Wednesday, 12 September 2012

TV Ads Have Used Many Famous Songs But Does It Pay To Write A Song For A TV Advert?

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Black Eyed PeasFreddie Matthews writes from London: I have a friend, a singer and songwriter, who shall remain nameless, as I’m about to talk about his great fortune and wealth. He recorded a song in some tiny, dingy and smelly studio in the middle of London. Like many struggling musicians he would book up the graveyard studio slot as they are always cheaper. This musician, in his late 20’s, was pretty much broke but got by performing at small gigs as he’s a great singer and plays the guitar. He didn’t even write the song in question but he recorded his version of it. It was picked up for a British TV advert for a very large chocolate bar company and he was subsequently paid a one off straight fee of £50,000. Yes, £50k for singing one song. Just imagine how much the figure would have been had he written the song; £100k or more? We should also bear in mind that he was just an unknown artist who, in the advertising world, is a hell of a lot cheaper than a reputable name.


The late Steve Jobs at Apple was not only a music buff but thanks to the invention of iTunes he also played his part in launching some pretty mighty songs and the careers of the bands who wrote and performed them. He was partly responsible for opening the rest of the world’s eyes to The Black-Eyed Peas, as their ‘Hey Mama’ smash hit was used for the iPod 3G advert in 2004. It was an age when iTunes was starting to take over the music download world and these adverts were key products not only for the product but also for the featured performing artists. Remember Australia’s coolest indie rockers Jet and the belting song ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl’? They can thank Steve Jobs in part for over 7 million record sales. In 2004, Apple launched a special edition U2 iPod in a limited edition colour and design. At the time U2 didn’t really need the exposure, as they were the biggest rock ‘n roll band in the world. However their album ‘How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb’ certainly benefited from the success of the advert. ‘Vertigo’ was the song Apple used and as a result of the extra publicity the single became their biggest seller for over 7 years.


FeistThen there was Canadian singer Feist who made it big with her song, ‘1234’ in 2007, again thanks to another Apple product for the iPod Nano. Unless you were a fan of the unusual folk-pop scene before that then you’d probably never have heard of her. In part thanks to the TV advert her album ‘The Reminder’ went on to sell over 3 million copies worldwide.


I’m a music fan to the extreme and believe music should be kept in a pure environment. It should amount to the memory of a time and place with people and friends. Music should be emotive. Whether happy or sad it should have a feeling attached and those memories should only spring to mind when we hear our favourite songs from time to time.


As a result, I couldn’t think of a worse memory for Hot Chocolate’s 1975 absolute classic, ‘You Sexy Thing’. However thanks to a Dr Pepper TV advert there is absolutely nothing that you or I can do about it. Wouldn’t that have been better placed with a hot drinking chocolate? The so-called PR guru who came up with this ‘brain wave’ should have been shot.


Levi’s jeans have had some incredible TV and billboard adverts over the years. One that stands out from a music perspective was when they used a ‘Faith No More’ cover of The Commodores coolest, laid back, beauty which was simply called ‘Easy’. But why didn’t they use the original? Was it because The Commodores wouldn’t give permission? It’s highly probable that was the case, which is why you often hear a cover version of a classic with an advert. Or was it because The Commodores felt that to sell their music to TV would be a form of selling themselves out to the music and their fans?


Even the carmakers were in on the act and would Nick Drake have killed himself if he’d known that one day he’d be advertising German cars from beyond the grave? Yes, Volkswagen somehow got their well-manicured German hands on Nick Drake’s classic song ‘Pink Moon’. A piece of work that should never have graced your TV unless as a classic album; or maybe the owners of his legacy just needed the money. What an absolute shame.


Bob DylanBob Dylan has been actively making and releasing music since 1961. Yet it took him until 2009 before his music would grace the presence of a TV advert. Why was this, you might ask? Well your guess is as good as mine but TV in 2009 was a completely different beast to what it was back in the1960’s. To even up to and including the 1990’s and the marketing potential was now incredible. Step in Grolsh Beer and the Bob Dylan song ‘I Want You’. He travelled by land, sea and air to find the perfect companion to share a beer with. It sounds great but it’s a complete load of tosh. That one beer advert opened the floodgates for Bob Dylan’s back catalogue to Pepsi & The Co-Operative.


Is it all about money? Ultimately of course it is but not always in the cold hard cash survival terms, as it was for my friend and his chocolate bar advert. For the big boys (and girls) the publicity and subsequent album sales are the pay off.


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