The music business has a new beat: Madison Avenue.
Music labels, publishers and songmakers have found an increasingly lucrative niche in licensing or making songs for marketers and advertisers looking for just the right 30-second soundtracks for their commercials. Helping to make music a hit with marketers is technology that's made it easier to store, share and make music for ads.
Ad use is welcome revenue for the music industry, which is seeing consumer sales continue to slide — down 29% since 2005, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
"It's more and more an important stream of revenue for the music industry," says Geoff Mayfield, director of charts at trade magazine Billboard. "Album sales have been down for the last six years and are likely to be down again."
Music industry representatives will be looking to drum up more business this week in and around the award ceremonies, seminars and parties here at the annual Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. The creative competition — 28,284 entries in 11 ad categories this year — attracts thousands of top-level ad types from around the world. Entries for Best Use of Music are up 23% from last year, to 139, and up 50% in the past five years.
Advertisers' appetite for hit music in ads, or songs composed to sound like hits, has largely sent the old hard-sell jingles, with campy music and product lyrics, the way of vinyl LPs.
"Before I was in the business they were using jingles all the time," says Josh Rabinowitz, senior director of music for ad agency Grey Worldwide. He'll host a seminar about commercial music at Cannes with Grammy-winning singer Tony Bennett. "They were a little cheesy; they weren't hip, not cutting edge — and not in tune with modern pop culture."
Today's advertisers want their music to be cool.
"No one ever calls up and says, 'I want to sound like an ad,' " says Marc Altshuler, a partner in New York City-based music production house Human Worldwide. "They say, 'I want to sound like a hit on the radio.' "
Aggressive efforts by music labels and publishers to sell their existing songs have increased the competition faced by companies such as Human that create original tracks for ads.
"Within the past year there's been some sort of palatial shift in the record and publishing industries to monetize their back and current catalog and for emerging artists to find an outlet for their music," says Andy Bloch, also a partner at Human.
The agency has a staff of 11 full-time composers, most of whom play multiple instruments, and has written songs for such advertisers as Coca-Cola ko, Procter & Gamble pg, Nike nke and Sprint s.
This year Human has two songs entered for Cannes Lions, including one written for Coke and another for Al Gore's The Climate Project.
The agency is a music factory stocked, for example, with more than 100 guitars, including a Fender Stratocaster and a Gibson Les Paul. Each of the composers' offices is a mini-studio that's wired into a recording studio so that as they cut a song, everyone can listen and give feedback.
Advertisers pay Human $10,000 to $200,000 for music, depending on the length of the music used and when and where the ad will run. The fee gets an advertiser a choice of 12 to 20 tracks and all rights to the song or music without additional fees.
Getting the right chemistry
Whether marketers buy music from an agency like Human or licenses existing tunes from labels or publishers, they are paying the big bucks because the right chemistry among product, music and ad message will make a brand stand out.
"If a brand is going to spend tens of millions of dollars for TV, radio or Web time, they want a song that has immediate recognition and that can put you in a particular place or time," says Martin Bandier, chairman and CEO of Sony/ATV Music Publishing. "The world has recognized that music is the great thing that can catch your attention. This is a good time to be in the music-publishing industry."
Sony's sne music-licensing revenue is up 17%, and the volume of deals is up 9% for the fiscal year ended March 31, Bandier says. He recently named Rob Kaplan to the new post of global marketing vice president, making it Kaplan's job to sell songs from Sony's list of 750,000 to marketers and their ad agencies.
Ad use has proved to have a payoff beyond license fees, particularly for up-and-coming artists. Billboard has even started tracking when ad use causes a tune's sales to spurt.
"In the last few years we've given more attention to branding news," Mayfield says. "Every week we have a number of different opportunities to explain (sales) increases on a chart, and if something picks up steam we look for causes of that."
More and more the cause turns out to be an ad. Use in an Apple aapl ad for the MacBook Air, for example, helped push New Soul by newcomer Yael Naim to the top of the charts at iTunes — more than 800,000 downloads have sold since the TV ad began airing in February.
Love Song by Sarah Bareilles rose as high as No. 2 on Billboard's Hot Digital chart after it was in an ad for music-download site Rhapsody.
Apple and Old Navy gps have, in fact, made an art of catching artists ready for a career breakout: Naim and also Feist with Apple; Ingrid Michaelson and Lights with Old Navy.
Everyone wins when it works — the advertiser gets a fresh sound for a steal, and the artist gets prime TV exposure at a time when promoting new music has gotten tougher.
"Radio playlists have been tight for decades, and it's really hard to sell an album these days," says Billboard's Mayfield. "In an environment like that, commercials, in a way, are the new radio stations."
Licensing existing music is not simple, however. Even when a music publisher just wants to sell an advertiser the right to redo the music with studio musicians, the original artist and label typically have to be on board.
"It's not a business you can just go into overnight," says Sony's Bandier. "You need a history and understanding of songs."
Ad use no longer has stigma
Changes in the music business and pop culture, however, have eliminated a lot of artists' former reluctance to sell their music for ads. These days, you hear music in ads from everyone from The Beatles (Hello Goodbuy, a pun version for Target tgt of Hello Goodbye) and Bob Dylan (Victoria's Secret) to Meat Loaf (AT&T) t and Sting (Jaguar) to Iggy Pop (Carnival Cruises) ccl and The The (M&Ms).
"Nowadays, more and more artists are willing to have their songs played in a commercial," says Andrea Kinloch, global strategy vice president for Warner Bros. Records. Her job is to get artists from her label into ads. "Music has changed so much. There are so many different ways to access music and learn about music that it's become a non-issue for artists to have their songs in commercials."
And she adds: "It's not a bad fee to make, either. Commercials pay fairly well."
There remain limits for some musicians, however. Meat Loaf recently appeared along with his music in AT&T ads for its prepaid mobile GoPhone. He even was willing to create a parody of his Paradise by the Dashboard Light for the traditional 30- to 60-second commercials. But he balked at doing a version for a five-minute Web ad (the original song clocks in at more than eight minutes).
"A little 30-second or 60-second ad — that's fine," Meat Loaf says. "I can parody (the song) and it won't get in the way. I won't feel like I've sold out me or the song."
Many factors affect fee
As with original songs, the licensing fee for an existing tune is affected by where, how and how long the ad will run. Added factors with existing songs can include the fame of the artist and/or the song and whether the song will be used in original form or changed by the advertiser.
"It depends on the product, if they want it exclusively in the product line and whether it's used in radio, TV or on the Internet," says Sony's Bandier. "Prices range from $50,000 up to $2 million to $3 million, depending on the song."
Some songs even seem to work so well in an ad that rights can later be sold to another advertiser for other commercials.
The Electric Light Orchestra's upbeat Mr. Blue Sky, currently licensed by EMI Music for use in a new ad campaign for JetBlue jblu, has been heard in previous years in ads for Guinness, Sears and Volkswagen. A version of it has been used in commercials for a French cellphone company, SFR.
More Michelle Branch
Creating a 30-second ad is complex, often requiring one to three days of filming and five to 10 days of editing. Creating the track takes additional time for writing music and lyrics or getting a song licensed, and then the audio must be added and mixed in post-production.
"Music is a huge planning element for an ad," says Richard O'Neill, head of production for agency TBWA/Chiat/Day, which created the Apple ads. "It's a real art, and a real craft. Whether you are buying a popular piece of music that's going to be perfect for that ad or composing a piece that you want to become a popular piece of music, it's really hard to try to find a 30- or 60-second hit song to go with that ad."
At a recent meeting at Human Worldwide, Bloch and a fellow composer, Cameron Ballantyne, spent an hour on the phone with an ad agency reviewing seven versions of a track for an ad for a Playtex women's hygiene product. None quite worked, according to Bob Sullivan, Grey's creative director. He wanted the tune to make a woman "get up and dance."
One interpretation needed to be "more Michelle Branch, less Hillary Duff," while track No. 7, considered a "Shania Twain version," had a "good melody," but the "voice needed to be more upbeat."
The next day Bloch and Ballantyne came up with a version in the ad, which now is in consumer testing.
"You can spend six hours working on the last five seconds of an ad," Human's Bloch says.
USA TODAY will be reporting from the annual festival throughout the week.