August 8, 2008

More Bands Turn That ‘Indie’ Cachet into Cash


By Malcolm Venable

The Virginian-Pilot

In one of Bud Light's commercials for its new lime- flavored beer, the soundtrack features a cackling voice, backed by thunderous drums. "Got no need for the fancy things," a woman squeals. "Me, I'm a creator!"

Few people will recognize that the Bud Light jingle was not a jingle at all but an excerpt from "Creator" from the album "Santogold," prominent on many music journalists' "best-of" lists for 2008.

Santogold's fame is relegated mostly to blogs, music magazines and the people who appreciate synthpop, electro, New Wave and dub - not exactly mainstream sounds. Yet the marriage of an indie princess and Bud Light isn't as revolutionary as it sounds. More and more indie artists are getting their music featured in commercials, flipping tradition on its head. Forget "Like a Rock" for Chevrolet - the big hit from Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band. With today's marketing music, the more indie it is, the better.

Once upon a time allowing a big, supposedly evil corporation to use your music in a commercial was considered selling out. Today, in the face of a music industry slump and sluggish economy, smart artists are eager to get their music out on any platform available, and deep-pocketed companies are offering them opportunities in spades.

"A lot of corporations want to align themselves with young, hip artists," said Cortney Harding, indie correspondent at Bill board magazine. "A lot of these people want to build lifestyle brands, and they want the cachet that these kinds of artists give them."

Examples are coming in droves. The retro-psychedelic R&B group The Black Hollies, who were at The Boot in Norfolk last year, had its song "Tell Me What You Want" in a commercial for Dell, a move that helps the guys - who travel in a van and still have day jobs - make ends meet. Virginia Beach's N.E.R.D. had its song "Spaz" in a commercial for the Zune music player, while another VA Beach indie star, Kenna, had his song "Out of Control" appear in a commercial for the PSP game player. The Hives' "Well All Right" - incidentally produced by Virginia Beach's Pharrell Williams - appears in a Sears commercial.

Apple is probably the giant in this new frontier, having elevated singer Feist and the English pop band The Ting Tings from cool-kid secret to who's who with iPod and iTunes commercials. Now it's pretty much a given that any song featured in an iPod commercial will see downloads - and the band's fame - skyrocket .

That's what happened just the other week when Sri Lankan sensation M.I.A. saw her song "Paper Planes" jump to No.

1 on iTunes' electronic music chart after it was featured not on an iPod commercial but in one for the comedy "Pineapple Express."

Although M.I.A. is still a niche artist, she is used to this kind of literal "commercial" success; in 2006 her song "Galang" from her debut album, "Arular," was featured in a commercial for Honda's Civic.

It was no coincidence that the commercial for the sporty, economical car featured music from an artist with significant underground buzz.

"Since we were talking to a young car buyer, the music was especially important," said Nathan Crow, associate creative director for the firm RPA, which worked on the commercial. "It had to be able to inspire. It had to be approachable, memorable, catchy and genuine."

Crow said his company consulted HUM, a Santa Monica- based company specializing in what you might call "hip" music, to get placed in commercials for clients including Nike, Burger King, Gatorade and Apple. "It was unknown to the masses at that point," he said, but, "once we laid her (M.I.A.'s) track over the picture, we knew it was right."

You might assume that artists who allow their music to be co- opted for commercials would be raking in big dough. You would be wrong.

"Anecdotally, I've heard all over the place, from $500 to $1,000," said Billboard's Harding. For every Feist, she said, there are bands that don't do well with licensing. "You just have to go in with the mindset that it's just an extra paycheck."

Malcolm Venable, (757) 446-2662, [email protected]

Hey, what's that song?

A growing number of mega brands are using indie music in their commercials. Here are some songs you might have unknowingly heard by artists you may not have heard of:

"Paper Planes" by M.I.A., commercial for the film "Pineapple Express"

"Galang" by M.I.A., for Honda Civic

"Well All Right" by The Hives, for Sears

"Out of Control" by Kenna, for the PSP game player

"Creator" and "Lights Out" by Santogold, two commercials for Bud Light

"Spaz" by N.E.R.D., for the Zune player

"1 2 3 4" by Feist, for iPod

Originally published by BY MALCOLM VENABLE.

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