HOLLYWOOD, CA—Music is, well, just music at Heavy Duty, where the next song to emerge from the publishing, production and artist development house might as easily go into a TV commercial as jump onto the charts on a major pop artist’s album or be released under the songwriter’s own name. “There are a million different uses for a piece of music that you make,” says Ariel Rechtshaid, the company’s co-founder and executive creative producer.
Rechtshaid’s name will be familiar to anyone who checks out record credits. As a producer, he took home a GRAMMY for Adele’s 25 earlier this year; he co-wrote and produced Usher’s 2013 GRAMMY-winning single, “Climax;” and his name pops up again and again on projects by the likes of HAIM, Vampire Weekend, Madonna and Carly Rae Jepson.
Rechtshaid and music producer Josh Kessler founded Heavy Duty Music as an umbrella company for their diverse musical endeavors in 2010. “We had been working together on a lot of different things, from one-off custom jobs to developing content for film and TV catalogs to producing records for bands,” says Kessler.
The pair had also been collaborating with and developing like-minded writers and producers for some time. “After doing that for a few years and seeing some of these guys take off on their own careers, we felt it made sense to formalize our relationship,” Kessler says.
Rechtshaid, born in L.A., grew up with an interest in the arts and was in a ska-punk band for a while. Barely out of his teens, he discovered that his musical sensibilities, which referenced everything from Raymond Scott and Kraftwerk to symphonic music, were suited to commercials with a left-of-center vibe. The work kept on coming, and Kessler, running Heavy Duty’s operations in New York, increasingly found himself working with music supervisors and ad agencies. So a few years ago, they established Heavy Duty Projects to focus on commercial music, partnering with executive music producer Kate Urcioli, formerly with agency mcgarrybowen.
Rechtshaid and Kessler, now California-based, work out of an office in Hollywood while Urcioli handles business out of the New York office. “We have a home base in Burbank, very much a modern-day record-making facility,” says Rechtshaid; in other words, a series of production rooms. “I go to a classic tracking facility—of which there is no shortage in Los Angeles—when I need to.” Go-to local recording studios include Sunset Sound, East West, United Recording or, for authentic vintage analog flavor, Vox or Valentine, he says.
“We have a 1-inch 8-track machine at the Burbank studio,” he adds, “but with companies like UAD making emulations, it’s really is limitless what you can do on a computer. You can’t recreate a performance in a live room with a plug-in, but for sonic characteristics, we can do pretty much anything.”
Indeed, anyone can, he says: “That’s why it’s all about the approach and the writers and the artists that we work with at Heavy Duty.”
In May, Heavy Duty Projects was nominated for an AMP Award in the Best Band+Brand Partnership category for its work on Gillette’s “Perfect Isn’t Pretty” for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, which features Brazilian footballer Neymar Jr., Chinese swimmer Ning Zetao, American decathlete Ashton Eaton and English cyclist Andy Tennant. Rechtshaid produced the music for the three-minute spot, which reimagines Sia’s “Unstoppable” with layers of Brazilian percussion by Banda Olodum and a rap by Clipse’s Pusha T.
For Christmas 2016, agency 72andSunny engaged Heavy Duty to create “The Toycracker,” an eight-minute holiday spectacular featuring John Legend and Chrissie Teigen. “That’s the type of collaboration we love at Heavy Duty, bringing the best of the best together,” says Rechtshaid. “That’s also the type of thing that we don’t get to do every day, adapt Tchaikovsky into some version of un-pop music that still feels classic and fun and has a wit.”
The project moved quickly, reports Rechtshaid, who collaborated with songwriter and composer Benj Pasek of La La Land fame. “We wrote the whole thing together pretty quickly, over three days, initially. We revised the arrangements and worked on recording them over the course of the next week or so. Then we started tracking the toy characters and arranged the session with John and Chrissie. A couple of mix revisions here and there, and that was that.”
There have been plenty of other high-profile commercial projects, but as Kessler is quick to point out, “We also do stuff that doesn’t get the big headlines, and we love doing that, too. We do a lot of beauty products work and a lot of work for Acura and Lexus.”
Heavy Duty often collaborates with lesser-known artists and producers, Rechtshaid stresses. “But whether it’s a big headline or not, it’s cutting edge, and no less quality than a project with John Legend or Sia.”
Rechtshaid has become known for doing his own thing, and for loving whatever he does. “So people come to me for what I do, and I think that applies with Heavy Duty Projects; it’s much larger than myself, of course, but that’s the essence of it,” he says. “The bottom line is, make interesting collaborations, have fun with it and try to push things forward.”
Heavy Duty Projects