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Selling Out or Just Stayin' Alive?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

So maybe the 1970s Heinz commercial that featured Carly Simon's "Anticipation" left us forever thinking the song was about ketchup. Musicians have always been admonished for licensing their songs in commercials - but when no one buys albums anymore, how else can an artist get paid? With us to debate the place of music in advertising is Mark Caro, entertainment reporter for the Chicago Tribune, and Eric Deggans, TV and media critic for the St. Petersburg Times.

Guests:

Mark Caro and Eric Deggans

Comments [83]

info

Yesterday, while I was at work, my cousin stole my iPad and
tested to see if it can survive a twenty five foot drop, just so she can be
a youtube sensation. My iPad is now destroyed and she has 83 views.

I know this is totally off topic but I had to share
it with someone!

Mar. 07 2013 09:31 AM
Jeff Newton from Detroit, MI

Bob Seger's first gig at Pine Knob outside of Detroit after "Like A Rock's" use in Chevy ads featured a booing audience.

How times have changed!

Jan. 06 2010 02:28 PM
Steve Gorka from Bridgewater NJ

Deggans. Sorry.

Jan. 05 2010 08:44 PM
Steve Gorka from Bridgewater NJ

Looking at it from a music fan's perspective, some of the older tunes evoke strong emotions, memories, yearning for youth or whatever. Both the artists and the corporations should consider that mixing a cherished memory with a pitch to buy some product may turn off the very audience it's aimed to entice. There's a huge cohort of baby boomers out there, and not all of them have "sold out," no matter how naive or elitist Mr. Daggett thinks that may be!

Jan. 05 2010 08:42 PM
deborah healy-seidlitz from Pound Ridge, NY

I can appreciate the desire to make money in a tough economy, but do feel using treasured songs to sell products, does reduce the quality of the music and certainly makes me less likely to ever play one of those songs again. That being said, I love hearing old tunes used in shows like "Glee", or in movie soundtracks and can totally distinguish the difference between selling product and borrowing music for artistic purposes. The songs when used in dramatic productions is purely for artistry sake to enhance a moment or convey a feeling. "Selling out" by ruining great tunes is tragic, I say to these corporations "make your own music to sell your products". Leave the art in music for arts sake.

Jan. 05 2010 04:29 PM
Rick from nyc

BIG music fan, broad taste. gotta admit though, first time i heard Nick Drake was on VW ad. was a "WTF was that?" moment for myself and many others as well.

p.s.: Journey rocks!!!

Jan. 05 2010 02:44 PM
the truth! from BKNY

Dedicated artists however....will starve for their craft and never sell!

Jan. 05 2010 02:44 PM
Leah from Manhattan

What about the Renaissance tradition of patronage? The reality is that artists have always needed financial support continue to create, and perhaps today that need is being met by corporate sponsors. I don't see any Medicis around these days filling the gap.

Jan. 05 2010 02:38 PM
the truth! from BKNY

Honestly? Depends on how well the artist is doing at the time he/she/agent is contacted for the sale!

Jan. 05 2010 02:37 PM
j. Lazerfuque from East Village, NY

Let's draw a distinction between bands like Of Montreal who can't be pulling down that much and a band like Led Zeppelin who, ferchrissakes, already own a number of castles.

When it's ok, it's buying in. When it's not, it's selling out.

Jan. 05 2010 02:36 PM
Alistair Wallace from midtown

Iggy Pop, Digable Planets, The La's- isn't funny how all of these songs about loving heroin get used in commercials. Carnival Cruiselines- the dope of the seas!

Jan. 05 2010 02:36 PM
Annie from NJ

I first heard the Turtles' "Happy Together" as a commercial for Golden Grahams in the 1980's. I hated the song. Later when I heard the real song on the radio, it took years to not think of the commercial. I now like the song; I'd never buy the cereal.

Jan. 05 2010 02:36 PM
DaveANYC from NYC

How are the musicians that write epic pop songs or indie hits any different than the musicians that write the catchy ditties on commercials or TV shows? We assign the difference as the listener. We associate songs with times and events in our lives, and we assign songs places in our lives (like those love songs assigned as "Our Song" at weddings).
Remember "Born In The USA" used by Reagan, some were appalled or laughed at the irony of the song lyrics, others only heard the catch phrase... The Boss didn't go for it...

Jan. 05 2010 02:36 PM
Rich Koch from UC, NJ

The Beatles tunes are covers because the Beatles lost control of their publishing rights. THEY are not selling their songs.

Jan. 05 2010 02:35 PM
charles maraia from manhattan

I was re-aquainted with Donovan's, "Catch the Wind" for the commercial. I was trying to learn to play guitar, picked up the song on iTunes, found a TAB, and started playing it. So it helped me to learn the guitar a little better, and it's a sweet song.

Jan. 05 2010 02:35 PM
Anne from Manhattan

Passion Pit and NYC band Paper Doll have recently landed commercials and I was happy to see both get a bit of the spotlight. I think when fans reach a critical mass we begrudge the bands more exposure.

Jan. 05 2010 02:35 PM
Caroline from brooklyn

I LOVED the Schweppes ginger ale commercial using David Bowie's Space Oddity. I had never heard the song until I saw that commercial and after that I would listen to my local classic rock station with the hope that it would be played and I could record it on a cassette tape.

Jan. 05 2010 02:35 PM
the truth! from BKNY

Love the geico commercial hate the lizard!

Jan. 05 2010 02:35 PM
Tom Abbott from Brooklyn

Irving Berlin wrote a musical called "Holiday Inn." He also wrote "God Bless America". What does that say about commoditisation?

Jan. 05 2010 02:34 PM
the truth! from BKNY

I love jouney

Jan. 05 2010 02:34 PM
CJ from NY

Licsensing your music to corporations cheapens it.

Jan. 05 2010 02:34 PM
Elvis from Wackyland, NY

First of all, it's a lot easy to be philosophically pure when you aren't starving.

In my opinion, there's no real connection between the artistic value of a given song and its cultural attachments (i.e. whether or not it's in a Ford commercial). If you live without television, for example, you can appreciate the music without it getting wrapped into silly questions about the artist's image and whether he or she has "sold out" or not. If someone makes good music, shouldn't they be entitled to profit from it? What does that music's aesthetic quality have to do with Chevy trucks?

Jan. 05 2010 02:33 PM
yvonne johnson from NY

I don't like the likes of Sting who promotes green issues then sells his music for a Jaguar ad. That's hypocrisy.

Jan. 05 2010 02:33 PM
Soni from Austin, TX

I think what happens is that people confuse pop music with art, and so what if bands sell their songs to promote commercial products -- it doesn't mean they're selling out, pop music is not necessarily art (it can be, but it's not necessarily). All artists (painters, photographers, writers, filmmakers) want to sell their art, and artists create art as self-expression, they are "selling" their ideas, but this doesn't make it less art, nor does starving make a person an artist. Leave artists alone. Let them do what they will with their creative talent. Who cares. It's like telling a film director not to try to make it big in Hollywood. Or like telling a writer not to have his novel made into a movie.

The idea of music selling out is preposterous, everyone should use their talents as assets, otherwise how would anyone earn a living. It's like saying that the Beatles sold out when everything about them is a commodity yet they created art and their music also happens to be pop music.

Jan. 05 2010 02:33 PM
CJ from NY

Chris Brown is insidious.

Jan. 05 2010 02:32 PM
Rat Nagourney from Greenpoint

Yo Yo Ma for Amex is genius.

Jan. 05 2010 02:32 PM
Mark from Pompton Plains from New Jersey

Turning music into a cash commodity is the reason the industry is failing so miserably, why radio stations are useless, and why illegal downloads are crushing the legal competition. It's good to discover new music but it's a shame that the industry can't get this good music to us through the traditional methods--radio, MTV, record stores, et cetera--and instead of targeting music fans to buy the music, the record labels and even the artists target advertisers for the faster, bigger money. Seeing music as money made it this way. The snake is almost done eating itself.

Jan. 05 2010 02:32 PM
Troy from Mt. Vernon

There is no black or white on this issue. there are clearly instances of a song or even a bands career being tainted by licensing for commercial use. At the same time there is no way to predict before a campaign is rolled out how it will come off or affect the music.

I actually heard feist in the apple ads and am glad such an excellent album was thereby given wider audience.

Jan. 05 2010 02:32 PM
JAY STORY from WESTCHESTER

In many cases the artist does not have the final say about the song that they created. It all comes down to publishing . . .who owns the publishing rights to the music. A very important case is that of the Beatles. The publishing rights became the property of Michael Jackson. Based on the agreements entered into by the artists and the publishing entity determine what happens to the music after the fact.

Jan. 05 2010 02:32 PM
sm

Shawn, in the "Lust for Life" examples (a bank? cruise ships) I always crack up when the lyrics are carefully edited before "with the liquor and drugs" is conveniently edited out.

Jan. 05 2010 02:32 PM
mickey from harlem

How far is this from celebrity endorsement/sponsorship deals. A la Tiger Woods?

The other day I was trying to explain who Iggy Pop was to a 20 year old and the only reference point I had was the many, many auto and cruise line commercials that use Lust For Life!

Jan. 05 2010 02:30 PM
Darren Green from NJ


Music needs to be licensed for commercial use for many reasons; one of which is introducing the music to new listeners. Example Nina Simmone's "Sinnerman" was in Yhe Thomas Crown Affair. I had never heard of this artist intil it was in the movie and now I am a fan.

Jan. 05 2010 02:29 PM
Yana from Queens

As long as what is being sold isn't too unsavory, a great song can make a well produced commercial quite beautiful and not degrade the song in the process. Nick Drake was rediscovered (or discovered) after Pink Moon was used by Volkswagon and both him and the commercial benefited.

Jan. 05 2010 02:29 PM
Aimee Hunter from Clinton Hill Brooklyn

As a musician, I value the artist's right to choose the products they back with their music and therefore giving the right to judge to the people who consume their music (product).

Jan. 05 2010 02:27 PM
Andrew from Brooklyn

It all depends on the way it is used in the other medium - whether it is tastefully used, subtle, cool etc. Advertisers are looking to borrow emotion from the music and sometimes also the extra intangibles musicians have (famous ones). They're buying the persona, danger, gravitas whatever.

I compose music for films as well as license music for advertising and feel there is nothing wrong in the idea of licensing. Just be mindful of the end usage. HBO, Apple and Guy Ritchie are all great examples of very cool music usages. I wouldn't be as thrilled with some of the other examples you mentioned including Moby.

As always, I enjoy the show!

Andrew
http://www.300monks.com

Jan. 05 2010 02:27 PM
Alexis from Brooklyn

It is selling out if the band/artist seems to be undercutting their own artistic values in order to make a buck. As a HUGE Of Montreal fan, the Outback Steakhouse jingle doesn't bother me at all - I actually find it hilarious. The band's artistic sensibilities are largely ironic and writing a jingle for something as ridiculous as Outback Steakhouse is totally in keeping with their attitude.

Jan. 05 2010 02:27 PM
David Hoffman from Brooklyn

It's most annoying to me when there's an obvious congnative dissonance between the original meaning of the song and the way it's used in a commercial.

An example that comes to mind is Nike using John Lennon's "Instant Karma" to sell sneakers in the 90's. It's a song that seems to be about the dangers of commercialism, and how real personal progress can't just be bought. It was then used to sell the idea that wearing a different kind of shoes would make you a better athlete and, by implication, a better person.

Jan. 05 2010 02:26 PM
Alistair Wallace from midtown

Wouldn't it be great if artists could actually live off of their art? But then again, it was Louis Armstrong who said "don't f*** with my hustle!"

Jan. 05 2010 02:26 PM
Bob from New Jersey

Is music a commodity -- or is it music?

When a song becomes inextricably attached to a commercial product, it is only an appendage to that commodity.

When music is made to be music (ie: Won't Get Fooled Again) - then it is a sell out and an insult to the listeners -- the buying public, to reduce it to a commodity.

As Paul Simon wrote: The music suffers, the music industry thrives.

Jan. 05 2010 02:26 PM
Russell from Brooklyn

It's one thing for an emerging artist to license a song for use in a movie or TV show - those are also forms of art. They're a creative vision. But if it's just to help sell something on a commercial, it usually leaves a bad association in your mind. Like when Led Zeppelin licensed their songs for Cadillac. I can never listen to those songs again without thinking of Cadillac, which is affective for the car company, but definitely not for the band. A band whose music has endured 40 years and now what? To young people now, they're the guys who wrote the song for the new Escalade.

Jan. 05 2010 02:26 PM
kerry from Austin, TX

There is a HUGE difference between using music in art (film, even television) vs. using it to sell products; no self-respecting musician would license their music to sell a bunch of jeans etc. Hearing a specific song in a commercial doesn't necessarily make me hate the band or the song, but it certainly relegates the musicians to businessmen/women rather than artists; perhaps that's the benefit--the use of music in advertising simply helps us draw the line between artist and capitalist.

Jan. 05 2010 02:25 PM
sm

Rick, to be fair, I've often heard (to my delight) some comparatively obscure tracks on the various CSIs. This is also true of Cold Case once in a while.

Jan. 05 2010 02:25 PM
Freddy Jenkins

I was surprised to hear The Unicorns on some crayon commercial--but it was an opportunity for me to play some of their songs for my 5 year old--and he likes those songs

Jan. 05 2010 02:24 PM
shawn from brooklyn

there was an interview with iggy pop where he stated that there was no problem with using "lust for life" in a commercial. the song is over 20 years old and was not written then for commercial gains, so why not? many older bands are getting new life in touring due to newer generations hearing their songs.

Jan. 05 2010 02:24 PM
Katherine from Chelsea

This argument for me is very contextual. For instance, when one of my favorite indie artists gets played on a tv show or in an ad (like the Cat Power David Bowie cover for a luxury car), I get really excited that the artist is getting play. Also, if the meaning or content of the song is used in a purposeful way (like in many tv or movie soundtracks, and yes, even some ads), then I have no problem with it at all.

Jan. 05 2010 02:24 PM
Eric from NY

"Anticipation" is an unfortunate example because I can only think of ketchup when I hear it also. But the use of Nick Drake's Pink Moon in a VW ad exposed me to an artist I knew little about.

Jan. 05 2010 02:24 PM
Derek Dos Anjos from Brooklyn

What about bands that are "made" by commercials example fiest with apple ipod?

Jan. 05 2010 02:23 PM
Frank from Newark

MOBY, a complete nobody but the car commercial fueled his career.

Jan. 05 2010 02:23 PM
ST from Manhattan

I was also fondly remembering the Pink Moon VW add. VW had some great commercials. I remember being really excited when VW featured a song from Spiritualized, a band I really like at the time, because so many people were going to hear it.

Jan. 05 2010 02:22 PM
Sam from NYC

If selling a song to an ad campaign cheapens the personal value of that song to the listener, which in my opinion is true, then it puts all the more responsibility on the listener to download music legally to avoid musicians from being forced to sell their music ad campaigns.

Jan. 05 2010 02:22 PM
Alistair Wallace from midtown

Otis Redding did a jingle for Coke, Frank Sinatra sold Michelob- do they now suck?

Jan. 05 2010 02:22 PM
Angela from Brooklyn

I'm not happy about it, but I've given up on outrage on this one - everything is a commercial, sports arenas, subway stations, etc, why should music be different?

Jan. 05 2010 02:22 PM
Tom Abbott from Brooklyn

1 point: the musicians and bands who are able to license their music to commercials are already "commercially" viable. They are not the musicians you see working at the corner store or cafe.

Jan. 05 2010 02:22 PM
tony from NYC

yeah, i was pretty shocked when Nick Drake's PINK MOON turned up on the Volkswagen ad. i love both Nick Drake and Volkswagens, but the use was creepy, and points out the tricky instance in which the artist is not alive, and their estate makes that call.

Jan. 05 2010 02:22 PM
Peter from Crown Heights

I see a total difference in effect between the John Mellencamp example...and something like the current appropriation of Phoenix's 1901 by Cadillac.

Unfortunately, Chevy Trucks really misrepresented the meaning of the John Mellencamp song, and made it more of a rah-rah cheer for, than a meditation on America. For Pheonix...it's just a mood, just an feeling. That, for me, has less of an impact on the artist, and the artists integrity.

But, maybe I'm naive.

Jan. 05 2010 02:22 PM
Rick from nyc

paradox of licensing songs: you get to hear MANY songs you might not have heard otherwise. on the OTHER hand, if i have to hear those (once) great who songs on CSI ONE MORE TIME, i'm gonna do like elvis and shoot out ma tv! ;)

Jan. 05 2010 02:22 PM
Felix from Dallas

For me, an HP printer commercial ruined "Pictures of You", by The Cure. It just seemed so lame.

Jan. 05 2010 02:21 PM
Mike from Croton on Hudson

It was hard to hear Stereolab schilling for Verizon a few years back

Jan. 05 2010 02:20 PM
sm

I think it depends on the band, company, song, and product. It didn't seem to permanently tarnish Of Montreal, The Walkmen, The Lilys, Apples in Stereo, etc. On the other hand, if the product and song are both terrible to begin with, the band will be forever reviled to the listener.

What I find more irritating is the tendency to use the same selection of G-rated 60s popular soul that have been used thousands of times in previous ads. For instance, I don't need to hear "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" ever again in my lifetime.

Jan. 05 2010 02:20 PM
Allison from Gowanus

My husband and I laugh and laugh at the Iggy Pop song for CRUISES! The song is about drugs not families jumping in the ocean and playing in the pool. Weird.

Jan. 05 2010 02:20 PM
helena bogosian from tenafly< nj

yes...I love and respect the Who and then...it happened...and now it gets worse...I heard they are playing the superbowl!!!??? No!!!

Jan. 05 2010 02:19 PM
Kerissa from Brooklyn

My heart broke when 'How Soon Is Now?' was used for a car commercial.

Jan. 05 2010 02:19 PM
courtni from brooklyn

Don't you have to be sold in to sell out? But it's hard to distinguish between opening opportunities and going for a cash grab.

Jan. 05 2010 02:19 PM
Biff Strongarm from UES

What about the fact that Yo-Yo Ma's version of Bach's Cello Suite is featured on a new AMEX commercial? Should classical music be above such commercialism or is all music fair game? I tend to think the former.

Jan. 05 2010 02:18 PM
CBrown

In my experience, musicians and artists of all stripes do not equate making money with success. They equate it with being able to pay rent and buy food. Sure, sometimes someone licenses their work for something antithetical to values they stand for, and that's stinky cheese indeed, but for the most part I don't begrudge an artist actually making money off their work. I bet this critic who's holding forth on artistic integrity gets a decent salary and benefits package from his newspaper.

Jan. 05 2010 02:18 PM
jarad from NYC

Musicians need to appreciate their craft, and that licensing is a great way to hone your craft and make a living...didn't Handel write his Water Music to be the background? For a ridiculous cocktail party, examplifying opulence? Licensing is a new avenue for us all, so tap in!

Jan. 05 2010 02:18 PM
Alistair Wallace from midtown

Nobody remembered who Nick Drake was until he turned up in a VW ad.

Jan. 05 2010 02:15 PM
GW from Manhatan

OH and that Geico song "everywhere I go" I heard it on the commercial and went out and brought the song BECAUSE I heard it on the commercial...I had a few hit records in teh 80's and 90's and whilst I get royalyties from ringtones and etc etc, I would LOVE to get "commercialized. It opens ears and pays bills.

Jan. 05 2010 02:15 PM
bernard joseph from brooklyn

i think selling your songs to ad agencies is wrong if you wrote them without advertising in mind. BUT maybe some musicians can make some $ writing music for commercial use specifically. ad agencies should start giving these kinda gigs to musicians- it would save them a ton of $ and put qualified musicians to work when it's so hard to make $ playing and recording these days.
and screw moby- if it was such a mistake then give the money back!!

Jan. 05 2010 02:15 PM
jarad from NYC

Musicians have to understand their CRAFT - and that can be different form that which is your art. But only through parctise of your craft, can you truly get to the art...water MUZAK, anyone?

Jan. 05 2010 02:15 PM
Cynthia from long island

Everyone loves Journey whether they admit it or not.

Jan. 05 2010 02:14 PM
Cynthia from long island

Everyone loves Journey whether they admit it or not.

Jan. 05 2010 02:14 PM
the truth! from BKNY

It's just business!

Jan. 05 2010 02:12 PM
kai from NJ-NYC

Selling out as an artist depends.

A few years ago, I started a huge furor on a musician's fansite (one who I dig and respect) by criticizing his commercial appearance for a certain product. My main problem was the the conflict between stated views of the artist and the with the product itself and what it represented during the height of the Iraq War.

Certainly people need to eat, but I must say I was glad that I haven't seen any other poor commercial choices (my opinion) from this artist.

Jan. 05 2010 02:11 PM
Cynthia from long island

Selling merchandise to your fans at a show isn't the same as letting Amex use to hawk their crappy credit card service!!!!!

Jan. 05 2010 02:11 PM
clark from Maplewood, NJ

Definitely a double-edged sword. You need to make money, but there's a difference between selling your band's t-shirt vs. selling some fritos.

Jan. 05 2010 02:10 PM
GW from Manhatan

"Selling out"? what a ridiculous thing to say. its POP music , its made to be sold and preferably sold out as in "sold out concert" only a conflicted, clueless person would call it selling out.

Jan. 05 2010 02:10 PM
helena bogosian from tenafly< nj

total sell out, but good way to make quick cash off of fleeting popularity.

Jan. 05 2010 02:09 PM
courtni from brooklyn

I agree that times have changed. If strategically licensing their music helps pay for a band to get on the road or to make that album or EP, then I can live with that. But there's always going to be the risk of being associated with product in some unforseen way. It's up to the individual artists to know their goals and balance that accordingly. Artists like M.I.A., who has licensed her music, admitted that when you come up not knowing about financial stability, it's a viable option.

Jan. 05 2010 01:56 PM
Rachel from Brooklyn

Re [3]: It's not necessarily true that bands that get these offers are already making enough money to justify quitting their day jobs. Car commercials especially seem to be targeting a lot more up and coming acts. Recently, a friend of mine (who happens to still work retail for 40 hours a week to pay the bills) was approached by Ford who wanted to use a clip from one of their songs in a commercial. The money his band would have made from that offer - had they accepted - would have made a big difference for them.

Jan. 05 2010 12:12 PM
Cynthia from long island

The majority of the bands who are approached for liscensing already have a ton of dough. It's not an urgent situation for them. They aren't going to have to work at Starbucks.

Jan. 05 2010 11:14 AM
Cynthia from long island

It is selling out!

Musicians have always made the majority of their money from playing live concerts anyway. Relatively few artists in the pop/rock industry managed to secure lucrative record deals. Even those artists still make more money from touring than record sales.

Unfortunately, greedy promoters are making concert tickets less affordable every year.

Jan. 05 2010 11:11 AM
desdemona finch from Brooklyn


Back in the day when musicians could actually make some semblance of a living, I would have sneered at bands who allowed their songs to be used to pimp Corporate America.

But nowadays times are tough. I'd rather see them licensing their songs to commercials than serving up espressos at Starbucks or hustling cocktails at a local bar or dancing on table tops to pay the rent.

As long as they believe in or aren't repulsed by the product their music is being used to promote, I say go for it.

Jan. 05 2010 11:09 AM

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