cupertino always answer: “I’m not really at liberty to talk about it.”

But, Simonsen did allow as to how the relationship started before these most recent ads. In fact, it’s his music in “Orchestra,” one of the early iPhone 5 ads, highlighting the phone’s noise-reduction technology.

Oh, and the guy conducting the orchestra as the musicians play loudly and then more quietly?  That’s Simonsen. He even gets some, uh, face time.

And yes, as I said, Simonsen is a big fan of Apple’s products, noise-reduction and all.

“It’s disgusting how many Apple products I have,” he tells me. “I have two iPads, two Macbook Pros, four Mac Pros, an Apple display. I’ve had the latest version of every iPhone, a Mac Mini, the Apple TV. The products just fit my life and they do what I’m looking for computers to do. I started on a Mac. I think once you go Mac, you never go back.”

Which had me thinking: Forget about Simonsen writing music for Apple commericals; he is an Apple commerical.

And a heck of a composer.

(Photo of Rob Simonsen courtesy of Rob Simonsen)

 

 

Mike Cassidy Mike Cassidy (173 Posts)

I write about the culture of Silicon Valley for the San Jose Mercury News.