How Commercials Are Selling Songs

I don’t really know when it first happened, but I do know that there was a period in the 1990’s and 2000’s when television advertisers began to use oldies songs (by “oldies” I mean songs from the 70’s and earlier) to attract people of my generation and older to their products. At first there was a bit of a backlash as artists were accused of “selling out”. But I’m sure that producers, publishers and agents everywhere began to pay attention, wondering if there were ways to get THEIR artists songs in commercials in order to create another gold mine of music royalties.

It still happens that older songs find their way into commercials, but more often these days, it’s newer songs and artists who are gaining recognition through television. You hear the song and Google the advertiser and almost immediately you’ll be able to find it. And that’s the beauty if it; not only does it promote the product, in turn it promotes the song and the artist or band performing it. All we have to do is go online and do a quick search and we’ve discovered a new band. The latest song that I looked up was from a recent Heineken commercial and it turned out to be a band I’d never heard of called The Asteroids Galaxy Tour with the song “Golden Age”:

What this tells me is that advertisers still consider television relevant in terms of marketing their products, and they like the idea of using interesting, often quirky songs to do so. The good news for songwriters and bands is that this is another means of potential revenue from their songs. One Canadian artist who did very well because of an iPod Nano commercial was Feist with her song “1,2,3,4”:

From there, she went on to perform the song on late night talk shows, on Sesame Street (well, why not?) and her career took off in ways I’m sure she never imagined.

In fact, Apple did a number of great commercials for their iPod products using some interesting, often quirky and always compelling songs.

Amazon’s Kindle has actually featured several great songs. Here is their Amazon Kindle Zest Commercial, featuring a song called “Lover’s Carvings” by Bibio:

When I was a teenager, the one way we found new music was local radio. Television did come into the picture (ha! a pun!) with shows like Ed Sullivan and, later, other variety and talk shows. Late night television shows, when they came into being, also featured the occasional new band or artist. But advertising firms produced songs written and recorded specifically for their clients’ television commercials called “jingles”. There were some very famous jingles especially in the 50’s through to the 70’s, and occasionally those jingles produced big name artists like Barry Manilow, who was famous for writing, co-writing or performing jingles for McDonald’s, State Farm Insurance, and Band-Aid (I Am Stuck On Band-Aid) as seen below:

From his commercial jingle writing and performing, Barry Manilow went on to have a great career, not just as a songwriter for other artists, but as an artist himself. The one element that commercial jingle writing had in common with pop songwriting was the “hook”. What Barry Manilow was very good at was writing great hooks.

If you are a performing songwriter or write songs for your band, you might pay more attention to organizations like Taxi or publishers and labels who are on the lookout for songs to place in television and/or radio commercials. It may not seem like the most obvious route to fame, but, hey, whatever works, right? 🙂


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