Ad Music Brings in Big Exposure for Artists

For artists new and old, commercials are key to attracting listeners.

April 3, 2008 — -- French-Israeli singer Yael Naim was all but unknown in the U.S. — until her single, "New Soul," became the infectious anthem in a commercial for the sleek new MacBook Air laptop.

In a bit of Apple synergy, Naim's bubbly tune soon climbed to No. 1 on the iTunes list of most-downloaded songs.

"We did all of this in a small apartment," Naim said of recording her album. "How come this is number one in iTunes?"

Praise the gods of advertising — for commercials are the latest launchpad for hip young artists.

Just ask Sara Bareilles, a pop singer-songwriter and pianist who released her debut album, "Little Voice," last summer. Bareilles made a digital splash on iTunes, but it was about six months later, after belting out "Love Song" for a Rhapsody on Tivo ad, that she became a star-on-the-rise, leaping from No. 73 to No. 16 on the pop singles chart in just one week. Before long, Bareilles was tickling the ivory on "The Tonight Show" as her song shot to No. 2.

"It was sort of that click," Bareilles said. "The record kind of started rejuvenating itself."

Of course, catchy commercial music is nothing new. Retro jingles like Alka Seltzer's "plop, plop, fizz, fizz" remain in our brains and established artists have long licensed their tunes. The Rolling Stones help "start up" Microsoft, Nike swiped the Beatles' "Revolution" and Madonna's latest, "Four Minutes," is currently featured in a psychedelic spot for Sunsilk shampoo.

While landing an ad is an added bonus for the Madonnas of the industry, 30 seconds in prime-time now have the power to insta-launch a budding singer.

"It's completely taken over as a first-hear venue for new artists," said Jon C. Allen, co-owner of AdTunes.com, a blog for music fans who are seeking out the names and titles of songs they hear on commercials.

Ad Tunes was born five years ago in the wake of a memorable Mitsubishi Eclipse ad, but Allen says music junkies continue to visit his site as more ads introduce fresh acts to the mainstream.

"When was the last time you heard new music on FM radio or MTV?" Allen asked. "That doesn't really happen anymore."

The value of a well-placed song isn't lost on the savvy members of the music industry.

Music labels and bands hire Lyle Hysen, owner of Bank Robber Music, a New York licensing company, to shop their material to advertisers, TV shows and films.

"I hear bands that I work with and I go, 'Oh this might be something that I can see in a deodorant commercial," Hysen said.

The fact that an artist may be willing to license his or her music to a deodorant ad may signal a changing attitude among musicians. Hysen noted a shift when he founded Bank Robber almost five years ago.

"Bands were starting to agree to licensing a bit more," he said. "Ten years ago… bands were more frequently turning down placements because of 'cred.'"

It's a question mulled by many a modern musician: Is selling your song "selling out?"

After music supervisors found her on MySpace, pop-folk singer Ingrid Michaelson sang the praises of Old Navy's Fair Isle sweaters via her dreamy song, "The Way I Am." Before the warm and fuzzy ad, Michaelson was a bonafide indie singer — with no label backing and no edgy licensing deal. After appearing on the Billboard chart and playing to sold-out audiences, Michaelson is currently on tour with fellow ad star Sara Bareilles.

"I live in this world where there are a lot of things bigger than me, a lot of powerful companies," Michaelson said. "I need to survive in this world and I need to get my music out there and that's what I did."

For a new artist, providing a hum-worthy tune to the right advertiser is — to borrow a line from Mastercard — priceless.

Though Michaelson did receive an Old Navy gift card and two cashmere sweaters.

Additional reporting contributed by ABC News' Andrea Dresdale.

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