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The Kensington Studio Making Big Waves

How Singing Serpent Studios made it to the biggest games on the planet
Photo Credit: Becky DiGiglio
singing serpent

Singing Serpent Studios

Photo Credit: Becky DiGiglio

A trio of frogs croaking for pilsners. Mean Joe Greene tossing a young fan his jersey. “Where’s the beef?” All people have their favorite Super Bowl commercial, the likes of which draw nearly as many viewers as the game itself. Those ads can be career-making for institutions like San Diego’s Singing Serpent Studios, which has been providing music and sound design for television commercials for more than 20 years. Just two years after opening, the studio earned its first opportunity to score a Super Bowl commercial of its own.

“The one that really put us on the map was for Subway back in 2002,” says Singing Serpent owner and founder Glen Galloway. “The campaign was that Subway is your good deed for the day—because it’s healthy—so now you can do whatever. There’s a scene where a dad is flying a kite with his kid by a lake, and this guy just cuts the kite string with scissors.

“It was cool,” he continues. “Just to be not even two years old as a company and see your music in a Super Bowl commercial. That was a real shot in the arm.”

Singing Serpent has composed and recorded music for a long list of major clients over the years, soundtracking recognizable ads like Progressive Insurance spots starring Ed Helms and Uber Eats commercials featuring Mark Hammill and Sir Patrick Stewart. Not to mention Super Bowl–aired commercials for the likes of Taco Bell and Butterfinger.

Singing Serpent also records music outside of advertising, having hosted a number of bands over the years, including No Knife, Hot Snakes, and Angels & Airwaves. When Galloway began his career writing jingles in the ’90s with then-partner Rafter Roberts (who now runs his own studio, Rad Lazer), he was touring heavily with his band, Trumans Water. But as a new parent with a young son, he sought something more grounded, first getting involved on another creative team before opening his own studio. In the early days, however, Galloway and Roberts found the process of presenting their compositions to executives took some getting used to.

“It’s a really strange thing to present a piece of music that you feel really strongly about and then have people shoot it down or say they like it and then their boss doesn’t like it,” he says.

They made progress quickly—the proof is in the portfolio. Though they’ve seen a lot of changes over the years. In 2006, they moved from their downtown location to Kensington where they’ve remained since, and while they had a handful of in-house composers during the 2000s, after some lean years in 2008 and 2009 during the economic downturn, Singing Serpent, along with many other studios at the time, moved toward a model of enlisting freelance musicians for its projects.

The company’s slate of work has remained busy since, including some fairly unconventional projects that appeal to the punk rocker in Galloway. For the 2022 World Cup, soccer magazine Howler approached Galloway and Singing Serpent’s in-house engineer Ben Moore to record Group of Death, aka San Diego heavy metal band Beekeeper performing irreverent and topical rippers about the Qatar World Cup.

“You have one of the most controversial World Cups ever, and everyone knows it,” Galloway says. “And, like, the world’s coming together to celebrate, and yet everyone is aware of all the dissonance around it. The idea was, ‘Why don’t we get a metal band and call them the Group of Death and record these songs that are going to be specifically around all the gnarliness of this World Cup.’ Our studio just turned into a metal cave for three days.”

Singing Serpent has weathered a great deal of change over the years, including opening satellite studios in New York and Richmond, and learning how to turn around a project on a tight, 48-hour deadline. But amid the evolution, one thing remains the same for Galloway: This is still his dream job.

“It’s taken a completely different shade than it did in the early 2000s,” he says. “The collaboration is different, but it’s still fun—I still wake up thinking, I get to do this for a living!”

By Jeff Terich

Jeff Terich is the music critic behind the blog The Setlist. His writing has been published in Stereogum, Bandcamp Daily, American Songwriter, Fodor's and Vinyl Me Please.

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