Unique stories lie behind every licensing deal
EmptyBehind every placement of a music artist's work in a TV show or commercial, there's a complicated tangle of pitches, requests, negotiations, licensing agreements, marketing considerations and aesthetic judgments. When it all comes together, the results are generally a win for all sides, but the specific ways that music can impact something on television -- and the ways that a TV usage can impact an artist's career -- vary greatly. Following, those involved in the placement process react to specific meldings of music and television.
Songwriter and performer for Devo, which has rerecorded and licensed numerous songs for commercials, including "Whip It" for Swiffer and "Beautiful World" for Target
"It was never a difficult decision for us to license stuff. Devo was a performance-art group, and the very concept behind the group was an audiovisual merging and a breaking of boundaries, so we never saw a problem with being used in a commercial. And especially since self-effacing irony was built into our songs, we find it really amusing and gratifying that people take the songs and use them in an abominated way. The Swiffer commercial was by far our favorite: 'When you've got a dirty floor, you need Swiffer.' Mark Mothersbaugh and I were laughing so hard, we were crying when we saw that. It looked like something we should have done on our own, but we would have never had as high a production value as what's in the commercial. We also particularly liked the use of 'Beautiful World' in a Target ad in which they used the line from the chorus -- 'It's a beautiful world' -- but left off the most crucial piece of lyrics, the end of that sentence: 'but not for me.' They wanted to keep it a beautiful world for everybody. That was just great."
Music supervisor (Showtime's "Weeds" and "Dexter," Fox's "House")
"One of my favorite usages was of a song by an artist named Jenny Owen Youngs, who had a little independent release that I first got to know doing my radio show at KCRW. We used a song of hers called 'Fuck Was I' for the opening scene of the second season (of 'Weeds'). Mary-Louise Parker's character had just slept with a new friend of hers who turned out to be a DEA agent. He put his coat on, and there's 'DEA,' and you hear the lyric: 'What the fuck was I thinking ....' A little on the nose, but it worked perfectly and fit with the quirky sensibility of the show. It worked well for Jenny, too. She told me that after the song was announced on the 'Weeds' Web site, things really changed for her. She got signed to a label, more people started coming to her shows, and her record started selling better."
Manager, the Slip, a young, Boston-based band whose song "Life in Disguise" was recently used on ABC's "Grey's Anatomy"
"I didn't know what to expect. It still takes a lot of luck to get a song picked for this kind of thing. But the song got used in a very meaningful way, under a montage where a character was being consoled over the death of his father, and various relationships and romances were moving forward. It was a really artistic use of the song. I started hearing from all these friends of the band who said they watched the show for their weekly cry and loved hearing the song. And I ended up having a pretty emotional moment watching it, too. It really caught the band by surprise because first they just thought it was cool as a money thing and an exposure thing. But we heard that 23 million were watching that night, and when you realize that your humble little song was part of a deep, emotional moment for that many people, it's pretty overwhelming."
Senior director of film and television. Beggars Group and Matador Records
"We had an interesting situation working on a television spot with the Diamond Trading Company, which is basically the marketing arm of De Beers. They wanted to use music by Cat Power, but they weren't sure what they wanted. She recorded a selection of cover songs for them to pick from, (including) a cover of Cat Stevens' 'How Can I Tell You.' But (Power) only recorded enough of the song for the 30-second spot. Fans assumed she'd done the whole song and that it would be available somewhere. When they couldn't get it, it created more of a buzz. So now, at her shows, people are yelling out, 'Sing the diamond song.'"
Songwriter, recording artist
"I had a tune on one of my albums called 'The Whistle Song' that got picked up for Starburst candy as part of an international campaign. The director of the TV spots loved the song and cut it in as a temp track. It ended up staying in, and last I heard, a few hundred thousand kids had downloaded the song off the Starburst Web site. I certainly wasn't thinking 'candy commercial' when I wrote the song, but it doesn't seem too weird. I've made more money from placements and ads than I have from record sales. I recently did a jingle for a local ski place near where I live in Michigan, and in exchange I got a 12-year family pass. It's all about putting a value on your music. Whether that value is a licensing check or a lift ticket, there's no reason to resist doing business."
Music supervisor (NBC's "Friday Night Lights")
"You really live for those moments when music and story come together in a great way. One of my favorites so far has been at the end of an episode where we used an artist named Chris Brokaw, who had recorded a cover of the Suicide song 'I Remember.' In the scene, the guys are in the locker room getting ready to go out on the field, getting pumped up and excited. The song starts out and then keeps playing as the guys take the field, and one of the characters sees his alcoholic dad, who he didn't expect to see there. The lyrics are about incredible love, and to have the song carry you from the locker room to this father-and-son reunion was just spine-tingling. I hadn't even been aware of Brokaw's album when it first came out in 2005, so it was especially satisfying to take this great performance of a song and see it given a whole new life as part of the show."