Television advertising and music: How M. Ward, Nick Drake, The Beatles, and various other musicians entice you to buy, buy, buy.

“It’s the way a lot of artists are getting their music heard these days with the decline of record sales,” Rexroat commented, adding that it's sometimes "the nature of the deal."


Lyle Hysen, who I specifically interviewed regarding the use of M. Ward's "Here Comes The Sun Again" in a new Subaru commercial, said he understands "when fans have a problem when a song is used in a commercial. Music is a very personal thing to a lot of people." Hysen, a former Matador Records employee, understands the use of music in commercials is a part of the business and it's here to stay. He, too, became disheartened when the music of one of his personal favorites, the Clash, appeared in a commercial, but over time he realized he had to let it go and say to himself, "this is what it's about now."

So what about the use of music in commercials as a means of enticing us to buy a certain product? "If the campaign is creative enough, then absolutely," Lowenberg said. Cally agreed, adding "but often not as effectively as advertising agencies like to make out." When I asked Cally if it was the same for music used in films, he said he viewed it in the same way. "It is easier to spot a good film than it is to spot a bad advert." Artists such as M.Ward [pictured above] are very much involved with the use of their music in commercials.

And in fact, musicians sometimes go so far as to write songs strictly for ad placement. Hysen has had to deal with such matters in the past. His thought? "Writing to get placed is the worst song idea, ever."


For many, songs in commercials and movies help us discover new artists. The Royal Tennenbaums turned me on to Elliott Smith and Nick Drake [pictured left]. Would I have heard either of these musicians if I hadn't seen the film? Who knows? What about the use of Nick Drake's "Pink Moon" in a 2006 Volkswagen commercial and "From The Morning" in a 2010 AT&T ad? "Many people discovered Nick for themselves by wanting to know whose song was being used by BOTH these TV adverts," Cally commented on the matter.

"Artists are extremely cognizant of how their songs are going to be presented," Lowenberg told me. "They take the time to understand how it will be used in the TV spot. In many cases, the song can gain a new life and evoke a new emotion."

After speaking with these folks, I arrived at a new understanding of how and why songs are used in commercials and film. But I'm curious about exactly what kind of "new emotion" a song gains. For some, that emotion is anger; even though the artist may have given his or her consent, for us, it feels like the song has been degraded and takes on a whole new meaning when paired with a shoe or a car or an iPod -- and not always a good one, either. McCartney said that "Revolution" has nothing to do with a sneaker, so one question very obviously remains: "Does the ad change the integrity of the song?"

Obviously it depends on who you ask and it definitely depends on how emotionally attached you are to the song. I've recently been turned onto two new bands because of TV -- Mumford & Sons and Sleigh Bells. But I imagine fans of both bands might feel differently. In fact, I'm sure there are those who despise the use of The Minutemen's "Corona" in the MTV show Jackass, or the recent Cadillac commercial featuring "Suzie Blue" by Ben Harper. But we have to come to an understanding. Technology has played a huge part in people discovering new music, so the way artists market and sell their music in 2010 has to be different because they can no longer rely solely on record sales and touring to bring in capital. While we may not be happy when a song we like appears in a commercial, we can accept it knowing that the artists we love will benefit from it in the end and can continue to keep doing what they're doing because of it. And as long as you can put on your favorite album by your favorite band and still be moved by it in the same way you were when when you first heard it -- that's all that really matters in the end.

The commercialization of music is a subject of much debate. When an artist's songs are used to sell a product, it makes you wonder if the intent of the song is being compromised, and just how using the song is helping sell said product. In an era when hard CD sales are at an all time low and record shops are closing their doors because of the rise of sites like iTunes and Rhapsody, many artists are turning to commercial placement as a way to turn a profit. Among the artists whose music has shown up in TV ads for products ranging from shoes (Puma, Nike) to cars (Volkswagen, Subaru, Cadillac) to restaurants (Outback Steakhouse) are the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Magnetic Fields, of Montreal, Nick Drake, Flaming Lips, Modest Mouse, and M.Ward.  One of the earlier, better-known cases of popular music liscensed for commercial use was in a 1987 Nike ad featuring "Revolution" by The Beatles. [Commercial still pictured at right.] Michael Jackson purchased the publishing rights to more than 100 Beatles songs in 1985 and had sanctioned its use in the ad. A lawsuit followed and while the outcome remains a secret to this day, we do know Yoko Ono approved of its use while the three surviving members of the band did not. The incident also ended the long-standing friendship between Jackson and Paul McCartney.

I spoke with several music industry people about the matter, from musicians to managers, and they all had something different to say. Cally (full name Cound Martindt Cally Von Callomon) manages Nick Drake as if he were a living person. I also had the pleasure of speaking with Lyle Hysen, who owns Bank Robber Music (BRM for short) and works with Merge Records directly in regards to licensing and commercial placement for many Merge artists. I also talked to Deon Rexroat, bass player for Anberlin, and Adam Lowenberg at Primary Wave Music. Primary Wave deals with publishing for Anberlin, as well Kurt Cobain, Hall And Oates, Daniel Johnston, and Bo Diddley, to name a few.

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