TV on the Radio

Jim DeRogatis's recent column hits on a subject I've written about before: artists licensing songs to commercials. I still feel the same about this subject. Rewiring a song's meaning into an advertising jingle is not something I can get behind. I prefer to have the memory of hearing Bob Seger's "Main Street" in a bar surrounded by my friends instead of thinking of Chevy truck commercials whenever I hear Seger's "Like a Rock." But I have a new question: are TV/radio commercials the last bastion of hope for a song to reach a mass audience?

The amount of money tossed around for commercials is insane. Plus, the exposure is incredibly strong. But at what cost? I can't rag on a band like Explosions in the Sky for licensing a couple of their songs for Cadillac commercials. Their motivations behind their music are sincere and remain sincere (as evidenced by their incredible new album, All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone). But these Cadillac commercials do rewire my memories of the songs. Thinking about driving around Las Colinas with The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place on and being immensely moved by certain scenes in Friday Night Lights are now coupled with images of a Cadillac being put together and a man driving a Cadillac to his new job. Are our memories worth becoming overrun by advertisers?

DeRogatis and fellow rock critic Greg Kot recently unloaded on John Mellencamp's latest record, Freedom's Road, on their Sound Opinions radio show. I totally agree with their arguments, but apparently Mellencamp was ironically pandering to knee-jerk, emotional post-9/11 patriotism. Well, the irony is lost on me as the album's lead track, "Our Country," is in all current commercials for Chevy trucks. Mellencamp, a former staunch opponent of songs being in commercials, raised some eyebrows when the song started popping in these commercials. As DeRo put it best: ". . . the Hoosier auteur sacrificed any claim to irony when he compromised his longstanding pledge and allowed 'Our Country' to power a simplistic, flag-waving, decidedly un-ironic car commercial. You can't have it both ways, John."

I can understand the lucrative possibilities with licensing a song to a commercial. If you watched a football game this past season, chances are you heard "Our Country" a handful of times. That's even more than radio playing a song in "power" rotation. But has this become a deal with the devil kind of situation? Doesn't this come across as a compromise of integrity? Nobody starts writing music to become a jingle writer, so what gives?


An Urban Femme said…
Hearing The Old 97s sing about baby back ribs really killed my soul, but that's just how it goes now. After working in marketing and advertising for 6 years, it became very evident that people in my generation are now the target audience for nearly every market.

We are at the prime age for buying starter homes and cars. We need insurance and good credit and something that will grab us. Usually it's not the actual product, but the thought behind the delivery.

Shows like Grey's Anatomy & What About Brian (who can't go a single episode without playing something 'indie chic'), advertisments like the ones you mentioned - their writers aren't some super-cool music nerds. They are only doing whatever it takes to get you to identify with their product.

So what of the bands? It's kind of a compliment because their music is deemed 'the voice' of a specific consumer age group. Depressing, but true.

It's not going to stop me from listening to Nick Drake or Gomez or Old 97s or Gorky's Zygotic Mynci. There is nothing wrong with the music. In fact, any advertiser will tell you that is exactly the point.
Well, I read an interview with JCM, who basically said: it's the only way it'll get heard.

My memory goes back to the Sting song which was from a quickly flopping album---until it got used in a car commercial.

My take on it is awfully close to Pete Townshend's---paraphrasing---"I wrote them, and I'll do what the f**k I want to with them." :)