The balancing act between art and commerce
By Trent McMartin Sep 3, 2005, 2:02 GMT
"Ain't singin' for Pepsi
Aint singin' for Coke
I don't sing for nobody
Makes me look like a joke."
Neil Young, This Notes For You, 1988
Neil Young's lyrics from his 1988 hit "This Notes For You" demonstrated one artist's defiant stance to license his music to corporations but as Young's friend Bob Dylan sung so many years ago, "The Times They Are A Changing."
It's been ten years since The Rolling Stones' hit song "Start Me Up" appeared in those Microsoft 95 TV ads and since then the commercialization of music has become so common that using songs to sell products is now widely recognized as another outlet to promote one's music.
In an interview last year with Canada's Much Music, U2's Bono and Larry Mullen Jr. were explaining the change in attitude of branding. In the interview Bono explained selling out is an old idea left behind from the 60's. Drummer Larry Mullen than concluded that if people wanted to keep it real "they should work in a (expletive) coal mine."
U2 of course was featured, along with their song "Vertigo" in those iPod commercials, which ran night and day last fall and during Major League Baseball's World Series. Denounced by many critics as "sell outs" the boys from the emerald isle turned down an offer to license their 1987 hit song "Where the Streets Have No Name" for use in a television ad earlier this year.
"We almost did. We sat down." U2's Bono said after rejecting the offer. " I know from my work in Africa what £12.5 million could buy. It was very hard to walk away from £12.5 million". In the end the band agreed not to accept the offer because "Where the Streets Have No Name" was a song they did not want associated with a commercial.
As with many of today's young acts the classic rock artists of yesterday feel no regret in renting their music out especially in today's atmosphere of fierce competition. Respectable rock artists that have used their songs in commercials include Aerosmith, The Beatles, Led Zepplin, U2, The Ramones, The Who, Bob Dylan, The Clash and former Police front man Sting.
Sting has collaborated with various corporations most notably Jaguar. The song Desert Rose was used in a commercial and it ran continuously exposing the song and Jaguar at the same time. Brand New Day, the album that contained Desert Rose was the biggest hit of Sting's solo career.
Like other older artists, Sting has trouble getting his music on radio and video music channels. "Radio in the 21st century is a far, far different beast than even 10 years ago," said Cort Smith, former member of the Edmonton rock band Jack Dicky and a current producer at Global television in Vancouver, Canada. "Take the Canadian radio industry... you want to get your song played on the radio in Canada? Guess what? You're going through the chorus radio network, because they own near every station in the country". "If chorus doesn't like what they hear, forget about it... you're not getting played", he added.
Hip-hop artists are known to brand their music with many videos resembling extended commercials. Nike's Air Force One shoe was the subject of a Nelly song of the same name and video. Canada's leading music station Much Music pulled the video because they thought it looked too much like an ad.
Many large music acts and events use official tour sponsors. The Rolling Stones were the first to do this in 1981 in support for Tattoo You when Jovan cosmetics offered tour sponsorship. Since than artists like Michael Jackson and Britney Spears (both Pepsi), and events such as Lollapalooza (X-Box) and Ozzfest (Sony Playstation) have all accepted sponsorship.
Sharon Shapiro, director and promotions of Sony Computer Entertainment America, issued an online press release last year stating "Ozzfest is a great opportunity for Sony Computer Entertainment America to bring the PlayStation 2 experience straight to our gamers who are also metal fans, many of which attend the festival year after year".
Many artists and promoters see sponsorship as a way of minimizing touring costs associated with a large-scale tour or event. The Rolling Stones have always argued that sponsorships benefit the fans, who get cheaper tickets as a result. "I don't know about the evils of sponsorships," Keith Richards said in a 1989 interview with Forbes. "But sponsorships enable you to keep the ticket prices down in order to build the kind of stage that's required. And stages don't come cheap. . . . I have no qualms about a beer company (Anheuser-Busch) wanting to put their name on the ticket."
The overwhelming attitude in the music industry today is that selling out is an obsolete belief from a distant era. Cort Smith agreed. "My feeling is that the notion is dated; it (selling out) doesn't exist. Everyone sells out, and if you don't, you're left behind to die."
"You can write the best songs in the world, but if you don't have a vehicle to get them out there, what difference does it make?" Smith said. You absolutely need to sell yourself if you have any expectations of making a career out of music"
"The music industry is ruled by suits now, and you have to play by their rules," he added. The renegade rocker is gone, and if he does exist, you can bet he's been told to act that way. After all, it's image that sells records"