Rock Stars Turn Music Into Advertising

Rock stars are cleaning up their act and shaking hands with Madison Avenue in an obvious attempt to sell more records and boost their names.

Gone are the days when rebellious musicians would shake their heads and laugh in scorn at the idea of selling their tunes to ad men.

Songs are being licensed in such great numbers that if you close your eyes while channel surfing on TV, it might sound more like scanning the dial of a radio station.

Nissan and Volkswagen are among the carmakers with ads featuring pop hits. VW uses songs by The Roots and Ben Neill. In Nissan’s case, it’s the music of Smash Mouth and electronic artist Moby, who also stood in front of the camera for a recent Calvin Klein campaign that includes Korn drummer David Silveri.

Is it selling out? Maybe. But it’s big business. Smash Mouth’s song “Then the Morning Comes” was licensed for a cool $1.5 million for a peppy Nissan Sentra ad.

Their manager, Robert Hayes, says the ad has helped sell about 1,000 more records a week. “The person that normally wouldn’t buy your record that doesn’t necessarily listen to the radio watches TV and all of a sudden they hear this song.”

For Moby, a favorite in the underground scene for years, licensing is a way to make sure his music will be heard by the masses. All 18 tracks of his latest album, Play, have been licensed for either ads or film use.

Moby-fying the World

The media onslaught of Play took on bigger proportions than initially intended by Moby’s manager, Barry Taylor. “It’s pretty unique to me, certainly wasn’t our goal or objective with this record. But Moby’s music has been licensed in the past, and when this record came out we felt that there was a lot of music on here that might be licensed,” Taylor says.

Taylor says they keep a close watch on what the songs are used for, while recognizing the need for such a liberal marketing approach.

“[We were] never able to get radio play in the past, and we went into this with our eyes open. [It’s] definitely an area where it seems like people who are doing music for commercials are much more open-minded than radio programmers in terms of what they’ll put with it.”

The strategy has worked: The album is by far Moby’s best seller, and the artist is becoming a familiar face on magazine covers.

Taylor admits that with this new ground comes the potential danger to upset longtime fans.

“It was a concern, but we’re very close to the fans that come to the shows, who communicate via e-mail, and it seemed like people were happy to hear music associated with movies, there was nothing that we couldn’t be proud of. I feel like everything that we did we were very aware of what fan reaction would be.”

Smash Mouth for Breakfast

Smash Mouth heads into the studio this fall, but the pop band’s image will remain in the public eye — and stomach. That’s because band member’ faces will grace General Mills cereal boxes.

Hayes says the band is very particular about products it will endorse. It “has to be feel good, companies that don’t endanger animals or people. If it’s a marketing opportunity that’s going to be beneficial for the band, they’ll go for it,” he says.

Advertising Age editor Scott Donaton is not surprised audiences have warmed to the idea of their favorite bands befriending the ad world. He says the changing attitude has a lot to do with how people now regard commercials.

“Advertising is entertainment, just like music is entertainment. There’s nothing about selling records that isn’t a commercial process already, and I think people realize that. What’s the difference between selling a song toward an ad [and] having a corporate sponsor of a tour?”

And there’s no question the advertisers want to reach the young and impressionable. “The younger consumers whose brand loyalty is not set in stone are the most coveted demographic for advertisers. So using music is a way for advertisers to borrow from pop culture and gain credibility from the target audience,” says Donaton.

Tour Dates, Add the Catwalk

Not to be left out, the Ford Modeling agency is also getting in on the music game. It has a new division to handle musicians with a roster including Wyclef Jean, Sisqo and Jessica Simpson.

“Advertising has become a much hipper aspect of pop culture and advertisers see the value of aligning themselves with musicians, they speak to every demographic” says Sharon Ainsberg, co-managing director of Ford Music.

Ainsberg and co-manager Julie Levin are music industry vets brought in by Ford to serve as a link between the advertisers and music managers.

And of course, musicians don’t face the same scrutiny as other new faces looking to sign on with the Ford Modeling agency. Although a pretty face never hurts, “it’s their celebrity that drives them. A newer artist who happens to be beautiful might have a leg up in the advertising world,” says Levin.

Hayes is a bit skeptical about the wisdom of using a third-party agency to represent his artists in the commercial world. “I personally would not, but there are a lot of management companies that would,” he says. “There’s always a danger in passing off responsibilities to someone else, you give up a certain amount of control. That’s why you sign a deal, so you can make sure they’re doing the right thing at the right time. You don’t know these people, they could make the wrong decision and it could be devastating in your artist’s career.”