This is What Happens When You Rent Out the Standard Hotel and put LED Lights and Dancers in Every Room
I had the pleasure to interview Sam Spiegel, the founder and creative director of the music house Squeak E. Clean, Los Angeles. The acclaimed creative studio composes original music and sound design, as well as music licensing, supervision and audio post-production for leading brands, advertising agencies, filmmakers, recording artists and more. Sam is also the brother of Academy Award winning director/writer Spike Jonze.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Sam! What is your “backstory”?
I’m originally from New York and have always been interested in music. I moved to Los Angeles when I was 19 and quickly found work collaborating with several hip-hop artists, including Fatlip from the Pharcyde. Around that time my brother (filmmaker Spike Jonze) was working on his skateboarding documentary film “Yeah Right” and asked me to work on the music. Those two projects opened a lot of doors for me, especially in advertising, as well as producing other artists including Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. As more projects started coming in, I quickly realized we needed to get a staff in place grow the business, which is how Squeak E. Clean was born.
Making awesomeness is our main objective. A lot of times that is through work with brands directly and with advertising agencies composing original music or licensing an existing track for their project, but more and more we’re asked to consult with brands about what they’re doing musically, what they should be doing and connecting them with new artists they should be associated with.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened since you began the company?
Sam: In 2010 the ad agency Mother and their client retailer Target came to us for an unusual project for fashion week — they rented out the entire Standard Hotel and put LED lights and dancers in every room of the hotel. There were speakers on all of the surrounding rooftops and parks. The rooms at the standard are all glass, creating a voyeuristic feeling so everyone on the street, rooftops and even the nearby Highline park could see into the rooms. I had recently music directed Kanye’s tour that year, the Glow in the Dark Tour, so we brought the lighting director for that whom also did the Daft Punk lighting and pyramid, and we also brought in the great choreographer Ryan Heffington and just created an absolute spectacle.
The entire hotel was our stage, it was an amazing experience — there was literally thousands of people watching and listening from all around the city. We love these types of projects, and I love that clients come to Squeak E. Clean for this level of creative work.
What do you think makes your company standout? Share a story?
Sam: What makes us stand out is that everyone that we work with comes to us because they want to do something different something great. So for example we just did this 45-minute branded dance piece for fashion label Opening Ceremony, directed by Spike. Musically the project went through many changes. Originally Frank Ocean was going to compose the score, but when he wasn’t available, we ended up writing the music for it. We ended up helping and doing the music supervision in the piece as well as all of the sound design. I don’t think there are many music companies out there that could be as adaptive as we were at such a high level of creativity.
Is there a person who you are grateful towards who helped you where you are?
Sam: My relationship with my brother Spike has been inspiring, he showed me how important it is to fight for greatness in everything you do and to be kind to those you work with. I’d also add David Orlando, my mentor when it came to DJ’ing, and the late Eric Zumbrunnen of Exile Edit, he was an amazingly talented editor and a consummately kind person.
Have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I like to think making great musical experiences can make the world a better place, but more specifically we just did this pro-bono project with ad agency McCann Erickson where we went to refugee camp in Greece and helped put a band together with residents of the camp and put on a concert. We brought in the instruments, gear and organized everything. The goal was remind them of what is like to be home.
What are your 5 things you wish someone had told you before you started your company and why?
1. Do what your passionate about. At Squeak E. Clean we just pursue work we are passionate about and didn’t worry about money, we followed our artistic instincts and the money followed.
2. Treat the people you work with great. With a creative company it is so important to make the people around feel respected and appreciated about their role. You feel good. They feel good, and it creates a happy work environment.
3. Surround yourself with talent. It may seem obvious but I think some business owners always have to be the smartest person in the room, and that doesn’t usually lead to greatness. When I find someone talented, someone that I enjoy working with, I let them know, and I pay them well.
4. Utilize your staff properly. Often I think companies don’t always put their staff in the best position to succeed. It’s important to look at what one’s strengths are, and help them flourish in those strengths, rather than pitting them against their own weaknesses.
5. Don’t be afraid to talk to your competitors. We’re all facing a lot of the same challenges and can learn from each other. When I first started Squeak E. Clean a mutual friend introduced me to the CEO of a competing music house. He could have thrown shade or tried to undermine me because I was new, but instead he gave me a lot of great advice and I always thought that was very cool. I try to pay that spirit forward and do the same thing when new people come to me asking for advice. This is a creative community and we all need to nurture it.
Is there a person in the world you’d love to have a private breakfast or lunch with and why?
If I could share a meal with anyone I’d go with the late architect and designers Ray and Charles Eames. They had such a rich and deep philosophy around their creativity. They made art, but they also lived it. Their creativity extended beyond their films, furniture, architecture, photography. The way they communicated within the family was through pictograms. They liked to learn and master every aspect of each medium that they explored. That kind of completeness is so inspiring. I would love to sit and talk with them to soak up some of that inspiration.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on November 21, 2017.