Q+A: We Are Walker
Have you ever wondered about the companies behind those viral ads you see on the Super Bowl? Well, We Are Walker is one of them. We Are Walker is a music content agency that focuses on original and licensed music for commercial tv and films. We sat down with co-founder Peter Gannon to learn more.
Tell me a little bit about yourself. How did you start Able Baker and then moved into We Are Walker?
I am a music graduate, trained composer and a recording and touring artist who spent ten years releasing albums and going on tour. When I approached my early 30s, ten years of touring and a music degree made me unsure of what to do next. However, I was very fortunate because I was introduced to a man named Carl Westman who was the executive music producer at a large advertising agency. They handle IBM, American Express and they do campaigns for United Nations and other places. Since I had a unique skill set of both understanding music essence and musical production, I was hired. I worked three of the largest ad agencies in the world. I was running or creating their music. However, they don't promote you to president or CEO in an ad agency when you are the music person so after about 10 years of doing that, I had enough of a network there where I felt I could do what I was passionate about and loved doing but do it for myself.
I am currently partnered with a company called Heard City. I have been friends with the owners for a long time now. Through a casual conversation with them, I found out that they were looking to expand into DUMBO and that was great timing. They only needed about half the space and that's when I began to think about starting my own music company. I was able to create this company with support and not solely on my own. Then, I merged with the woman from the West Coast who I have known since the beginning of my advertising career. So the three of us have this thread of knowing each other for a long time and supporting and trusting each other. Now we are called We Are Walker. Since we recently changed our name, there has been a little bit of confusion!
I always viewed myself as an extremely good employee and so I was very loyal to wherever I worked. I held myself to a very high standard of work ethic and completing the job to an inner satisfaction, not just to get the job done but to get it done well. I never really saw myself as a huge entrepreneur–it was more of an opportunity that arose. Still, I think these qualities have served me really well because at the end of the day, when it's your business, checking every t and dotting every i at the end of the night means a lot more.
What makes your agency unique?
We work in advertising primarily, but we also do television and film. I hope that it is unique that it doesn't take a lot of us to do what we do. A lot of the musicians we work with are working on their art a lot of the times–they are touring musicians or recording artists who are curious about this world but are not hundred percent in this world. So, we shepherd them through the process and we try to get them in a place where they can be successful. As a former artist myself who wanted to make art but also had to figure out a way to pay for it, I know how difficult it can be. Getting a thirty second Sprint ad or a thirty second Levi's commercial where our music was synced is not the same thing as getting a Grammy, but it enabled us to pay rent for three months or pay for a week's worth of studio time.
What is it like working on the ads for the superbowl like the Heinz commercial?
It was great. There is a lot at stake so it's very high pressure. You know that the best people in our industry are working either competitively or collaboratively on it. It's advertising. It's not really saving the world except when you realize it's not necessarily the tens of millions of dollars companies spend to air it on the the superbowl or the millions of dollars they spend to produce the commercial, but it's the hundreds of millions of dollars that one client is counting on, that one bit of communication to sell the hundreds of millions of dollars of products, jobs and infrastructure they have globally. So it gets a little stressful when you start thinking about the larger picture but we are really trying to support marketing and messaging that legitimately sells someone's product. But at the same time, it is also a lot of fun to just find a silly song for a bunch of hot dogs running across the field.
Particularly for the superbowl, they engage us months prior. We began thinking about the Heinz commercial starting around November. In a lot of cases, the process is very long and 99.9% of the creative work that we put in something falls by the wayside and never gets used for that one piece of music to ultimately get broadcasted. But in other cases, it comes fairly quickly and you can get that spark of inspiration right away. Particularly if you understand what the content is trying to communicate and if you have an identification with the people who are creating it, like the directors and the writers. It's kind of a rollercoaster of a process. It is never the same twice. The more we try to control the process, the more it gets blown up. Music is very subjective so our job is about adaptability and client services. Everyone has a valid point of view on music because if they are not feeling something, you can't force them to feel it.
What is the most exciting project you have worked on so far?
Last September, I went and shot a documentary about a music festival in West Texas called Trans-Pecos–a music festival of peace and love. It's an eclectic band of musicians who get together once a year to play at a loose music festival. It's set in a place that is very rugged and remote. It requires special effort to get there. Marfa, Texas is slowly becoming very discovered in the art world but when you start realizing why three hours from any known airport there is this international art destination it becomes a pretty fascinating story. We are really proud of that. It is still being edited and worked on but a project like that really fulfills the reason for starting the company, which was to push beyond my expertise and my comfort level.
The other project that I would say that is really specific to our business is a commercial we did last year called Friends Forever for our favorite and best clients, Android and Droga5. It was a music licensing for a Disney classic piece from the Robin Hood soundtrack. It was set to unlikely pairings of animal friendships. So you had a cat and bird, an elephant and dog, or an orangutan and dog. It was an anthropomorphic and feel-good ad that wound up being the most shared video online. It's been shared over 30 million times. We are proud of that because sometimes it's advertising and sometimes it's a really genuine message that really resonates with people.
Was being asked to move into DUMBO an easy decision?
Yes, absolutely! I live in Soho now but I think it's cool that I have a reverse commute. My work life is in Brooklyn and my home life is in Manhattan.
I have known about DUMBO for a long time. As a musician and as an artist in the 90s, I came here to see my friends DJ or go to loft parties. I was always aware of St. Ann's. I've always loved DUMBO. I used to come over when they used to have shows in the Brooklyn Anchorage and they were very rare and very unique but I remember a couple of nights coming early and just walking around when there was really nothing else down here. I remember being completely captivated by the history, the streets, the buildings and the architecture. It was really a forgotten corner.
Now that you've settled in the neighborhood quite permanently, what are some of your favorite spots?
What they did with the waterfront is phenomenal. Again, I am a year and half into starting my own company so I don't get to explore fitness as much as I used to but just being able to walk on a mid-afternoon and have conversations near the waterfront is wonderful. I have also not been to the new St. Ann's yet but I cannot wait to go. I lived a year in Portland and got a great coffee education there, which is why I love what our friends over at Brooklyn Roasters are doing too! Plus, I really like the Made in New York Media Center by IFP. Just as a community resource, I am very impressed that an organization like that exists. It is very inspiring to hear about an organization that is supportive of local filmmakers and thinkers. It's great to see the neighborhood change and grow. You get to be in a great location with great views. Any client that has made a trek over here have been very impressed. Now DUMBO feels like a downtown. There is a part of me that doesn't want this side of the Manhattan Bridge to fix the cobblestone streets at all and wants a bit of a natural barrier to retain a little of its remoteness but all things changes and evolve. DUMBO will always have a great energy.