Inside the Stagecoach
June 23, 2015

‘The best music ever heard in a bank’

Award-winning composer Fred Story produces original background music for most of Wells Fargo’s 6,000-plus banking stores — an innovative approach in the banking industry.

As he sits at the control panel of his recording studio, music composer Fred Story’s smile says it all: Everything is coming together just right.

“Whenever I sit down in the studio to write a song, I already pretty much know how it should sound and the kind of groove it should have,” he says. “I can hear the parts in my head. Then it is just a matter of getting things to flow together to make that happen.”

The Charlotte, North Carolina-based producer is an Emmy-winning composer, a critically acclaimed performer — and now the man behind the music for Wells Fargo. He and his team produce original music for more than 80 percent of the company’s 6,000-plus banking stores as well as Wells Fargo office buildings and contact centers across the U.S.

Dave Warlick of Wells Fargo Corporate Communications says, “As far as I know, Wells Fargo is alone in taking this approach. The tunes Fred gives us are unique. You won’t walk into any other business and hear the same tracks.”

Unique tunes

Fred has made things happen in the music industry for decades. His scores for film and TV have won regional Emmys; his songs for documentaries and commercial media have won national awards; and his Charlotte jazz-rock band, Flight 108, opened in the 1980s for legends such as Ray Charles and David Sanborn.

His company — Concentrix Music & Sound Design Inc. — now produces music for clients all over the world, from movie producers to public broadcasting companies. After producing sound projects through the years for Wells Fargo, Concentrix’s work on the background music began in 2011, Dave says.

“Fred and Concentrix have done an amazing job every step of the way,” he says. “It’s work that they are justifiably proud of and has made a real impact for Wells Fargo.”

The soft-rock and smooth jazz instrumentals Fred and his collaborators create for Wells Fargo are as diverse as their musical roots, from classic rock ’n’ roll to contemporary pop and R&B.

Crafted over several years, Fred’s original tunes for Wells Fargo have received excellent reviews from store managers, team members, and customers, says Sue Mason, a program manager in the Distribution Strategies & Services Group, which manages Community Banking’s side of the project. When customers hear the music Fred produces, they know it does not fit the old stereotype of “elevator music” from decades ago, she says. Instead, “It is entertaining and in its own way exciting, without being distracting. It elevates the standard of music — not boring, and not putting people to sleep.”

Fred Story at the control panel of his recording studio.
Andrew Marcadis plays guitar (and drums) with a rock flavor.
Dan Vitco, award-winning composer and musician.
Fred at the studio with Dan (left), Andrew, and Jamie.
Fred and wife Becky with their awards display.
Fred Story at the control panel of his recording studio.
Andrew Marcadis plays guitar (and drums) with a rock flavor.
Dan Vitco, award-winning composer and musician.
Fred at the studio with Dan (left), Andrew, and Jamie.
Fred and wife Becky with their awards display.

‘It’s about the customers’

Fred’s custom tunes are also an efficiency move for Wells Fargo, says Sue, a long-time advocate of using background music in the stores. For decades, the company and its predecessors piped in tunes from commercial vendors, requiring literally thousands of contracts, all containing fees and royalties, she says. “It was an inefficient use of our resources from a corporate standpoint,” Sue says. “We looked at what we were spending store by store and concluded we needed to end those deals and come up with something more flexible and less expensive.”

But it’s about far more than saving money; it’s about the customers, says Sue, who studied different ways to create a friendly store environment and manage waiting times more effectively.

“Music is a major factor in creating the warmth that customers feel when they come into an environment,” she says. “It also helps provide a feeling of privacy for conversation. Customers just feel more comfortable talking to us when there’s appealing music playing in the background. You want them to feel like they’re coming home to an environment of people they trust, people they’re at ease with.”

It was just the job for Fred Story — whose musical credits include scores for the award-winning documentary films “Rembrandt in America” and “Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel.” From the moment Concentrix landed what Fred calls “the Wells Fargo gig,” they set out to make “the best music ever heard in a bank,” he says.

Fred and his group of freelance musicians/producers went through a lot of changes before finally developing the right songs and the right mix for Wells Fargo, he says. “Sure, it’s background music, but it doesn’t have to be goopy and innocuous,” Fred says. “You don’t want it so upfront that it demands attention, but it has to be credible enough so that if someone in line starts listening, they’d say, ‘Hey, that’s pretty cool!’ ”

‘The song will tell you’

Just ask Fred’s studio “band mates” one question about music and they will flow from answer to answer, like solo riffs working together in a jazz tune.

Dan Vitco, Jamie Hoover, and Andrew Marcadis were recently at the studio to review the latest song for Wells Fargo. They are among nearly a dozen musicians Fred will bring aboard to work on a project.

“For the volume of music that Wells Fargo requires, we just needed more hands on deck,” Fred says. “And these guys are among the best.”

Dan, himself an Emmy Award-winning composer and musician based in Charlotte, says Fred gives them “a set of parameters” for each song he needs. “I’ll go back and forth working on it, and once I come up with something I like and I think they’ll like, I’ll send it off to Fred,” he says. “There’s a great deal of satisfaction when you get the thumbs up.”

A Wells Fargo customer, Dan recalls hearing one of his songs for the first time a couple of years ago while standing in a teller line. “You do enjoy a moment like that,” he says. “Then you make your deposit and you go home, because there’s always another deadline waiting for you there.”

Fred says putting all the pieces together in a song can be a daunting task. But he recalls what his beloved mentor and teacher — the late jazz great Ziggy Hurwitz — once told him when he was having a crisis of confidence many years ago.

“I had been asked to produce some really great tunes, but I told Ziggy I just didn’t think I could do them justice,” Fred says. “He looked at me, smiled, and said, ‘That’s easy. Just shut up and listen: A great tune will tell you what it needs.’ ”