Advertising & Music: When Is It Selling Out?

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Advertising & Music: When Is It Selling Out?

Advertising and music come hand in hand whether we like it or not; from jingles to licensed music it has been an integral part of selling anything and everything. Hearing one of your favourite bands in a commercial can often bring mixed feelings, mostly ones of displeasure. Let’s be honest, generally once a song has been used in an ad, it most certainly loses any cool appeal it once had.

It’s a relationship that’s always been full of friction. Artists want to maintain their integrity and rightly want to be compensated for the use of their work, which is not always the case. These quarrels bring into question the larger moral of advertising and music. In today’s music industry, if a band licenses their music for advertising are they sellouts? Do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks? And when is enough, enough?

Feuds over music royalties in advertising has become commonplace. In recent times we’ve seen the likes of The Black Keys suing Pizza Hut over their misappropriation of their track ‘Lonely Boy’; and The John Butler Trio agreed to an out of court settlement with a yoghurt company, that used a riff in their Superbowl ad that sounded a little too much like ‘Zebra’.

In another instance, Beach House was approached by Volkswagen for the use of one of their songs in an advert. The band politely declined their request, so Volkswagen went ahead and simply commissioned sound-alikes to make a song that sounded almost identical to Beach House anyway.

Sigur Rós took a slightly more passive approach, simply blogging that while they take a strict stance of not licensing their music for advertising, some adverts sound remarkably similar to their music regardless (a whole mess of them in fact). But why the proliferation of soaring Icelandic soundtrack mimicry?

It’s no accident that these corporations and brand names are chasing down these acts to license their music, or simply create carbon copies of them. Every advert has a particular purpose and affect, there’s a literal target (demographic) that they’re aiming to hit. It’s about branding, they want to associate themselves with what ‘the kids are listening to’, and open their brand or product up to that audience – or at least make them aware of it.

Interesting then that licensing music for the use of advertising and other mediums can – for some bands – be a difficult decision; while for others – it’s particularly easy. In today’s industry when it comes to advertising, the question over an artist’s integrity generally depends on their level of exposure.

If Prince licensed his music to sell cars, one can imagine that this may attract an array of criticism. Does Prince need the money from the ad? Probably not. Does Prince need the extra exposure that it might bring? Most certainly not. If an artist can announce a tour two months in advance and sell out an arena for three nights, you can comfortably assume they’re doing all right.

Take Bob Dylan for instace, a man who claims immense respect and probably doesn’t need advertising dollars, particularly with his ‘rockin’ against the man’ history. Well we don’t have to look back too far to see the great folk singer/songwriter featured in an ad for Cadillac in 2007, never mind the creepy connotations of his lurking presence in his Victoria’s Secret lingerie endorsement.

Another heinous example of rock royalty ‘selling out’ was The Rolling Stones licensing ‘Start Me Up’ in an advertisement for Microsoft’s Windows 95… shameful stuff.

But that’s the old vanguard, the music landscape has shifted considerably. Physical sales of music just don’t make the money they used to (just ask any record company bleeding profits) and bands are expected to offer some of their tunes for gratis if they expect to gain any sort of foothold. The rules have changed, and so then has the perception of what ‘selling out’ actually means.


Biggest Sell Outs in Rock n’ Roll

Biggest Sell Outs in Rock n’ Roll

“Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”, declared Johnny Rotten on stage at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom in 1978 as he finished the Sex Pistols’ last...


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