SAVAGE — When jingle-writer Todd Millenacker’s parents asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up, he would tell them he wanted to rent an office and think of stuff.
“They’d say, ‘You’re not just going to show up and think of stuff,’ and here I am at 41,” Millenacker said, sitting at the dining room table in his Savage home on a recent afternoon.
His music studio, carved out of a corner in the unfinished basement, is like the office he dreamed of. His songs, particularly commercial jingles, are what he thinks up.
Millenacker’s basement beats have landed him contracts with Little Caesar’s Pizza and Davanni’s, to name a few.
“Lots of it is just finding people willing to take a chance,” he said. “Nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks, ‘You know, what I need is a jingle.’”
The Atlantic chronicled the decades-long decline of jingles in 2016 as big-name brands focused on licensing music from existing recording artists instead.
Millenacker, who’s been making music for most his life, said he writes probably 100 jingles for every one that sells, but he’s forged around a dozen jingle and commercial-making deals in recent years.
His success in jingle-writing followed years of trying to keep bands afloat in his 20s.
After a few touring stints and growing a family with his wife, Laura, Millenacker realized he was “five years too late” to be successful in a band. But he kept songwriting.
The results were song titles such as “Bongo Booty” and lyrics that ask, “Who’s that lovely lady that looks like a taco?”
“Every time I write a song I’m like, this is going to pay for the kids’ school,” Millenacker said.
He enlisted longtime friend Kris Verplank to make music videos for his music, but it wasn’t until the two were on vacation with their families at the Metropolis Resort that jingle-writing genius would strike.
At the resort, they learned about a challenge to eat a 32-inch pizza in an hour for a free T-shirt.
Millenacker said they had an “existential crisis” about whether or not they should do it, but hearing nobody had done the challenge in two years sealed the deal.
With their kids and wives watching, the two began on their chicken and pepperoni pizza. In the end, Millenacker became sick with nine pieces to go, and they didn’t win the shirts, but afterwards, Verplank’s wife said something that sparked an idea.
“She said, ‘You guys got a couple pizza babies in your belly,’” Millenacker recalled. “I thought the term was so funny — pizza babies.”
Inspired by the thought, Millenacker wrote a jingle and sent the audio to Little Caesar’s.
The song began with “Pizza, pizza, so nice to meet ya” and eventually ended at, “Let’s get married and have some pizza babies.”
He’d sent jingles to corporations before without success. Once he sent a song about “manscaping,” complete with fuzzy CD covers, to Bic and Gillette, which was met with silence.
But a few days after sending out his pizza tune, the phone rang at the Millenacker home. It was Walt Frederiksen, senior director of advertising at Little Caesar’s, singing Millenacker’s jingle.
Frederiksen wanted to know how much he wanted for the tune. Millenacker got a lawyer, established a contract and the commercial aired on national TV soon after.
The tune that aired included a few changes from Millenacker’s original lyrics, but he didn’t mind. After all, “it wasn’t ‘Dark Side of the Moon,’” he said.
Next, Millenacker got a deal to write a jingle for an electric back shaver called Mangroomer.
When Mangroomer wanted a music video, the production work looked something like Verplank spreading costume werewolf hair on Millenacker’s back and spraying it with down with hairspray. The beach in Lakeville near Verplank’s house wasn’t exactly a remote filming location.
“It’s exciting and fun, but other times it’s like, what am I doing,” Verplank said.
They also filmed a music video for a song Millenacker wrote to sell BevBuckles — a drink-holding belt buckle.
They filmed the commercial in Verplank’s parents’ backyard while they were away in Arizona. The two put buckets over the surveillance cameras and got to work grilling hotdogs over a toilet.
By day, Millenacker and Verplank work together as freight brokers for IMD Transportation, a company started by Millenacker’s father.
Millenacker said it’s always his dream to write music full time, but right now he’s able to have fun without the stress of needing to find enough jingle work to support his family.
Some upcoming jobs include a song for a neck pillow that wraps around your face. And he continues working on music for Little Caesar’s.
When asked if they are perfectionists, Millenacker laughed and said mock-sadly that they work really hard.