[rumori] Re: pho: NYTimes.com Article: For Rock Bands, Selling Out Isn't What It Used to Be

From: Don Joyce (djATwebbnet.com)
Date: Sun Mar 11 2001 - 21:32:27 PST

Ha! Right, advertising MUST be the future of music! It wont change it much,
will it?
Robert and Hilarie were once astute about how they felt towards the Beach
Boys selling out. The trouble is, as they once realized so well, ad music
is not ONLY art anymore. If they had only kept a mirror handy as they grew
older and more desoarately in search of fame and fortune to make it all

>This article from NYTimes.com
>has been sent to you by djkrimboATearthlink.net.
>One more case study from the world of licensing for TV comercials. Seems
>to be a somewhat mixed review in the end. Lesser-knowns don't get top
>dollar for the license, so remember to diversify and not rely solely on
>this one revenue source..
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>For Rock Bands, Selling Out Isn't What It Used to Be
>In their low-slung Denver living room last fall, Robert Schneider and
>Hilarie Sidney were talking about what it means for musicians to
>sell out. Robert sat on the carpet, jittery and animated under a
>wisp of sandy hair; his wife, Hilarie, who was eight months
>pregnant with their first child, offered cookies. The day the Beach
>Boys sold "Good Vibrations" for a soft-drink ad, they agreed, was
>one of betrayal and ruin. "That was the Beach Boys at their wildest
>and most psychedelic," Robert says. "For a long time after that, it
>was hard for me to take the song out of the Sunkist commercial."
> For the past eight years, the couple, both 30, have been playing
>in a five-member band called the Apples in Stereo. Robert sings and
>plays guitar; Hilarie plays drums. The Apples consider themselves
>"a cross between the Beach Boys and the Velvet Underground," Robert
>says, breezy but, by ethos and tribe, "totally punk rock, indie
>rock." Their three albums for the independent label SpinART have
>gotten good reviews and sold about 20,000 copies apiece.
> In late summer 1999, the band got a call from their friend Tim
>Barnes, who lives in New York. Tim plays drums in a couple of
>underground bands and lets the Apples stay with him whenever they
>play in New York or Hoboken. But mostly, Tim designs sound and
>suggests music for commercials. At the time, he was working on an
>ad for Sony being done by Young & Rubicam and thought the Apples in
>Stereo's song "Strawberryfire" would be perfect. The agency was
>offering about $18,000. Was the band interested?
> Here was a critical moment. Hilarie could still remember the
>breathless thrill of discovering her favorite band, Pavement, and
>the loss she felt when they became popular, available to just
>anyone. She thought of the indie-rock purists who felt betrayed
>when the Apples released an album instead of just cult-friendly
>singles. Didn't the band owe something to these believers? At the
>same time, even after the record company took its cut, it was more
>money than the band cleared in a year of recording and touring --
>all work occasional jobs to eke out a living. When Robert put the
>question to the rest of the band, he says, "Everyone's reaction
>was, right away, 'It's cool."' They took the offer. So began their
>odyssey in the new economy of pop music, where radio, MTV, touring
>and even record sales are no longer the only means of getting over.
> Fourteen years after Nike outraged Beatles fans, and the surviving
>Beatles, by using "Revolution" in a sneaker ad -- Michael Jackson
>controlled the publishing rights to the song -- the revolution is
>over, and the advertisers have largely won. Bruce Springsteen
>famously refused a reported $12 million to license his song "Born
>in the U.S.A." to Chrysler in 1986 and remains one of the handful
>of high-profile holdouts. (Others include Neil Young and Tom
>Petty.) But such opposition appears to be in retreat. "Artists no
>longer feel stigmatized about being used by corporations," says
>Cyndi Goretski, artists-and-repertoire manager in the licensing
>division of Warner Music. Counterculture anthems by the Who or Jimi
>Hendrix now sell cars. When Sting couldn't get airplay for his
>recent song "Desert Rose" or for the video, which featured him
>riding in a Jaguar, he licensed the video to the company to turn it
>into an ad. The exposure helped "Brand New Day" become his
>top-selling solo album.
> But increasingly, agencies are looking beyond middle-of-the-road
>pop like Sting's and building brand identity for their clients with
>hip curios like the Apples. If you want to hear interesting,
>ambitious, challenging pop music these days, the place to turn is
>not mainstream radio but television -- and not MTV but commercials
>for establishment products like banks, phone companies and
>painkillers. As pop radio has constricted around a handful of slick
>teen acts, commercials screech and thump with underground dance
>music and alternative rock, selling products whose reach extends
>way beyond that of the musicians.
> Alternative musicians, once shielded by the cocoon of their modest
>ambitions, suddenly face a new field of opportunity and of ethical
>quandary. Putting an obscure song in an ad may be different from
>using a well-known hit, which hints of endorsement. But it still
>confers the music's flavor to a brand or product. When the ad world
>gets this hip, where lie the parameters of selling out? "We're
>putting money back into that fringe of popular culture," says
>Barnes, who has sold advertisers on such odd fellows as the Sea and
>Cake, Faust and the experimental jazz drummer Milford Graves,
>besides the Apples. "We're able subversively to put some of these
>groups into the living rooms of America. Certain fans may get
>upset. But I don't really know how to answer that."
>y the time Robert and Hilarie and their band mates had to make
>their decision, the ad world was already a jukebox for just the
>sort of band the Apples considered themselves. "The Lilys had done
>two commercials," Robert says. "Spiritualized and Stereolab were on
>ads for Volkswagen. They were putting all this really cool music
>where there used to be just lame, sub-Top 40 jingles."
> In theory, commercial licensing gives musicians a way around the
>gatekeepers of the music business. Musicians traditionally need
>record companies to manufacture, distribute and promote their work.
>The rise of Napster and MP3, which allow music to be distributed
>over the Internet, already threatens the need for manufacture and
>distribution. Licensing, in turn, can provide operating money and
>blanket exposure -- through commercials, film and television
>soundtracks, even toys and video games. This means freedom not just
>from record companies but also from the boundaries of radio and
> The trailblazer along this new path is Richard Hall, better known
>as Moby, the electronic musician (and descendant of Herman
>Melville) whose album "Play" proved the power of advertising to
>sell not just soap but CD's as well. When it first came out in June
>1999, the album's beguiling mixture of electronic beats and old
>gospel and blues recordings drew great reviews, but radio and MTV
>didn't have a spot for it.
> Blocked at the conventional routes, Moby started to license songs
>for commercials, movies and television shows. Suddenly, his music
>was everywhere: on sitcoms and movie trailers, on ads for Nordstrom
>and American Express. The label made deals for every song on the
>album. "It was very short-lived, but we made a lot of money," says
>David Steel, head of special projects, including licensing, at
>Moby's label, V2. In all, Steel says, they signed more than 100
>licenses in North America alone, for which Moby's cut is
>approaching $1 million. More important, the exposure opened doors
>at radio and MTV, pushing sales of the album past seven million
>copies worldwide.
> But there was also a downside to the success. Since the campaign,
>some advertisers have cut the prices they're willing to pay for
>songs, figuring that the musicians profit from the exposure. Steel
>says he recently licensed a song for half what he could have
>charged before the Moby juggernaut.
> Robert and Hilarie had always imagined that advertising meant
>striking a Faustian deal with a soulless corporation. But when the
>call came, it was nothing like that. It was their friend Tim, a fan
>of the band. He had directed its first video. He was as indie as
>the band was, as genuinely interested in music. This made a big
>difference. "You imagine that it's a crass process," Robert says.
>"But it's not like Sony used our song in the commercial, which is
>how it looks to the indie kid. It's just one guy who liked our
> Ad agencies, particularly the creative departments, tend to be
>filled with people in their 30's with adventurous, nonmainstream
>tastes -- exactly the kind of people who might listen to Moby or
>the Apples in Stereo. Barnes, 33, is a perfect example: a musician
>and former college radio disc jockey who came of age during the
>1990's success of alternative rock and remains convinced that
>underground tastes can translate to the masses. The music in any ad
>has to establish an emotion, but it does not have to sell itself,
>to triumph as foreground. This opens the door to music that could
>never thrive in the marketplace, and so to the idiosyncrasy of
>personal taste -- increasingly, to the tastes of people like
>Barnes. When the creative directors on the Sony ad planned to
>commission music from a commercial jingle house, Barnes suggested
>the Apples, a cheap alternative.
> Robert and Hilarie found their conversations with Barnes a
>surprising education in the ad world, how different it was from the
>bureaucracy of the music business. A creative director who liked
>Moby or the Apples in Stereo could just put them in the mix. The
>contrast hit Robert hard: "Radio is controlled by this huge
>industry. Ads are controlled by a few creative people. They
>probably did art in college. Maybe they were college radio
> And there was another, broader view: no matter how punk you
>thought you were, so much of what you did was about selling,
>whether yourselves or your T-shirts. Even the band's Web site, its
>24-7 connection with the community of its fans, ran ads. Why was
>this any worse? "It's more of a sellout to go to a commercial radio
>station and kiss someone's [expletive]," Robert says. "It's more of
>a sellout to do cheesy meet-and-greets for some major label. And
>having to work another job that takes all your energy from your
>music is even more selling out."
>o understand how entangled the connections between underground
>music and advertising have become, consider the Volkswagen
>commercial that used the ethereal ballad "Pink Moon," by Nick
>Drake, an obscure English folk rocker who died in 1974 after an
>overdose of antidepressants and who in the 1990's developed a cult
>following among indie-music fans. The Volkswagen campaign, created
>by a Boston agency called Arnold Worldwide, has been among the most
>adventurous in its use of obscure or forgotten music, pulling songs
>from performers as disparate as the jazz iconoclast Charles Mingus
>and the German new wave band Trio. To shoot the Drake spot, the
>agency hired Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who are known for
>their trippy, award-winning music videos for the alternative bands
>Korn, Smashing Pumpkins and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Such crossovers
>between making videos and making ads are common, further blurring
>the distinction between the two.
> The original plan was to use the song "Under the Milky Way," by
>the Australian post-punk band the Church. But Lance Jensen and
>Shane Hutton, the writers, couldn't get "Pink Moon" out of their
>heads. During the edit, they tried it with the film. It clicked.
>The agency put the ad on the VW.com Web site, with a link for
>people to buy Nick Drake's CD online. Sales of the album jumped
>from 6,000 copies a year to 74,000. "He sold out without knowing
>it," Faris says.
>ny discussion of the nuances of selling out should rev.finally get
>down to money. The finances of a working rock band like the Apples
>in Stereo are far from glamorous. The Apples do not have a manager,
>and after a brief flirtation with a major label, they record solely
>for SpinART, a tiny label in Manhattan. For their most recent
>album, they received an advance of $30,000 to cover the costs of
>recording and pay the band. Though rock fantasies are made of
>truckloads of royalties, in reality musicians more often live off
>their advances, beholden to their labels by paper debt. Royalties
>kick in only after the label recoups the advance, plus assorted
>other expenses.
> From the advance, they spent $13,000 on a vintage tape machine to
>get the right sound for the album. The band members each took
>$1,000 for living expenses. The rest went to buy equipment and
>record the album. On tour, the band plays about 100 shows a year
>and makes between $250 and $2,500 at each, or about enough to break
>even, plus whatever they can pick up selling CD's and T-shirts at
>the gig -- on average about $100. They keep their touring costs
>low, and live on meatless Big Macs. "The fans must think we're
>making hundreds of thousands of dollars," Robert says. In truth,
>Robert and Hilarie had been doing temp jobs and telemarketing to
>help pay their $825-per-month rent for one-half of a two-family
>house. They still cannot afford the Sony Wega television for which
>their song was used.
> For some musicians, ads can be a windfall. Songs by major acts
>fetch up to several million dollars; even acts you've never heard
>of can negotiate as much as $250,000, if the advertiser wants the
>song badly enough. "There is no menu of prices for music," says
>Alan Pafenbach, executive vice president and group creative
>director at Arnold Worldwide. "It's what the people who own the
>music think it means to you."
> In practice, though, breakthroughs like Moby's are rare. For the
>Apples in Stereo, the money was more stopgap and the exposure of
>limited value. To hear 15 seconds of an unidentified song during a
>break in "Friends" is not necessarily to fall in love. But from the
>ad came more offers: from J. C. Penney and Bank of America; from
>the TV series "Roswell," an ABC after-school special and the
>animated series "The Power Puff Girls." This all amounted to about
>another $19,000 for the band. It was free money, unsolicited, for
>which they didn't have to play a gig or do an interview. It allowed
>them to carve a little comfort even if they were selling just
>20,000 albums.
> "There's a music industry stereotype that bands are going to
>thrive or burn out," says Beth Urdang, a former bass player and ad
>executive who recently started her own firm, Agoraphone, to find
>obscure, affordable, cool music for ads and films. "All this
>soundtrack and advertising work creates a musical middle class
>that's not dependent on selling records at all."
> To license a recording, advertisers have to pay for two
>copyrights: the composition and the performance itself, or master.
>If musicians own these copyrights, licensing can be exceptionally
>lucrative. More often, though, the copyrights are held wholly or in
>part by bigger companies -- music publishers on the one hand,
>record companies on the other. In each case, musicians sign away
>their future rights for cash up front; they get further payments
>only after this advance has been recouped. Depending on the
>contract, publishers can generally license compositions without the
>writers' permission, but acts can often veto use of their master
> Under this setup, "it's very hard for an artist to pocket the
>cash" from an ad, says Richard Grabel, a lawyer who represents
>alternative musicians, including Sonic Youth and Liz Phair. Though
>recording and publishing contracts usually call for splitting any
>"third party" revenues with performers, Grabel says, in reality,
>the band probably owes more than its cut against its advance.
>Performers have to wheedle for a cut from the record company,
>Grabel says, in exchange for granting permission on the masters.
>The Apples in Stereo never signed a publishing deal, so they were
>able to keep the publishing payments. But they had to split the
>master royalties with the record company to pay back various
> Then the ads hit the fans. Bands on the level of the Apples in
>Stereo take pride in keeping little distance between themselves and
>their audiences -- hanging out after shows, sometimes crashing on
>someone's couch. Even before the ads, Hilarie says, it had gotten
>so she didn't like to read the comments posted by fans on Internet
>message boards. This was their community, the nurturing pool of its
>shared values and aspirations, but it could feel small-minded and
>mean, the hothouse zealotry of adolescence. Their sense of
>righteous grievance ran so deep and was so easily tweaked. "They
>criticized every move," she says. After the J. C. Penney ad ran,
>they got a letter from a fan wondering how they could be that
>desperate; did they need the money for an operation or something?
> And the thing was, Hilarie says, she and Robert used to be just
>like that. They could understand. If she had ever turned on the
>television and seen a commercial using a Pavement song, she says,
>"I would have had a violent reaction. I'd have been nauseous. My
>gut reaction would be, that makes me sick." That's why the
>criticism from fans stung so much, she says. "You feel guilty." But
>at the same time, Robert says, "you know the person who wrote that
>letter is 18. And they're right, from that point of view. It's part
>of the sadness of bands getting bigger. You understand it better as
>you get older. Our band might not be able to keep going if we
>couldn't do this."
> As they moved through the ad world, the Apples in Stereo drew some
>limits. They recently turned down an offer to do an ad for Corona
>beer, even though they liked the guy who called. "We made an
>agreement we wouldn't do anything that promotes cigarettes or
>alcohol," Hilarie says. Robert ticked off a couple other
>restrictions. Leather. Meat. The military. As he saw it, J. C.
>Penney and Sony were different. "Hilarie bought all her maternity
>clothes at J. C. Penney," he says.
> But beyond these easy no-nos, is there a line in the sand, a point
>at which a performer or a song becomes cheapened by the commercial
>experience? It is a fan's romantic whimsy to think of musicians as
>aloof from the business of selling. Those days are over, if they
>ever existed. "Now artists are very focused on business issues --
>how they're marketed, how they're visually being presented," says
>Nancy Berry, vice chairman of Virgin Music Group Worldwide. "That's
>across the board. Every artist is so hands on." With all this
>intermingling of art and commerce, when does a sellout become a
> When they started as filmmakers, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
>did not like the idea of music videos; the specificity of the
>imagery, they felt, put limits on the song and listener. But they
>developed a visual vocabulary that was suggestive rather than
>definitive. A good video, Dayton says, "is an invitation to hear
>the song in a fresh way." The same standard might be applied to the
>use of songs in ads. In the Nick Drake spot, Dayton saw the song
>more as something the people in the ad might be listening to,
>reflecting on the characters, not on the car. "It's acknowledging
>the place music has in people's lives," he says. "It's not meant as
>an endorsement. As opposed to Nike's 'Revolution,' which is taking
>the idea of revolution and applying it to a shoe."
> But in a broader sense, both ads work the same sleight,
>transferring the good will created by or around a piece of music to
>a brand. "What is a brand?" asked Lance Jensen, who recently left
>Arnold to start his own agency, Modernista! "Is a brand products? I
>think it's a set of ideals, an aesthetic sensibility. Branding
>advertising is not about, 'Come on down, on sale now.' " To
>establish a brand is to establish a tribe around the brand, a
>tingle of shared pleasures.
> This is true of indie rock, or electronic dance music, as well.
>The Apples in Stereo and Moby offer not just songs but also
>membership in the tribe. As listeners, we invest songs with
>associations -- where we were when we first heard them, what sort
>of people we share the songs with. Ads insinuate the brand among
>these associations. For a small payoff, Sony becomes the third
>presence in the room with the music and the listeners. It will be
>harder, marginally, for the Apples in Stereo to be alone with their
>listeners again. Even the hippest ads compromise the listeners'
>intimate relationship with the music.
>obert and Hilarie bring a more pragmatic rationale to bear. The day
>after they got the nasty letter from the fan, Robert's stepfather
>called to say how proud he was. "And that had never happened
>before," Robert says. However compelling the principles, there had
>to be life beyond the rigid censoriousness that sometimes settled
>over the indie-rock world. Recently, the couple were looking at
>baby furniture in a Denver store but didn't have the money to pay
>for it. The baby was coming. The same day they got a call from
>their record company: Sony wanted to license "Strawberryfire" for
>another season.
> Again, the fee was small, but with their share, Robert and Hilarie
>were able to buy the baby furniture after all and to shed a small
>slice of financial worry. Their son, Maxwell Alexander Schneider,
>born Christmas Day, has a nice new crib and parents not too
>stressed, for the moment, by the call of their work. Perhaps a few
>of their fans won't like it. But it was time to grow up and out of
>it. If this was selling out, they were ready to buy in.
> John Leland is a Style reporter for The Times.
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