Wendell Hanes: Public Service Announcement

Quite often in an AllHipHop.com feature, you’ll read about veteran producers earning their 2007 livings from producing background music for commercials and shows on television. In turn, Domingo, Grand Daddy I.U. and RJD2 are among the producers you might frequently hear while watching channel zero.Although he never had the career with albums as the afforementioned three, Wendell Hanes is arguably one of the kings of the commercials. From Mercedes Benz to Victoria’s Secret to Heineken, this is the man that executives come to to craft that “edgy, hip, urban” sound. It’s worked too, because Hanes’ portfolio looks like Scott Storch’s discography. If that weren’t enough, the man even has a patented trademark sound, that he says furthered the craft of commercial-making.Mr. Wendell discusses with AllHipHop.com how he broke into the field, his return to traditional production, and why that corporate money comes a lot faster and heavier than waiting for record royalty checks. The next time you’re bobbing your head to the commercial, whether it’s Tampax or Outback, consider who’s behind the boards of consumption. AllHipHop.com: How did you get started making music?Wendell Hanes: When I was in college at Brown University, I was doin’ demos and making tracks for local rap groups. I shopped those tracks when I came down to Sony in New York. They didn’t like the rap group but they liked the music. So they allowed me to remix some stuff on their records so I remixed Hoodrat’s “Murder Over Nothing,” Grand Daddy I.U.’s “Represent” and the Nas and Kool G Rap mixtape remix for “Fast Life.” That was like my first entry right there, making tracks for that. But, they weren’t trying to pay me any money for those remixes. I just finished four years of college at a major university and I was like you know, I can’t just be sitting around like everybody else making tracks and not getting paid, so I changed careers. So I started to do some video editing, at Spike Lee’s [40 Acres & a Mule] company and I made the transition from Spike Lee’s company into commercials. Basically it was like a little gimmick that we did. I [worked at] this editorial facility as a music guy for these commercials and the editors would cut these commercials and they’d have me make a piece of music to cut the picture to. So when clients came and said, “Who did this music?” It was like “Wendell did this track.” So that was before they had a chance to ask any other legitimate music composer to do it. I was kinda jumping the gun and beating the competition before they actually had a chance to work on the project. That was my little advantage right there. AllHipHop.com: Your company Volition has made an imprint in the entertainment and advertising realms, did you ever predict that it would have gotten this big?Wendell Hanes: I did. I did because I felt like I had been in the business long enough and my individual reputation as a composer would carry on to whatever company I was with. Really, I think the biggest thing was that I always keep the same mindset as if I was that guy who just started out. I hustle that much. For instance, one of my biggest spots that I just finished winning, was a five spot campaign for Lipton Iced Tea, a global campaign. I got that campaign because the first thing he asked was, “Would you be willing to do a free demo?” I was like “Yeah.” Twelve years ago I would have said the same thing. That free demo that I did at the beginning of this campaign, turned into five spots. So as long as I keep that mentality, I always felt like stuff will stay the same. A lot of times people get to the point where they don’t do that extra hustle, they don’t do those little things that actually got them buzzin’ in the first place. That same hustling mind-state is key. AllHipHop.com: In addition to Nike, Mercedes and other “Hip-Hop-friendly” companies, you did the theme for the 2007 SAG awards, America’s Top Model and Lifetime TV. What allows you to be so versatile with your compositions?Wendell Hanes: That’s a good question. I think because at the heart of everything, I just really like music. Hip-Hop was never the foundation of my musical background. I grew up on so many different types and styles of music. When Hip-Hop came around, it became a way of contemporizing the music that I was already doing. For instance, if I was already making a classical piece, the way you flip it, just like anything else, with Hip-Hop is you put a Hip-Hop drum beat to it and all the sudden it’s got a youthful edge. It’s got a vibe, in the industry they call it cool, hip, whatever. All you gotta do is put a drum underneath any style of music and it becomes contemporary. And in commercials, everything is about staying current, sounding fresh, being on the edge and that’s what really helps. It’s the diversity, being able to intertwine different sounds, textures, genres. I remember for a long time, I would do tracks and people wouldn’t know how to classify it. They came up with this one term for the style of music I was doing called Symphonica. For the last five years, you see a lot more consistent commercials where you hear a Hip-Hop drum beat with like orchestra stuff over the top of it. That [sound] was like my claim to fame. I kinda started that in the commercial world. I’ve done a ton of that and I got a lot of return work because of that style of music. AllHipHop.com: You’d call that style Symphonica?Wendell Hanes: At that time, yeah, it was patented as Symphonica, exactly. Basically, that has become a trademark sound of mine. There’s a few different ones but that one put me on the map in terms of winning some big spots. Like, I used that style for Jaguar, the NBA on ESPN, for a Lincoln commercial. I used it all over the place— Neutrogena. AllHipHop.com: Wow. Does that advertising cash flow run deeper than what people make for music production?Wendell Hanes: Way more. That’s kinda why my path has strayed from the record industry in the last twelve years. For instance, I just did this track for Jinx Da Juvy called “Strong Enough.” I told Jinx, “Let me find out I can make some money off doin’ this track, then I’ll come back into the game and do more tracks.” I’m not the kind of cat to do 30 tracks and put them on a CD, because I don’t have 30 Hip-Hop tracks that I just did in the past month. You know how cats sit in the studio and be making straight up Hip-Hop tracks—I don’t have that. I don’t do it everyday. I found that the amount of money that I can make off of doin’ one commercial is the equivalent to more than 50-70% of consistent Hip-Hop producers. Because I own my own company and you can make more money in commercial world and be more consistent in the course of a year.AllHipHop.com: What do you see as the difference between Wendell Hanes and your alias Mista Grinch?Wendell Hanes: Mr. Grinch is like the Hip-Hop producer. I’ve done a bunch of tracks under that moniker. That’s the stuff that’s straight hits. I always tell cats, “The bottom line is I’m only gonna give you tracks for the hits. I’m not gonna give you 15 or 20 tracks for a CD, I’m gonna give you like three or four and each one is a hit.” Provided that the proper rapper is on it and the Hip-Hop machine is behind it. I’m gonna give you that hit and that’s when I get into the Hip-Hop head.  AllHipHop.com: You also produce for the DC crew TNT (Top Notch Teamsters). How did that come about?Wendell Hanes: Daoud Baptiste, my partner in Baby J Entertainment, has his brother in the group. They are the quintessential number one group in D.C. I haven’t heard one person that didn’t love their joint. One of the songs we’ve been pushin’ is “Hustle Harder.” I took it over to G-Unit and they were like “Yo, if you had brought this to me, I woulda put this on Young Buck’s album.” These cats are hot. Anybody that gets on, as a feature, will have to bring their A-game as well because it’s just that seriousAllHipHop.com: Profiting from Hip Hop’s commercialism, how do you feel about the corporate machine it has become?Wendell Hanes: I think it’s great. Let me tell you, nobody created Hip-Hop for it not to reach the masses. Whoever said, it gotta start in the Bronx and stay in the Bronx, that’s ridiculous. It’s gotta stay in New York? I’m all completely against the idea that Hip-Hop is dead. The South is killin’ it, and that’s good. New York should love the fact that the South is killing it. Be happy because the South has taken Hip-Hop to another level. It’s all good because NewYork was killin’ it forever, then L.A., and now the South. Hip-Hop is so great because it will always constantly evolve. The culture will never stay stagnant. It’s become sophisticated. Hip-Hop businessmen—that’s a whole other level. Hip-Hop businessmen. That’s what I consider myself. AllHipHop.com: What are some future projects for your Baby J Entertainment record label?Wendell Hanes: There’s a lot of hot joints but it’s hard to get your stuff right there, played on the playlists every day. That’s the key. So when people say they aren’t hearin’ what they wanna hear. It’s not that people aren’t doin’ it, it’s just not out there. Right now we pushin’ TNT’s “Hustle Harder.” My part of the play is getting it in different venues. I got it on DJ Envy’s mobile mixtape, part of a documentary called Hustle Harder, a Disco D documentary. It’s featured in the movie Blackout; Also, I got it on ESPN’s Throwdown Thursday as a theme for the NBA and college basketball. I can bring exposure to it on this level as well as making the track.AllHipHop.com: So that’s the Volition side of it, right that’s when the two blend together?Wendell Hanes: Yeah that’s the Volition side, the Baby J side is promoting and getting that radio push. We also got this group an artist called Baby J, and he’s got a song called “New Money” that’s right up there by “Hustle Harder.” That joint is blazin’. So we got a production company too. AllHipHop.com: Closing up, is there anything else you wanna let the people know about?Wendell Hanes: Yo, I got a book. I got this book comin out. It’s called The Hip-Hop Producers Guide to Makin’ Music for Commercials. It will tell you everything you need to know A-Z—from getting clients, to how to actually create the music for a picture, to industry talk and what to expect. That book is comin’ out this summer.

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