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Have ads become another formof airplay?

In the wake of Beastie Boy Adam Yauch’s posthumous refusal to allow use of his music for ads, JUSTIN HEAZLEWOOD (aka the Bedroom Philosopher) asks whether the concept of selling out should be left in the ’90s? Illustrations by LEIGH RIGOZZI.

Comedian Bill Hicks once said any artist who participates in a commercial was “off the artistic roll call, forever". Bill was the original Gen-X soldier, declaring a war on advertising when anti-corporate sentiment was at its peak. I wonder what he’d make of today’s climate, where “selling out” is something bands strive for rather than avoid. The internet has reinvented the game, the music industry has tumbled and we’re empathetic towards artists needing ad-sync revenue. I can see the punk-philosopher’s eyes narrow, his puckered lips dragging on a cigarette.

“Oh Bill,” he retorts in a winy voice, mocking me. “No one’s buying records anymore, it’s so hard to make money at our concerts. We have to pay venue hire.” He throws a hand up, “Okay squirt! Well here’s a thought. Maybe, and hey, I’m no expert, but maybe, the problem is the fact say, oh I don’t know – ( pause ) you’re not very fucking good!” He holds his glare for a moment before exploding into a chesty cackle. “Hey buckaroo – if you think the music industry is hard, maybe you should try working in a fucking SWEAT SHOP where nine-year-old girls make the shoes you’re endorsing with your ‘fashion rock’ and you’ll see that compared to making two dollars a day! I repeat TWO DOLLARS A FUCKING DAY – you kids ain’t getting such a bad deal – you sexless, godless, computer-generated wind-up clapping-monkey sell-outs!”

This catchcry continues to haunt musicians from the deep – bellowed from the ghettoes of the internet. The ’90s hangover stands at the back of the gig with its arms crossed, threatening to bankrupt bands of their hard earned Indie-cred. Generational battlelines have been drawn as iGroovy Gen-Y tells dino-cynic Gen-X to get with the program. Did you not hear the news? Marketing won. They bought the internet, an interactive station that we live inside 24-7. We review ads like short films and romanticise about ’50s ad-men. While bands have never sounded slicker, ads have never looked artier. With the world in recession and the user no longer paying, advertising in art has advanced from awkward compromise to base necessity. Hey, maybe it’s not all bad?

The notion that music should be commercially independent is relatively new. During the 1800s, artists, writers and composers relied on sponsorship from patrons and philanthropists. In the 1960s musicians were on a short leashes, micro-managed by big labels and sent on packaged tours. The revolt came in the late ’70s with the punk underground and a notion that grassroots equalled purity, mainstream meant compromise and labels were corrupt. The ’90s exploded the code, as alternative bands managed to be underground and mainstream at the same time. It was an irony so severe it eventually proved fatal (I am, of course, talking about Ratcat), triggering another backlash against the corporate world, this time aimed at advertising.

During the 2000s, the internet not only meant a closer connection between fan and artist, but a shrinking of the borders between the corporate and creative sectors. The News Corp-owned Myspace harked a new era of “independence” with a grassroots platform threatening to cut out the middle man/woman. Artists were given a record company kit and encouraged to pitch their lot in the marketing stream. It was the poster, the newspaper article and the radio rolled into one. This “band in a box” mentality altered the way we consumed music. Carrie Brownstein, writing for NPR says “as exciting, democratising and demystifying as a more global and decentralised music industry is, this bottomless sonic stew also means that we've largely divorced artists from place, history and physicality.”

In the old days, you would hold a CD in your hand, lie on your bed and pour over the details. It was a physical connection that carried with it a certain emotional and financial investment. By comparison, albums are now downloaded in bulk, fed into a normaliser and lost in the shuffle. Carrie argues that when music is stripped of context, it’s also stripped of artist intention. “We don't care about album sequence (which is all about intention) or look at the band's artwork or the label they're on (again, all intentional decisions)… because as music fans — as consumers — there is nothing more appealing than something that is boundless. Therefore, we don't really care what an artist's intention is as long as his or her product is accessible to us.”

And so we relax our ideas of “artistic purity” as we relax our belts from the glut of free music and movies we’ll never have time to digest. It’s little wonder we’re unfazed to hear Broken Social Scene in a Cadbury Commercial. Ads are just another form of airplay, and we’re happy to engage with them – the effort of searching the lyrics is investment enough. In 2007 Feist leant her song to a campaign for iPod Nano. The ad featured the official music video playing on an iPod. For the first time the artist and product were promoted side by side. (Co-promotion is common in films.) Purists got that syncing feeling while screenagers had an Apple bobbing party. Sales of ‘1234’ went from 2000 to 73,000 in a week. In the media there was little protest, just praise for Australia’s Sally Seltmann who penned the track.

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hellboy1975 said on the 24th Aug, 2012

suckers of satan's cock every last one of them


davidswan said on the 24th Aug, 2012

Tim Rogers said that his philosophy in doing an ad for the AFL was like what Henry Rollins said after doing a campaign for GAP, that it wasn't selling out at all, and the money from 'selling out' meant that he could have his anarchist music published, and he could write the books he wanted to write, etc etc

Relevant Youtube clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmMphO5gs4E

I consider the only real 'selling out' to be when artists compromise their art for commercial interests, for example when a band bows to a producer to make something less 'out there' than they would've otherwise, or if a band makes a song sound 'Triple J friendly' just to get airplay (which I remember reading somewhere on FL that it definitely happens).

If a legitimate work of art gets picked up for an ad campaign, more power to them.

Napoleon Solo

Napoleon Solo said on the 24th Aug, 2012

When music is easily obtainable without forking over a cent. Why would an artist knock back someone who actually wants to pay for their music?


Braveheart81 said on the 24th Aug, 2012

Indie rock/pop songs seem to fit the mould for ads quite well.

Generally they aren't well known by the mainstream public so it doesn't result in a particular artist being associated with a brand. Less commercially successful songs are also going to be much cheaper for a company to get the rights to use them for an ad than a successful top 40 song.

I don't begrudge bands allowing their songs to be used in ads at all. Ones that come to mind include Port O'Brien - I Woke Up Today on the Dulux ad and Yves Klein Blue - Polka on Mazda ad or something and The Subways - Rock n Roll Queen on a makeup ad. If anything it gives the song a new lease of life and potentially attracts a new audience to the music.

Napoleon Solo

Napoleon Solo said on the 24th Aug, 2012

This is the epitome of selling out for the advertising dollar.



Braveheart81 said on the 24th Aug, 2012

^ absolutely.

It is so cringeworthy.

Absolute definition of sacrificing your artistic integrity for money.


MorningAfterboy said on the 24th Aug, 2012

Like, how did those guys run out of money? It's fucked up.

Napoleon Solo

Napoleon Solo said on the 24th Aug, 2012

It worked for fun.
Without the exposure from the Superbowl commercial We Are Young would never have reached number 1.

edit: I don't mean sacrificing their integrity, just using advertising for exposure.


MorningAfterboy said on the 24th Aug, 2012

I would have said getting their song on Glee would have been a huge part of its success.

Napoleon Solo

Napoleon Solo said on the 24th Aug, 2012

It was a small part, just look at the numbers after the Superbowl commercial.
The Glee performance in December charted higher than fun. had at that point. In February the Superbowl add aired and the track took off and started it's run at number 1.


MorningAfterboy said on the 24th Aug, 2012

There y'go. I knew the Superbowl was a big deal, but I'd figured that Glee would have been a huge part of songs getting chart success. Young the Giant's YouTube hits doubled after Cough Syrup was performed on the show.


Braveheart81 said on the 24th Aug, 2012

According to Wikipedia, 21 of the 46 most watched television events in US history have been Superbowls.


MorningAfterboy said on the 24th Aug, 2012

Sweet Jesus. That's massive.

I only really knew about the impact of the Superbowl because of my brief study of advertising and how important Superbowl commercials are/were.


Nosyt said on the 24th Aug, 2012

Unfortunately Bill Hicks got it wrong, advertising has become in itself a form of artistic expression, marketing is trying to sell you a product, music is trying to sell you a cd or a concert ticket.

Napoleon Solo

Napoleon Solo said on the 24th Aug, 2012

Bill Hicks had it wrong on a lot of things.


mondo22 said on the 24th Aug, 2012

I wouldnt say advertising has become a form of artistic expression at all. I'd say artistic expression is used to make adverts more effective, but certainly not the other way around.
Bill Hicks was right, and for those who are in advertising or marketing... kill yourself


andy_chalmers_102 said on the 24th Aug, 2012

Is this part of FL's revolutionary new format? Stating the obvious in 1000 words? Virtually everyone now accepts that advertising is a valid form of exposure for artists, and it has been that way for several years.


droopy said on the 30th Aug, 2012

very good article. it's pretty much science that having your song on ipod commercials lead to playing at coachella that year.


berlinchair101 said on the 30th Aug, 2012

This was just posted on the BRMC FB. I thought it was apt.

As you may already know, we as BRMC feel very strongly about trying to reflect the values we hold as individuals and as a group in our work. One of our priorities has always been balancing any commercial success we achieve with a commitment to contributing to the well-being of not just ourselves.

We’re excited to tell you about a major step we accomplished toward that goal.

Earlier this year we ...were approached by Miller/Coors about the use of the song "Conscience Killer" in a TV commercial for Miller Lite. We initially said no to this, but then looked back at it as an opportunity to raise money for a cause we believe in. For example, The Not for Sale Campaign is an organization that we have supported for many years, as it aids in the fight against human trafficking.

In an unprecedented move, Miller/Coors has agreed to make a large financial contribution to The Not For Sale campaign for the use of the song. Along with them, our label partner Vagrant Records will be making a contribution, and we will also be donating the money we make from the ad to this organization we so strongly believe in. The commercial just started running and we have already received confirmation that the donation has been sent to The Not For Sale Campaign.

We wanted to share this with you because our involvement in commercials has always been a conflicting issue for us. Now we feel we’ve figured out a way to turn them into opportunities we can be proud of, and hope you feel the same.

While we will not be able to do this every time something like this presents itself in the future, just know that if there is a next time, we would love to do this with you as a community.

During the next few weeks, we’d like to hear from you about your favorite charities or community organizations, local or otherwise. Please send us any information you think would be helpful in allowing us to check them out and learn about what they do, but we cannot consider individual or personal causes unless they are part of a community issue. Our goal is to set up an online vote to where the commercial money would go next.

Send this information to theband@blackrebelmotorcycleclcub.com


Robert, Peter and Leah