The manager of the Swedish rock band, the Perishers, recalls a puzzling night this summer when she suddenly noticed increased interest online in the group's song "My Heart." The foursome was not doing anything new to promote the song and yet music download sales jumped 200 percent that week.
"It was as simple as a placement in 'One Tree Hill,'" said manager Penny Nightingale, referring to the WB's primetime drama. "Any time that we see a spike in a specific track it's inevitably due to something being re-run."
Primetime shows like "The OC," "One Tree Hill" and "Scrubs" are increasingly serving as an outlet for rock and pop songs that aren't getting much radio exposure. Not only are the tunes used on-air, the bands are mentioned in the credits and given exposure on the Web sites for the shows.
"I think very profoundly about film and television, that can be very artistic and can be the sort of lifeblood to a band that the labels are not providing," said music supervisor J.T. Griffith. "The right band can get a $10,000 TV thing and pay off a car, pay their rent, do really basic stuff."
Griffith worked as music coordinator on HBO's "Six Feet Under" for four seasons and is now pitching music to other TV shows as director of film and TV music for Nettwerk, a Canada-based music house.
For the HBO series, he said, creator Alan Ball cared about "every sound in the show," from the music the characters listened to in their homes, to even the Muzak playing in mall scenes. When Griffith was challenged with picking out a new song for scenes with the young-adult character Claire Fisher, he would literally think of her as a friend and try to find music she would want to hear.
And that sort of choice will likely translate into sales for the chosen act.
Casting the Right Sounds
Music has always had a place in primetime, but it's getting star treatment now as an increasing number of television programs promote bands at the end of the show credits and use music skillfully to advance plotlines.
When "The OC" character Seth Cohen starts talking about his favorite new underground rock act, it's a golden moment for that band. Nightingale describes that type of promotion as "invaluable," and said it's as persuasive as having someone's real-life best friend suggest an album.
Nightingale has been working with the Perishers for a year and said their inclusion in "Veronica Mars" and "The OC" was just as effective in terms of marketing as radio play would have been for the group. "Before they had ever even set foot in the States, people knew who they were," she said.
"Not every band wants to do every advertisement," said Griffith. "But these ads are on television, they're on the Web site, the Web site links to a place to buy the song and also identifies the song -- so those are some alternative ways to hear new bands."
Rock Groups Eye 'Commercial' Success
Rock acts with a catchy bass line and a dream may not sit around wondering if their sound would provide just the right hook for an evening drama or a car commercial, but advertising just may be their road to financial independence.
"We never intended to go, 'Oh yeah let's do as many commercials,'" said Sammy James of the Mooney Suzuki. "But we were hoping to get a nice record [deal] and those kinds of things make you more appealing to labels."
His New York-based rock act recorded the title song for "School of Rock" after first being featured in Nike ads and on television shows and he believes those opportunities ultimately helped them land a contract with Columbia Records and reach potential music buyers.
"Most kids these days are, I'm sure, turned on to more bands by a commercial … than they were by the cool kid who works at a record shop," said James.
For other struggling musicians, getting their music placed in a television series is just as coveted as landing that record deal.
"It's amazing how that's not the first thought anymore," said singer-songwriter Philip Watts. "The first thought is to try and … get it placed somewhere, that can really do a lot of good things."
The 34-year-old artist is convinced that for his new band Overnight Music to succeed, it will have to get media savvy.
"I'm just trying to connect with as many people as possible and I think that is key, as much as I'm an introspective, inward musician -- those days are over -- you have to reach out and you have to connect with people," said Watts.
Pitching the Pitch Men
For emerging acts looking to film, television and advertising as an outlet for their music, getting their tracks noticed by music supervisors may take as much creativity as the songwriting.
While there are clearly more opportunities right now for new acts, it will still take some work to get that opportunity.
"You really need to highlight why you are different. Is it your music, is it your lyrics, your look? … Do you sell out all the shows you go to?" said Tom Eaton, senior director of music for advertising, film and TV at Universal Music Publishing. He receives dozens of CDs from aspiring musicians weekly, and described his experiences at an industry panel during the recent College Music Journal Festival in New York City.
Eaton and the other panelists encouraged unsigned acts to send in their samples, but stressed the importance of personalizing those packages so they stand out.
"Even if you have the best music in the world … if I've never heard about you it's going to be hard for me to pick up that CD as opposed to the 50 CDs that are sitting there," said Eaton.
Panelist Jay Sweet, an advertising music supervisor in New York, said he has six interns that do nothing but listen to submissions and catalogue them.
While he admitted the chance of him hearing any of those discs is "negligible," it's worth that chance. "If four or five of them think its viable … it will end up on my desk," said Sweet.
Watts said he's going to give it a shot, and will print an extra batch of CDs for his band's new recording to send to music supervisors. "For some bands, it's really worked out very well for them, so it's certainly a very good thing that this revenue stream is here," said Watts.
"An emerging band, no matter how much buzz and hype they have, I think it's a mistake not to be open to the right film and TV," said Griffith. "Not only is that good income but it is the modern equivalent of performing on 'Top of the Pops.'"