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.
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 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."