On the morning of July 22, local singer-songwriter David Safran walked into Careers in Nonprofits in the hope of landing some work unrelated to music. The 31-year-old writes and records jingles for a living, but, he says, "Every few months I have a horrible thought about quitting music altogether." About a month earlier Safran had written a Newcity cover story on Chicago music clubs' payment practices with local musicians; Safran laid out his argument about an unfair system and in response he says he got banned from several area clubs and received nasty e-mails, all of which only compounded the feelings he had about leaving music. When he left Careers in Nonprofits that morning he checked his e-mail and noticed an unusual pitch for a jingle: "Why don't you write one for a three-hole sex toy?"
Considering the unsolicited messages he'd been receiving during the summer, Safran initially balked. "I interpreted it as kind of a threat," he says. But Safran took the job, and last week his jingle for the new three-hole sex toy 3Fap hit the Web in conjunction with the launch of an Indiegogo campaign. The crowdfunding campaign has surpassed more than half its $40,000 goal in a little more than a week, and Safran's 34-second jingle has gone viral. The tune has racked up more than 60,000 YouTube views and close to 40,000 Vimeo views; the full ad for 3Fap, which gives a precise breakdown of the device's, um, pleasures includes a shorter version of Safran's song, and it's closing in on 200,000 YouTube views. Safran's spent the past week-plus watching a jingle he wrote—about a product he's not going to use—become his biggest hit.
Brian Sloan, the man behind the 3Fap, reached out to Safran after finding a piece on the life of a jingle writer that the former wrote for the Awl in 2014. After receiving Sloan's initial e-mail, Safran researched his prospective client. "I thought it [the e-mail] was a joke," Safran says. Then "I looked him up and I was immediately impressed by the media attention his products were getting." Last summer Business Insider, Buzzfeed, and TechCrunch were among the media outlets covering an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign Sloan launched for "a robotic sex simulator for men" called Autoblow 2; when the Autoblow 2 campaign ended on June 5, it had raised nearly $300,000.
Sloan, a Skokie native, is no stranger to the press. In 2009 TechCrunch called him the "Kinky King of Beijing." Sloan moved to China following a 2007 incident in which the Chicago Police Department confiscated human skulls Sloan had sold on eBay (Sloan had earned his living reselling antiques since leaving his job as a lawyer in 2004). According to the Tribune, local artist JoJo Baby made the call to the cops after he dropped by Sloan's Bucktown apartment to purchase some mannequins and noticed one of the skulls boiling in a pot.
Sloan's colorful personality and marketing intuition intrigued Safran, and it's also what encouraged Sloan to seek out a jingle writer—it's another way to get buzz for his new product. "He said it's the first sex-toy theme song," Safran says. "I don't know how to verify that, but I'll go along with it." So Safran took the gig for 3Fap, a product that, as the Indiegogo page explains, gets its name from "the onomatopoeic intransitive verb representative of the sound of male masturbation."
In the early stages of working on the jingle Safran went over plans during a late-night phone call with Sloan, who was playing with what Safran describes as a "comically oversize prosthetic testicles toy" someone had sent him. "I'm having this very professional conversation, and he's slapping testicles across his leg just for fun," Safran says. "He does seem a bit like half Andrew Mason, half Larry Flynt. There's something very charming about him."
With most jingle projects Safran's clients describe what they're hoping to get in detail—the style of music they're looking for, the words they want used, the tempo, and maybe a pop song they want the jingle to resemble. "This was strange for me because [he] said essentially I had full creative freedom to write the song," Safran says. After receiving images of the 3Fap prototype Safran quickly got to work. He made it in a couple days, recording the jingle on his iPhone with just an acoustic guitar and then sending the track to a friend to get some additional vocals.
Safran spikes his solo material with humor, so he was well equipped to add comedic lyrical flourishes to the 3Fap jingle during its short run time. Still, Safran says it's an ad distinct from the work he does for himself. "It's still a 35-second song," he says. "What can you say about yourself when it's about a three-hole sex toy?" Safran's name isn't included on the YouTube or Vimeo pages for the jingle, and it isn't on the 3Fap Indiegogo page. Even if people who saw the jingle on YouTube were able to connect it back to Safran, he wonders what the crossover is between sex-toy fans and people who avidly listen to singer-songwriters.
The jingle's going viral (several days ago it got a reaction video that's racked up close to 70,000 views) adds to the strange experience Safran's had making the tune. "I kind of realize: the weirder the requests the better your career," he says. And the 3Fap job alone was good for his work too. "I got paid very well for it, Safran says. "But I didn't ask for a freebie 3Fap."