Local bands derive benefits from use of songs in advertising
The Clarks' Scott Blasey grew up during an era when songs were considered an inviolable interaction between artists and audiences, not to be sullied by outside interests. So when the band was offered the opportunity to do a commercial for Toyota dealers in the Pittsburgh region, Blasey hesitated.
"I remember vividly when bands first started to take money from corporations and to use their music in advertising," Blasey says. "It was pretty controversial, and certain artists still don't do it."
Blasey relented for a couple of reasons. One was that he liked the melody Clarks bassist Greg Joseph penned for the campaign. The other reason resonates with every musician who has seen a precipitous drop of income from the sales of physical music in the last decade.
"I'll be perfectly blunt," Blasey says. "It came down to money. Being a father of three and married, I'm not doing this unless they pay us really well."
Because of the decline in sales of CDs, albums and merchandise, placing music in commercials has become a welcome and sought-after source of revenue.
The disdain that was expressed in Neil Young's "This Note's for You" -- "Ain't singin' for Pepsi/Ain't singin' for Coke/I don't sing for nobody/makes me look like a joke" -- has been trumped by the realities of the record industry. Bob Dylan (Victoria's Secret), Led Zeppelin (Cadillac) and John Mellencamp (Chevrolet) are among the notable artists who have merged art with commerce, although Mellencamp said his goal wasn't based on financial considerations.
"The bottom line is, I'm a songwriter, and I want people to hear my songs," he told the New York Times in a 2007 interview about the use of his song "Our Country" in a spot for Silverado trucks. "I'm not saying it's right. I'm not suggesting it for anybody else. This is just what I did this time to reinvent myself and stay in business. Sometimes I get sad about it, really. I still don't think that people should sell their songs for advertising."
But almost everyone is doing it, according to the Clarks' Joseph, and if there is a stigma, almost everyone of note -- save Young -- is tainted.
"When U2 jumps on, when Sting jumps on, the Beatles and the Stones and everybody else jumps on the commercial bandwagon, what's the harm?" Joseph says.
Mellencamp's idea of promoting his music via a different medium was one of the reasons Rusted Root agreed to use its song "Send Me on My Way" in a commercial for Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Lead singer and guitarist Michael Glabicki says the exposure is invaluable given that "radio is falling apart."
"A lot of people who have never heard of us are Googling us and finding out about the band," Glabicki says. "We've heard from people who say they've seen the commercial and now love the band. It's kind of surreal."
Artists might be willing to tap into the commercial world, but it has to be the right song, sound and band for the right product. Pivec, an advertising agency just outside of Baltimore, put together the campaign featuring The Clarks for Pittsburgh-area Toyota dealers. The commercial is part rock video, part postcard for Pittsburgh and a showcase for the brand, with the phrase "it's all about the ride" featured prominently.
"Every market has a unique feel and attributes, and Pittsburgh is no exception," says Mark Shwetz, Pivec's account manager for Pittsburgh. "The Clarks have a connection with the community and have a tone and a feel in their music, and an energy, that we like. It was a good fit for local Toyota advertising."
According to Lisa Martini, a public relations manager for Enterprise, the Rusted Root song meshes with "The Enterprise Way," the company's integrated marketing campaign
" 'Send Me on My Way' speaks to the ease and convenience of the Enterprise experience," Martini says, "and fits nicely with 'The Enterprise Way' campaign. The music itself resonates well with the broad demographic we want to reach. The song is popular and timely, and the upbeat vibe and energy it brings to our ads is representative of Enterprise, our people and our service."
While there can be a disconnect between products and songs -- notably Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life," a song about a heroin addict, used during a commercial for Carnival Cruise Lines -- the Enterprise spot was perfect for Glabicki. He was a regular Enterprise customer before the commercial, likes the company employees he's met, and admires its business philosophy. But there are product endorsements he would immediately reject.
"There are a lot of young kids coming out to our shows," Glabicki says, noting a new generation of fans from age 8 to 21. "You don't want to promote things like cigarettes or alcohol that are bad for them."
A new dynamic
Starting in 2001, Bill Deasy's "Good Things Are Happening" was used by ABC's "Good Morning America" for a little over three years as its theme song. Initially, a singer with a higher profile was sought before ABC decided to use Deasy, who lives in Oakmont, in the show's introduction featuring the song.
"I wasn't really at that level where you could consider it to be selling out," Deasy says. "It was a no-brainer. When you're trying to make a living (as a musician), you can't be too high falutin' in your attitude. I never had any hesitation about it, and only got support from fans in Pittsburgh who were kind of thrilled to see me on national TV, catching a break."
Deasy has since placed songs on KDKA-TV ("Your Home") and wrote a jingle for the Power of Bowser automotive group. He's also co-written a few songs with musician Rich Jacques, formerly of the Pittsburgh band Brownie Mary and now living in Los Angeles, that have been used on TV shows including "Switched at Birth" (ABC Family) and MTV's "Teen Mom." While the compensation hasn't vaulted him into another tax bracket, the exposure is invaluable.
"It's just a different process than it was before," Deasy says. "I don't think it matters where people hear the song. It could be on a Toyota commercial, anything. It's more coveted than ever and less frowned upon artistically, because people understand you have to take every avenue you have available to you to try to connect with an audience."
Blasey admits there were concerns about alienating The Clarks' loyal fan base when they signed on for the ad, but says "99 percent" of the responses have been positive. According to Glabicki, Rusted Root's foray into the commercial world has been met with a similar, thumbs-up response, and bodes well for the group's immediate future. Some of the money the group receives from the Enterprise commercial is being used to pay for the recording of a new album expected to be released in March.
"Anything that can bring in money at this point to maintain the creative flow is a good thing," Glabicki says.
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY
Commercials featuring notable songs and artists.
Artist, Song, Commercial
- O'Jay's "Love Train," Coors
- Ronettes, "Be My Baby," Cialis
- The Kinks, "Picture Book," HP Picture Book
- The Who, "Happy Jack," Hummer
- The Rolling Stones, "Complicated," Lexmark
- Bachman-Turner Overdrive, "Taking Care of Business," Office Depot
- Jefferson Airplane, "Volunteers," Tommy Hilfiger
- Thin Lizzy, "The Boys Are Back in Town," Wrangler
- Aerosmith, "Dream On," Buick
- Led Zeppelin, "Rock and Roll," Cadillac