Most people reading this will have heard of Tegan & Sara, Matt & Kim, and Fun. But how did these indie rock bands who spent years in the “hipster” music scene make there breakout into a more mainstream audience base? The surprising answer is a well-placed song in an advertisement. If you have now decided that this undermines the bands credibility, or makes you like them less, congratulations. You are a hipster. Now take your thrift shop suspenders and artfully beat-up faux leather wear and go listen to your roommate’s band with a name that probably sounds something like Electrical Outlet Espionage or Partying with Godot.
In a change from the Top 27.8 reasons why your hair color is more fun than all the other hair colors, Buzzfeed released a phenomenal article titled, “How Selling Out Saved Indie Rock” which both illuminates how indie rock bands managed to succeed after years of remaining on the fringe of popular music, and also exposing us to the role of music in advertising. The decline of the music industry is no secret, as record sales have declined to all-time lows (not the band) from a peak of $38 billion to $16.5 billion in 2012. However, the $4.43 billion dollars of the 2012 revenue that was generated in the US is almost equal to the amount spent by AT&T, Chevy, McDonald’s, and Geico on ad buys in the U.S. alone. This is one of the main reasons why bands no longer fear a loss of credibility in “commercializing” their music.
However, there is another, less monetarily driven reason, which also prompted the loss of the stigma that once came with “selling out”. Because of the music industry’s decline many employees were laid off. These employees then found jobs in marketing, advertising, and PR. Therefore, the connections from the music labels and underground bands switched to marketing and PR firms. There was a trust between the musicians and these employees which made it easier for the bands to license their music for commercialization. This change is what set the stage for people like Gabe McDonough, Leo Burnett’s Vice President of music. His job encompasses, “everything from music supervision for commercials to pitching artists’ tours for corporate sponsorships.” His latest placement was Lorde’s (who is no longer sixteen, but seventeen!) song Royals in a Samsung commercial.
However, there is also a level of sadness that musicians can no longer make money off of their music. McDonough said, “Eight out of ten of the most-followed people on Twitter are musicians. Nine out of ten of the most-viewed things on YouTube are music videos. What’s the value of having [a musician tweet] about something to 20 million followers? That’s more than a primetime ad buy on NBC you could spend gazillions on. And musicians are finally starting to realize that this is worth more than any song [they] could write. That’s money.” While this illuminates the astounding power of musicians, it also shows a potential shift from musicians as artists, to musicians as solely promotional tools.
Do you think that musicians are “selling out” by allowing their music to be placed in commercials? Do you think that this commercialization helps or hurts the music industry? Do you think that this shift has a potential to change the authenticity and integrity of artists? Or can this work in harmony with some commercialization?