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Commercial Music vs. Music in Commercials

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

These days, getting a song placed on a commercial, or a TV series, has proven to be a career-making move for a wide variety of artists, from the long-dead (Nick Drake) to the rapidly emerging (the Ting Tings).

But the underlying question - of “art for art’s sake” versus “selling out” - is a much, much older one. You can say, this is my song, and it was intended to sound this way and create these feelings and suggest that mood, and I won’t allow anything to spoil that. But if you then put that song on a CD to sell it, haven’t you already, in a weirdly literal sense, “sold out”? In the end, it’s hard to be a purist about this.

I’ve lost track of how many different commercials have used Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life” as a soundtrack. Does it mean Iggy sold out? Maybe. But then what do you say about Irving Berlin, Warren & Dubin, Cole Porter, and all the other songwriters who wrote songs specifically for movies, or worse (from a purist’s point of view), rewrote songs so they would fit a particular movie scene? They were engaged in a commercial enterprise; if they also created art, well, that was a happy byproduct. Even Franz Schubert, creating his art-songs in early 19th century Vienna, meant for those songs to get his name out there, so he would both have something to play at parties (his Schubertiades, as they were known) and something that could be published and perhaps bring in a few shekels, because god knows the symphonies weren’t doing it…

Look, I hate that Bob Marley’s “One Love” has become the theme song for Jamaican tourism. (And for a long time, now.) I also hate how the TV series "House" uses a brutally edited version of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” as its opening theme. But you know what? If it gets more people listening to the real song, that’s great. And for me, all I have to do is dial it up on my iPod.

What do you think of the use of music in commercials?

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Comments [1]

Dw Dunphy from Red Bank, NJ

I am an independent artist which, in the modern landscape, doesn't mean what it used to. Your favorite classic rock artists from the past are also indies now, ejected from major labels because of their slippery demographic. New indie artists, like Peter, Bjorn and John, have their tune pumped into as many movie soundtracks and TV shows as possible.

It's unseemly. It's distasteful. It's also the only way they will likely be heard. "Young Folks" never got into major radio rotation, MTV probably never aired the video and there are millions of MySpace music pages now. If you want people to go to your show, they have to know your song. If the nicer means by which to make that happen won't have you, you do what you must.

I have music videos, MySpace pages, entries on iTunes and have sent out thousands of copies to websites, magazines, radio stations (cough, cough,) yet if you aren't a vaguely known commodity, you likely won't be yanked from obscurity by any of them. Only Corporate America seems to be listening, and they don't want a single, but a single hook. That will make all the difference between whether you're an indie artist or someone else you've never heard of, selling CDs from the back of the station wagon.

Or unemployed. There are a lot of those too.

Jan. 05 2010 02:59 PM

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