TEXT OF STORY
Musicians used to think selling songs to commercials was pure sacrilege. But changes in the record industry have many artists reconsidering the ultimate sin. Rafael Cohen reports.
Rafael Cohen: Greg Weeks has a big deadline coming up. He’s the guitarist and singer in an indie band from Philadelphia called Espers. The band’s releasing a new album in October. What they’ve got sounds pretty good. But Weeks says there’s a lot missing.
GREG WEEKS: Brooke has her guitar part to put down, and Helena has her cello and if there’s any bass, there’s bass to be put down.
There are no vocals yet either. But the band might not need them for the album to start making money. Espers plans to mix an instrumental version. Not for fans, but for advertisers.
DAWN SUTTER MADELL: There’s a trend in advertising to use pre-recorded music.
Dawn Sutter Madell co-owns Agoraphone. It’s a music supervision company. She helps place songs in TV shows, movies and ads. She says advertisers like instrumental versions of songs because they feel more hip and authentic than jingles. Madell says when she started in the business getting this kind of music from bands was nearly impossible.
MADELL: It was a stigma 10 years ago that bands were really unwilling to license their music and have it associated with a product.
Now, bands like Seattle’s the Postal Service have boosted their exposure by licensing songs to companies like UPS.
UPS COMMERCIAL: It’s not customer service, it’s your customer service, with UPS.
Madell says more musicians are getting used to the idea that their music could be used in ads. Some are even embracing it. Advertisers can pay in the six figures for an established band’s song. An indie band like Espers might get between $20,000-60,000.
But aren’t these bands selling out? Weeks says there are some companies he wouldn’t want using his music. But he doesn’t seem too fussy.
WEEKS: Hey, if I get $100,000 to promote a tampon ad, tampons are used by everyone. They’re good, so why should I have a problem with that?
That’s a question a lot of musicians are asking themselves. Record sales have been falling since 2004. So, for most bands, selling a song to an advertiser might be the difference between rocking full time — and having to work a day job.
In New York, this is Rafael Cohen for Marketplace
News and information you need, from a source you trust.
In a world where it’s easier to find disinformation than real information, trustworthy journalism is critical to our democracy and our everyday lives. And you rely on Marketplace to be that objective, credible source, each and every day.
This vital work isn’t possible without you. Marketplace is sustained by our community of Investors—listeners, readers, and donors like you who believe that a free press is essential – and worth supporting.