In 1988, Neil Young released an album criticizing the commercialism of music that ironically won the title track Video of the Year at MTV's annual awards show. Only a decade later, Moby was the first artist to license every song on an album with 1999's Play, giving the electronic artist the biggest selling album in his genre's history. Moby cracked open the arena of associating one's music with commercials as a new way to expose music and also generate revenue.
And here we are another ten years later and almost every artist I speak to tells me how licensable their music is. Can syncs create exposure, raise funds, and help an artist's career? Absolutely! Are they a magic ticket to stardom or easy to land? Hell no.
Everyone talks about how Phoenix is the breakout example of advertising and commercials over the past year, and that is certainly the case. However, they've been a band for ten years! And, most importantly, their music is great. It took years of fan building, recording, live shows, and work to get them to the point where a sync helped tip them to the breakout level of success they've achieved.
Landing the right sync can certainly have immediate affects. When I worked with The Dresden Dolls, "Coin Operated Boy" was in a jam ad in Austria. Lo and behold, tickets in Vienna spiked significantly and fans, both in-person and online, let us know they discovered the group via the commercial.
However, due to the non-traditional aspects of the band's music, syncs were never a major factor in the band's overall success. Again, it was playing high-intensity shows and building their fan base by connecting with the audience.
Brendan Benson is one of the best songwriters of the past decade (in my very biased opinion) and you may have heard his songs at the grocery store or on CNN without even knowing it's him. Brendan has had tremendous success with licensing songs, but it is often hard to get a casual viewer of Smallville to figure out who the artist is. Brendan loves his publisher, but who knows, maybe each sync we land from here on out will help him grow in popularity as Shazam becomes more widespread.
Younger artists might not see the fan conversion straightaway, but many are putting the revenue to good use. Family of the Year was asked to cover Donovan's "Mellow Yellow" for a Coca-Cola ad and that kept their independent label funded, allowing them to create more music and tour for their fans. We've been in discussion with a clothing line to fund their next release. With online advertising become more prevalent (love you, Hulu), hopefully agencies working with independent and new artists will continue to grow.
However, all of these artists have their music pitched constantly. The competition is fierce! And look what can happen to a band like Urge Overkill. Having a cover in Pulp Fiction was huge for the band, but also distracted from their original material, which any Urge fan will tell you crushes any cover they recorded.
Regardless, I am lucky that most of our artists own their rights. That means quick and easy clearance in the fast-paced world of syncs. In addition, I'm happy to grant gratis licenses as although our artists content is the world to us, so is data collection, credit, exposure and solidifying a relationship with a music supervisor that might lead to another placement.
There is no magic slingshot into success. Keep working hard, creating great music, play mind-blowing live shows and a sync or two may very well come your way. But nothing replaces the passion, time, and work it takes to achieve true success.