The Underscore: Behind the custom music of ESPN
This month, on The Underscore, we interviewed Garret Koehler from Assemble Sound. Assemble Sound is a multi-service music company based in Detroit, Michigan that ESPN has had the pleasure of collaborating with on multiple projects. Most recently, X-Games Aspen featured some of their music as a part of a specifically curated robust music package. Read on to get to know Assemble Sound a little better.
Tell us a little bit about Assemble Sound.
We’re a music company founded in 2015 on a pretty simple guiding belief-- we could help foster sustainable artist development in Detroit by giving artists, producers, and songwriters free access to a studio space that facilitates creative and entrepreneurial collaboration. Our goal has always been relatively straightforward: convene great artists in a way that makes them better creators and smarter business owners, and then connect those artists with opportunities to expand their work and grow their businesses.
How has being based in Detroit affected your success?
Detroit is home. It roots us in a legacy that is bigger and more historic than we could ever be ourselves. It’s real and authentic and it has little tolerance for bulls---, which is a quality we hope is reflected in our work. That work is dependent on a community of artists, producers, songwriters, and creatives who push boundaries within and across genres, and Detroit is and has always been a Mecca for those types of creators. Assemble Sound works globally, but it does not exist without Detroit.
How important have sports and music licensing been for the success of Assemble?
Run by our in-house music supervisor, Nicole Churchill, music licensing has been our lifeblood-- if Assemble Sound is a car, licensing has been the gasoline that keeps us moving. It’s made our studio residency and community projects possible, and has helped us jump-start the management and label services side of the company, all of which increases the caliber of music we pitch on the sync side. We can’t do artist development without sync, and in-turn, us developing artists then increases the visibility and global relevance of our sync and supervision business. It’s becoming more and more symbiotic everyday. More than anything, working in sports with a company like ESPN is particularly impactful because 1) it’s just fun music to make, 2) there is a breadth of music needs in sports coverage that a company like Assemble is well-suited for, and 3) sports are such a socially and culturally unifying force that they can help a song reach a lot of different audiences in a significant way.
We’ve done quite a few custom composition projects together. What’s the process like for your producers and composers?
We have! Let’s do more! One thing that’s nice about working with the ESPN music team is that they have discerning ears and know what they want. When doing custom composition with producers and artists as opposed to more traditional commercial composers, having that kind of discernment as a starting point makes everything else pretty straightforward and a lot more fun. We usually get a brief from the ESPN team that describes the type of music they are looking for, and then we pull together a group of producers, writers, and vocalists who we think can nail the brief while adding their own individual styles. Depending on the participants involved, those tracks can become more collaborative as they hear the demos emerging from the process and recognize opportunities to contribute little things to make the tracks better (additional production, writing, arrangement, performance, etc). There is usually somewhat real-time feedback from Nicole Churchill (Head of Sync & Supervision), who ultimately approves tracks before they get compiled and submitted to ESPN for review.
Tell us about AssembleU.
Speaking of cool projects we’re working on, our post-COVID re-launch of Assemble U has the potential to be a game-changing event series for Detroit. The music industry is more complicated than it should be, and we started doing “Assemble U” in 2016 as an attempt to change that in our community by giving people access to some of the knowledge they need to be better creators and business owners via panels with industry experts. Assemble U has historically been a free monthly panel discussion, but that format is evolving into something much more comprehensive and sustained (but equally free), which we’ll launch after things re-open safely in Detroit later this year.
What artists on the Assemble roster should everyone know about?
We work with so many different artists in various “roster” capacities, from sync catalog artists to studio resident artists to management and label clients, so this is a tough one to answer. It’s probably best to limit the scope of our answer to those label and management clients we work with most deeply on the development front, and in that case here’s some artists you should keep your eye on this year:
whiterosemoxie - label client turned management client when we upstreamed to 300 Entertainment, the 18 year old Detroit artist took the industry by storm last year with two full length projects, and he doesn’t plan on slowing down this year.
Siena Liggins - we just released the first single from her debut album, a salacious banger with Yung Baby Tate called “Dirty Girl” that premiered with Fader and caught best new music looks from Billboard and Refinery29. Her album promises to be one of the most impressive pop releases of 2021, and finally showcases the production wizardry of Assemble Sound producer Nydge.
Check out Assemble Sound at assemblesound.com and keep an eye out for more of ESPN: The Underscore.