My original post, Music, Brands and Marketing Plans, whipped up a quick response and the comments were all very thoughtful – it is after all a bit of a thorny issue. [I realized that I had written about celebrities and brands before and the post includes an interview on the subject with former LA Times music critic Jeff Leeds - it's here]. One comment was of epic proportions so I reached out to its author, Steve Harvey of Medium Medium [a band that formed in Nottingham just after Gang of Four kicked off], and he kindly allowed me to turn it into an actual post, so here it is:
Apologies for the long post, but I think it’s a little more complicated than established artists shilling for products.
What about bands that are still well under the radar getting their music into commercials? Is it still selling out if a decent check — since they’re less well known it will hardly be ‘fat’ — allows the artist to then record their first album, say, or tour outside their home state? As a journalist with a pro audio equipment trade mag (and, as an aside, playing in a punk-funk band contemporaneous with Go4) I speak with commercial music houses all the time, and a good number are finding innovative ways to also get into licensing.
One goes looking for unsigned talent and works with them to produce music specifically for a campaign (Gram Rabbit is an example). Another works in a similar way, taking almost an A&R role (which the labels have long since abdicated), bringing in lesser known acts (e.g. Tigercity, Walter Meego, Spain Colored Orange) to work on commercials and films. Yet others work with musicians from signed, often major, bands to produce music for commercials and films that would not otherwise see the light of day within the confines of the band. That list includes Serj Tankian (System of a Down), Rich Robinson (Black Crowes), Jack Dangers (Meat Beat Manifesto), Roger Manning, Jr. (Jellyfish, Imperial Drag), Dashboard Confessional — and on and on.
As is frequently noted in articles and blogs on this topic, where else are some of these less well known artists going to get the money to fund their endeavors? There are plenty of negative comments directed at high-end artists (and their publishers) licensing songs for commercial use at hundreds of thousands of dollars per song, but we should perhaps spare a thought for those at the opposite end of the scale who don’t earn much — if anything — from touring or record sales and can truly benefit artistically from picking up a few thousand dollars on such a project.
Plus, with the present state of US commercial radio, these artists have a better chance of being heard by a wider audience via TV spots. Theyâ€™re not great examples, but Mitsubishi helped break Dirty Vegas through a commercial and VW brought Nick Drake to a wider audience than would otherwise have been possible. Maybe one day weâ€™ll look back and remember when Zales gave Robert Francis his first national exposure, in a commercial. They used to call it patronage, but producing commercial work for hire seemed to work out okay for the likes of Beethoven, Mozart and a host of others!
One other thing that never gets mentioned in these discussions, in particular for established bands of advancing years, is that you would surely prefer to benefit from both sides of the licensing arrangement, the recorded performance and the publishing. If an artist doesnâ€™t grant permission for someone to use their original recording in a commercial, and if the client wants it badly enough, the ad agency could simply have the song re-recorded. I donâ€™t know if thatâ€™s the case with the current Hershey spot, as Modern English have certainly licensed the song before, but that is one unpleasant cover version of â€œI Melt With You,â€ in my opinion!
All that said, there are plenty of songs I never need to hear again thanks to their appearance in TV commercialsâ€¦
Link to Steve’s Music Production Company.
You can see all comments on the original post here: