Broadcast Profile: Sitting Duck

Having completed a string of high-profile audio projects, bespoke music and sound design specialist Sitting Duck has enjoyed much success in recent years, especially when it comes to audio branding. Matt Fellows reports.

It’s easy to overlook the power of theme music for TV shows and adverts sometimes, but when all it takes is five little notes to make the mind jump to a global giant like McDonald’s, its effect becomes clear.

It’s with this mentality that Sitting Duck has developed an array of content for some big names in British broadcasting, with commissions including ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Loose Women and Lorraine, BBC’s Sunday Morning Live and work for football associations UEFA and FIFA.

The firm was co-founded by Rob May (main picture) and Simon Hill, who first worked together producing backing tracks for Fame Academy in 2003. Since then the pair have remained the only constant personnel at the company, taking what they see as a unique approach when assembling an extended team for each project.

“We’ll make sure we bring into each separate job the right people to deliver exactly what clients want,” May remarks. “We’re all based in different places around the world, and it’s a great way of working because you have different studios on the go at the same time, and you’ve all got the same equipment, the same software, so you can be picking up where someone else has left off within minutes.”

And this method of collaboration is taken even further between the two co-founders. “I’m based in Northamptonshire and Simon is based in Oxfordshire,” May explains. “Simon and myself have identical systems down to the same plugs, and every day we work with a virtual room; Skype is open the whole time, so he can see me, I can see him, so it’s as if we’re in the same room – we can play ideas to each other or send the actual project that we’re working on straight to each other.

“It works so amazingly well. If we need to go bigger we just scoot down to London or across to Prague, where we’ve been on a number of occasions to record.”

Sitting Duck prides itself on its open, bespoke pitching method. “We get guys that work with us to pitch ideas into us, and then we run back to the client with three ideas based on their brief,” he explains. “The benefit for the client is that they don’t have to sift through loads of stuff that won’t necessarily work. In the usual situation, if it was two production companies, they would have to pick but we were able to mix them together. We haven’t come across any other production companies that work like that.”

Building the Brand

The firm offers a range of services including music composition and sound design, but one service in particular stands out.

“One of the services we offer which is very popular at the moment is audio branding. People don’t realise how powerful it can be. Really good theme tunes have an audio brand that catch people’s ear and draw them into the show.

“With Good Morning Britain, we came up with just four notes that are really important for that show, and we use the same four notes for the main theme, for the weather and we did a dance remix which is used for the entertainment section. You create different pieces of music for a show but they all sound as if they’re from the same family.”

The studio has recently taken its unique operation to an equally unique project; Channel 4’s It Was Alright in the ‘60s/’70s/’80s/‘90s – a series of shows focusing on each individual decade, demanding a style of production authentic to the various eras.

“We’d write a theme that sounded as if it was done in the ‘60s, and then we’d just pretend that the show had lasted for 40 years, and that a commissioning editor came back to us in the ‘70s and said ‘can you just redo this for now?’ And then again in the 80s and 90s,” May explains. “It’s been a load of fun. We went back to themes of the year that we were trying to recreate and listened to loads of them. To make sure it was authentic we only used sounds that would have been used at the time. We used plug-ins mainly.”

Challenges Ahead

But the shifting sands of the industry may prove threatening to the niche that the company has carved; with broadcast changing at such a rapid pace, May believes they may have a fight on their hands to stay in the game.

“I think there’s a real challenge for new commissioned music because while there’s an explosion of different channels, broadcasters and YouTube, it has meant that budgets have gone down, and sadly music seems to be one of the first things to go.

“Library music is seen as a cheap and easy option, and there’s some great library music out there, so that’s the challenge for companies like ours that are trying to offer bespoke services.

“Quality must take a hit. But I still believe that, at that top end of those companies, where they’re making good top-quality shows, the quality will stay. The cream always rises to the top.”