Monday, July 23, 2007

Real Big Fi$h

Sorry for the long delay between posts. Real life intrudes …

Anyway, the LA Times ran an article on Sunday about the growing trend of “indie” or “alt” artists getting their music placed in television commercials for the most surprising products. This once verboten avenue for money and exposure seems to be getting more well trod and respectable by the minute.

The article treats the issue of licensing music to commercial endeavors with an even-handed-ness not often seen in the mainstream media. It will probably surprise no one that reads this blog that I found some people’s response to the “dead punker” campaign from Doc Marten’s to be a bit hysterical:

"Tasteless!" ran a headline in, the website that broke the story. (The images were licensed for use in the UK through Corbis, the original photos' supplier, apparently without permission from the musicians' estates.) Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, lamented the "despicable use" of her husband's image. Fan outcry lighted up hundreds of blogs worldwide. And as a coda, executives at Dr. Martens apologized for the "offensive" ads and fired Saatchi & Saatchi, the agency responsible for them. - LA Times
The artists should be able to control their music and image and the fact that Kurt and Joey are getting pimped out post mortem – does strike me as a bit creepy. But if musicians wanna sign up for the Madison Avenue checks – more power to them. No one would mistake John Mellencamp or Mr. Zimmerman as patsies – but they seem to have no problem with the strategy.

Does anyone remember when Neil Young did a whole song and video about how he would never sell out to advertisers? That seems almost quaint today.

It is no shock that a staid advertiser like Cadillac would turn to formerly “threatening to the system” rock and roll like Led Zeppelin when their “old and prosperous” demographic starts to include the formerly dirty hippies that loved Zep back in the day and now want to get their clubs to the golf course in style. That Devo is reworking “Whip It” into “Swiff It” themselves seems (at least to me) incredibly subversive and funny.

The twist to me is that advertisers WANT edgy, odd and not necessarily all that well-know pop songs for their ads. The article has lots of good details and Chris Lee hits on the main reason that recordings artists are starting to be down for this kind of thing …

TV commercials give the kind of exposure that rock radio or music television can no longer deliver. That iPod commercial for Jet’s big hit certainly got the band a ton of attention which led to an even more lucrative appearance in a movie trailer that was seen many more times than the actual movie.

So a commercial can help a band’s career, by getting them out to a larger audience but the music can also generate money for a band. No duh, right? But the twist in 2007 is that bands, even REAL popular ones, might be struggling to make money any other way. Sure they can tour, but the once lucrative world of catalog CD sales has cratered unless you are one of the lucky bands selling albums entitled “Legend,” “Eagles Greatest Hits” or “Back in Black.”

What the decline in music sales (both new and catalog) has done is take the edge of pride off artists. What were the Stones gonna get for one of their songs in the 1980s? Probably a good amount, but they had plenty of money and more on the way. The bad press generated by licensing a song was not worth the (relatively) small payout. The hippy ethos of the 60s also loomed over the industry, making bands very nervous of being seen treating their music like a money-making career, even if that is exactly what it was.

Now in 2007, with labels not a reliable source of money, and the “bad press” much less bad – the upside surely outweighs the bad. Does licensing a song make you look like a sell out, or a smart businessman? Probably depends on if anyone actually wants your songs.

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re this: prince. (vs steve albini.)
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