Banshee, McCurdy help put season's greetings to music
by Drew Olson
Now that Valentine's Day has passed, many consumers won't think about greeting cards until the next big birthday or Mother's Day rolls around -- whichever comes first.
Pat McCurdy used to be that way, too.
McCurdy, one of Milwaukee's best known musicians, has been thinking about greeting cards a lot lately. If you visit a Target store anytime soon, there is a good chance you'll hear his voice emanating from a sound chip embedded in a card produced by Recycled Paper Greetings.
Banshee Music, a division of New Berlin-based GMR Marketing, has combined with the card company to commission custom songs for a line of audio cards. McCurdy, a prolific songwriter, is one of several local musicians involved in creating the 20-second ditties.
"It's been fun to write to a task," McCurdy said while riding to a recent show in Chicago. "I love the 20-second element of it. It's actually perfect for me, because that's the exact length of my attention span."
Ryan Heuser, vice president of marketing for Banshee, said the partnership with Recycled Paper Greetings has been in the works for about a year.
"We're up and running," Heuser said. "We've got seven cards out right now and more will be in the pipeline for Mother's Day and Father's Day."
Banshee's Web site describes the company as "a Sonic branding agency and a next generation music publisher" that helps businesses use music to create an identity for their products. Banshee -- which also has relationships with local musicians like Victor DeLorenzo of the Violent Femmes, guitar virtuosos Greg Koch and Willy Porter and piano specialist Joe Hite -- had been creating original music for sports teams and other businesses, such as the Kentucky Derby.
Think of the song "One Shining Moment," which accompanies the highlight montage at the end of the Final Four every year; companies in all sorts of industries would like to have a song that connects with their audience in that way. Banshee wants to help.
"The whole idea behind Banshee is to give independent artists the opportunity to get their music out there and be as creative as possible," Heuser said.
"Being a Milwaukee-based company, since the very early days knew we wanted to bring more opportunities to local artists. (GMR founder) Gary Reynolds has, over the last 30 years, has built a lot of relationships. His relationship with Pat goes way back. He may not go back as long with Greg (Koch) and Joe (Hite) and some other people, but we've been fortunate to build relationships with some incredibly creative writers."
How do those creative writers create greeting cards?
"I first got involved because GMR called me with a pretty vague idea about a promotion they were doing with some retail store songs," McCurdy said. "It turned out that it was for greeting cards, and they wanted 20-second songs for every holiday, especially birthdays.
"I've now done songs for Valentine's Day, Halloween, Mother's Day, Christmas and teenager's birthdays. I've had a lot of fun with it. For the teenager birthday cards, I actually had to listen to Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers. I went on iTunes and went through their albums for some ideas."
McCurdy said he writes lyrics first and then tries to come up with a melody.
"I've been lucky to work with a guy named Chris Hanson, who is a phenomenal multi-instrumentalist and a phenomenal producer," he said. "I'll go in with ideas and say 'Let's make this one sound like the Fratellis,' and we'll have a bunch of guitars on there.
"It's been a lot of fun. I will go in with about 15 ideas and we'll come out with 10 20-second 'masterpieces.' I'm really surprised at how well some of these have turned out."
While he's found the experience to be creatively inspiring, McCurdy said his greeting card "sidelight" has impinged on his regular writing.
"There are times when Chris will say 'Are you sure you want to give this melody to a greeting card?'" he said, laughing. "There are some songs that I may change the words to and make them three or four minutes long and put them into my show.
"So far, it's been a lot of fun."
Once the artist finishes a batch of songs, the people at Banshee review them, pick the "best of the best" and present them to the client. Illustrations are added later. McCurdy and the other musicians receive a fee for their work and a small cut of the card sales.
Though this is a relatively new endeavor, it's reasonable to expect that some cards will become popular "staples" in the market and will be augmented with new cards every season.
"There are always going to be cards that sell well," Heuser said, adding that Banshee is "open to submissions."
"We want to give everyone a chance,: he said. "We're not limited to two or three writers. They all understand that. It can be competitive. We're building a huge catalog of different music. We're up and running now."