Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Noncommercial Commercial Music...?

I’m always on the lookout for new music, and sometimes I find some real gems in the strangest places. A prime example of this is my latest find. While watching TV I kept hearing this beautiful song…sparse melodies with whispery female vocals. It was from a JC Penney commercial, of all places, and so I went online to find out more about the song. You may have heard it. It begins:

I say, so say I
My morning thought
It knew itself just fine…

Turns out the song is from the unsigned Aussie band Forever Thursday and the song is called “How Can it Be,” and you can listen to the song, and watch the video, over at their MySpace.

I know very little about this band except what I read about them online. The band consists of Elliott Wheeler and Melanie Horsnell (who happens to have her own separate musical career that you can check out on her personal MySpace site.)

I was discussing this idea of songs being used in commercials with a friend, and she brought up how her family had gotten into the British experimental band Royksopp after hearing their song “Remind Me” in a Geico commercial, of all places (the one with the caveman in the airport.) And lately, I’ve been hearing the surprising inclusion of the Violent Femmes song “Blister in the Sun” on a Wendy’s commercial. Surprising because the Femmes have been one of the most noncommercial bands out there, and songwriter Gordon Gano is apparently a vegetarian. According to this blog by Andy Tarnoff, the sale of the song to Wendy’s has caused quite a bit of tension within the band.

Which begs the question…what are the implications of an artist allowing the use of their music in a commercial? This has been controversial for years, especially when songs from big name bands like The Beatles and U2 are used. I don’t know the ins and outs of this, but I would imagine that in most cases, at least someone within the band’s inner circle has had to make the decision. And I’m sure the band gets paid. But is it a good thing or a bad thing?

On the one hand, the band, songwriter, etc, can do what they please with their music. They own it. Though I’m sure there are probably a few instances where someone has purchased the song usage rights and then turns around and sells it again without band permission. And there are probably instances where management or record label people make the decision. In the case of small, relatively unknown bands like Forever Thursday or Royksopp, it can be a good thing. More and more commercials and television shows are giving American consumers exposure to new and interesting music. Yes, I shop at JC Penney. No, I don’t see JC Penney as having a “cutting edge” or “indie” image. But I’ve discovered new music from a new band, and it won’t make me shop any more, or less, at JC Penney. (Though I must say that someone over at JC Penney, or their ad agency, must have some degree of hip. In other commercials they have used the music of Supreme Beings of Leisure and The Apples in Stereo!)

On the other hand, I can understand the problems when a typically anti-corporate band like the Violent Femmes is used to hawk burgers from a fast-food chain. It will be interesting to see what this means to the future of that band. Or what about John Mellencamp’s song “Our Country” in a commercial for Chevy? I’m not a big fan of his, but I can’t help but scratch my head when a song filled with social commentary is used by a huge corporation to sell trucks. Somehow it just seems…mixed up, and not in line with the political and corporate stances that Mellencamp has taken in the past. Now, from the advertiser side of things it makes sense. Every time I hear that song on the radio, all I can do is think of the commercial and Chevy trucks! And I love Johnny Cash...but...Choice Hotels??

I guess the important point here is that the use of a song in a commercial can be problematic, especially when the product seems to be in direct variance with the actual philosophy of the song/artist. For instance, the use of U2 songs in the FIFA World Cup Soccer commercials seemed appropriate, particularly in light of the theme of global unity.

Your thoughts on the issue? And additionally, any uses of music in commercials that you absolutely hate? Or love? And like me, have you discovered any new bands as the result of a commercial (or even a TV show soundtrack)? Sell-out? Smart marketing? A bit of both?

To help you out, here are a few sites that keep track of this sort of thing:

Music From TV Commercials

What's That Called?



Have at it folks, and feel free to leave your thoughts and comments.


Anonymous said...

Two thoughts
1. I hate it when a song is used in a commercial but they get a cover band to record a poor impersonation of the orginal.
2. You are right about somtimes introducing you to new music. You and I would never have discovered Melanie Horsnell and Elliot Wheeler and Forever Thursday. I bought Melanie's album on itunes and the music is great and I am looking forward to whatever Forever Thursday put out next!! althou I discovered a gem at Youtube
with the sound track of a movie "Ravenswood" by the same pair.

Ken said...

hey anonymous. just curious who you are and if you happen to be someone that i know. fire me off a message to let me know. and if you are new here....welcome!

Jeremy said...

Just ran into your site googling Forever Thursday but decided to stay after reading some of your other posts and enjoying your blogroll. Blog on!

Oh and I'm not the anon above.