Detroit Jingle Masters Go International

Calling the Tunes: Yessian has been a force in commercial music for decades, and now it’s expanding its scope worldwide
Photograph by Cybelle Codish

In another time, perhaps a century or more ago, Dan Yessian might have been tempted to hang a new signboard on the side of his Farmington Hills business that proudly proclaimed “Yessian and Sons.”

But Detroit’s most celebrated name in jingles and commercial music will retain its eponymous company title — Yessian — for the foreseeable future, even though the founder’s two sons, Brian and Michael Yessian, are placing their stamp on the family enterprise. In fact, their expansive vision has propelled the Yessian name beyond the boardrooms of local ad agencies, past their satellite studios in New York and Los Angeles, even outside the boundaries of this country.

Fresh from designing “soundscapes” for “Ferrari World” in Abu Dhabi and for a jaw-dropping new theme park in Dubai, the company has opened its first international office, in Hamburg, Germany. “We’re really diving deep into the European market now,” says Brian, 35, the company’s executive creative director. “Beginning in Germany, but spreading to Switzerland, even into Ukraine and Russia. We’re doing mostly commercial work, but getting involved in all kinds of projects over there.”

What’s so meaty about Hamburg? “Hamburg is kind of the creative hub, the creative epicenter of Germany,” Brian says. “There are a lot of post-production houses there, a lot of very creative ad agencies. And it’s a central location for all of Europe, which is really good for us as we branch out across the continent.”

Plus, the language barrier shouldn’t be troublesome since Brian, whose career goals originally leaned toward orchestral performance, studied classical clarinet at the Mozarteum University of Salzburg in Austria. Still, you need someone who knows the lay of the Deutschland, so they hired veteran German producer Ingmar Rehberg to run the office. “He’s been in the business for years,” says Dan Yessian, the company patriarch, CEO, and onetime high-school English teacher who composed his first jingle in 1971. “Through the 40 years we’ve been doing this, it’s always a matter of finding the right talent. You have to be cautious, but you also have to be a bit of a risk-taker.”

While neither Brian nor Michael, the company’s production chief, envisioned following Dan into the family business, growing up in Dad’s studio proved irresistible. “I really got hooked through college, coming home to work on breaks and during the summers,” says Michael, 32, who studied business management and music. “But he [Dan] tried to steer us away from coming on board, maybe in his protective role of being a father. I think it was his way of seeing how bad we wanted it. Then, once he knew we wanted it and we weren’t going anywhere, he said, ‘Let’s do it,’ because he knew we were committed.”

Their commitment hasn’t tempted Dan to contemplate retirement, although at 67 he’s certainly allowed. “That could never happen,” he says, wryly. “As long as the music is in the blood, it’s hard to shed yourself from all of this. I’ve got to do something, and my wife, Kathy, God bless her, we’ve been married 38 years and she wouldn’t have it. She’d kick me out of the house. I’d have to go somewhere.”

However, the sons’ escalated involvement has allowed Yessian, an accomplished musician and composer in his own right, to rekindle a longtime passion. “The boys have given me an opportunity to peel back to my first love, songwriting,” he says. “It’s such a pleasure because by blessing, by luck, by whatever, the fact both of them are so strong in this business gave me this chance after lo these many years of doing 30- and 60-second spots. I would call it a luxury.”

It’s considered bad karma for a song plugger to boast about his tunes before they’re recorded, but “having done this business of writing music for ads, you have to cross every genre,” Yessian says. “I’ve been writing some inspirational, motivational-type stuff, I’m doing something that’s semi-classical, some pop. I’m doing something that’s got a little bit of rap along the lines of a Rihanna or Eminem, and a piece that’s meant more for a [Josh] Groban or [Andrea] Bocelli. I’ve got dialogues going on with folks, and it’s so exciting to be doing this now that I’m able to not be totally concerned with the day-to-day.”

Meanwhile, Yessian the company, with a national client list that includes Ikea, McDonald’s, and Ghiradelli chocolates, and an expanding business in the smartphone-app market, may seek even greater horizons. “We’re really making a push to be more of a global company and work in all corners of the world,” Brian says. “We definitely can see some growth in Asia as a top market for commercials, film, and TV. I think that’s one of the growth patterns we’d like to pursue.”

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