Richard "Koz" Kosinski was a recording star at 16, when he played on his first gold album.
By the age of 22, he had released half a dozen more albums and played with such famous acts as the Reflections, the Temptations and Aretha Franklin.
Today, he's hawking power tools.
"I never even imagined I would do stuff like this," said Kosinski, who last month formed a commercial music company in West L.A. called Kinetic Maestro to write and perform commercial jingles for power tools and other goods.
Kosinski, like a score of other experienced and well-known musicians, has made the leap from selling records to selling brands and products. Other converts include Danny Elfman, lead singer of the '80s punk rock band Oingo-Boingo and one the country's leading feature film composers, and Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers from the Police.
Although jingle-writing long has been considered a refuge for music industry failures, a new era of commercials with high production values are tempting even well-known talents like Elfman into the advertising business.
As a result, composing jingles for television and radio is no longer considered taboo, according to Dain Blair, president of Groove Addicts, the Los Angeles-based commerical music company that represents Elfman, Copeland and Summers.
"Commercials have become very hip. It's almost like they're another MTV," Blair said. "They're very cool short films."
John Bashew, president of Bash Boom Bang, a commercial music company in Pacific Palisades, says "there was a time when a majority of musicians might have sneered ... (but) commercials nowadays have gotten very creative. It's become a place to really experiment."
It's also very lucrative.
Kosinski, like most of his peers at the time, looked down his nose at commercial work until the mid-1980s, when he discovered just how much money he could make writing jingles.
"I was working my butt off," he recalled. "I was making a couple of thousand a week, when (my friend) came along and said, 'I've got these 30-second spots, I think we could pay you about $5,000 for each.' All of a sudden, it was like I could do two days of work a week and make the same (money) as if I was working seven days a week."
Writing music for a 30-second commercial typically takes less than a week, but can yield anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000, says Kosinski. And spots in which music is played in the commercial for more than 35 percent of the time can pay royalties every time they are aired.
Artists like Elfman, who composed the soundtrack for this summer's blockbuster film "Men In Black," are able to charge well into the six-figure range, according to Blair.
Despite such famous names as Elfman and Copeland, most musicians who make up the mix of commerical music artists have never played on gold-selling albums.
Howard Pfeifer, founder of Pfeifer Music Partners, is among them. He came to Los Angeles in 1976 from Chicago to get away from jingles, but the classical pianist found himself drawn back to doing commercials shortly after moving to L.A.
"I enjoy very much working on jingles," Pfeifer said. "Writing a spot for an hour and then producing it for half a day or a day suits me much better than sitting in my office writing for four or five weeks and recording three or four days like it might be for a film."
Although musicians often complain about the creative limitations of working for an advertising agency, it's a rewarding business.
Pfeifer Music, which started in 1992 with revenues of about $400,000, is expected to have revenues of $1.2 million by the end of this year, according to Pfeifer. He would not disclose earnings.
Artists frequently jump back and forth between recording their own music and commercial work. At one time this might have turned off an artist's prospective audience, but Brad Colerick, executive producer at Pfeifer Music, said that's no longer the case.
"It's really shifted a lot ... commercials have become more entertaining, scoring has become a bigger part of what we do," said Colerick. "The audience is much younger now. It's not just the couch potatoes."
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