Music Placement on TV - From Background Music to Breakthrough Music Marketing
There used to be a time, in our teen years, when the coolest thing to do was hang around the house with your friends and watch some MTV, secretly dreaming that you could be a rock star, live the life, have the money, get the attention. It brought the strangest artists from the strangest places to your living room, in front of your very eyes, unlocking a chest filled with music you never even knew existed. From U2 to Bjork, Nirvana or Tupac, from hardcore rock to bubbly pop to downright trashy hip-hop, it was all there, perpetually surprising.
That time, however, is over. No more revelations when you turn on the TV. It’s always the same big names on rotation and by popular request, the best of the best. MTV is a great home for the works of those truly established, almost universally-known artists like Madonna, Coldplay or Timbaland. It has terrific shows that bring these artists closer to their audience and constantly keeps fans updated about what their icons are working on, but when it comes to bringing innovative newcomers into the spotlight, that’s where things get a little tricky. If in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s acts such as Bon Jovi and Nirvana sky-rocketed to fame because of being featured on MTV, nowadays you need a pretty solid rate of popularity to get your videos out there and for anybody to pay attention.
Music placement on TV shows has become one of the most prominent and sought-after methods of music marketing
What is the needy music consumer to do, then, when he craves some novelty? Simple. Start watching TV shows, movies and commercials, keeping an open ear for some very interesting background noise. For the best music placements experts in town that hand-pick music for shows such as music supervisor Jon Ernst for The City (MTV), music supervisor Kier Lehman for Entourage (HBO), or music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas for "Gossip Girl" (CW) and many others the game has just been upped.
Music placement has become one of the most prominent and sought-after methods of music marketing. Instead of just striving to book a spot as a performer on MTV (though that's never bad!), bands and singers today would probably prefer to have their songs licensed by a crafty music supervisor and included on the soundtrack of “Gossip Girl”. While seeking songs for television, films or ads and aiding in getting them exposed to millions of viewers, music placement experts have helped create the new stars of the contemporary music industry.
Exhibit one: The Fray. Founded in 2002 by a couple of schoolmates, the band did not really stir up any waves in the beginning, except for some local acclaim and one of their songs gaining ground on a Denver radio station. Once some A&R reps decided it had potential and licensed it for the Stealth soundtrack, this track, known now as ‘Over My Head (Cable Car)” was suddenly a top 40 hit. However, their ascent to stardom was triggered when their song “How To Save a Life” was featured in the hit TV shows Grey’s Anatomy and Scrubs, in 2006. Soon after, it secured a spot in the top 3 of the Billboard Hot 100, got downloaded (legally) more than 1 million times and paved the way for The Fray to market some of its other compositions in the soundtracks of very high-ranking shows and movies, like One Tree Hill or Jumper. It was in a sense, the art of music supervision that propelled them from underdogs to A-list musicians, and that is when music networks such as MTV or VH1 started heavily airing their songs.
Another indisputable case of music placement pushing an artist “from zero to hero” is that of Yael Naim. Everybody remembers the childishly fun, cute and simple tune of the 2008 Mac Book Air commercial; that was Yael’s single,”New Soul”. Those 30 seconds of minimalistic, conceptual and well-targeted advertisement relied intensively upon the warmth, the trust and the optimism that the chosen soundtrack conveyed and resulted in driving Naim’s song into the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, thus making her the first Israeli artist to achieve such a performance. In this situation, effective music placement helped speak for the product, while the company’s reputation got the music some well-deserved public attention.
Fans of music and movies alike can also thank music supervisors for digging up the eclectic and influential Grammy and Academy Award nominee M.I.A.(Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam) from the crowded music libraries of the web, where she was already receiving accolades. Her spontaneous media fame was acquired after her song “Paper Planes” which became the main music piece of the “Pineapple Express” comedy's official trailer and her rise continued when the same song was featured in the jackpot winner of this year’s Oscars, Slumdog Millionaire. With her mix of politically-inspired lyrics, Sri Lankan origin and electro-reggae, the singer got to contribute to this soundtrack with another song ”O...Saya” landing an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song, while “Paper Planes” was competing for a Grammy in the Record of the Year category. To put it in a nutshell, movies were a genuine launch pad for the artist and the main reason for which she is currently on center stage - music placement was the lever for making it big.
The Reversal of Music Marketing
There is no doubt that the art of music supervision is the new gold mine when it comes to trend spotting and helping hereto undiscovered talents to sell their music. What are the key factors of this reversal of authority in music marketing?
One of them might be the policy of music TV networks themselves. What was once a heaven for viewers and musicians combined seems to have evolved pursuing a “more TV, less music” direction; a substantial share of their daily routine now consists of reality shows and youth-oriented programs, some of them displaying the lives of rich music celebs, like The Osbournes or Newlyweds, others barely touching on the subject of music, such as My Super Sweet 16 or Jackass. MTV has become a wider, more far-reaching social platform, but it somehow looks as though it has lost some of its musical function along the way.
Of course, the fact that it is based upon music videos, on the association between sound and visual art, and not just upon the tunes themselves might not be so helpful either. Underground acts with an otherwise noteworthy dose of talent cannot always afford to incur the huge costs of shooting a competitive video, especially when it is cheaper, more effective and more product-focused to pitch their songs for music placement; it is much more likely to get your work noticed for what it is during a long-awaited episode of House MD to which 13 million people will tune in than to catch someone’s attention among the thousands of videos rotated each day on MTV. The Internet, as a location, and music supervision in television, movies, games and ads, as an instrument to reach classical media, have risen to a higher power status in the music industry.
Altogether, whatever the reasons for this change of guard between the old and the new, the truth remains that all those in charge of music placement are faced with more and more challenges and have a greater responsibility; they are the bridge between quality music newbies and art-thirsty, avid listeners, which translates into the pressure to continue raising the bar, but also into a whole fantasy land of music supervision opportunities. No matter what the future of visual media holds, the public will undoubtedly want to listen and not only watch.
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