Music in commercials: Selling out or amazing promotion?


While culling through YouTube, prepping some of the final Christmas Present entries, a Sony VAIO ad queued up ahead of a video.  As the music kicked up, I became intrigued, curious to know who the artist behind the track could be.

An enterprising person tracked down the song and posted it in the comments, and now it’s on a playlist for songs I’m really digging at the moment.  It brought to mind a debate I remember raging a decade ago, while I was in college, about the use of music in commercials.

At the time, some were asserting that it was nothing more than labels and artists “selling out” at a time when the music industry was beginning to smart from piracy and a steady downward trend in music sales.  That slide has been amplified by a slow shift to music streaming over downloads.

As it turns out, I’m not the only one who thought about this, as music writer Jessica Hopper recently filed a piece for Buzzfeed tackling that exact same question.  In it, she notes that artists today have to rely on this as part of their growth and exposure, as well as how things have evolved over the last decade to make it much more acceptable.

Apple was among the big companies that brought music placement out of the shadows and into a legitimate play.  They basically launched the careers of artists like the Black Eyed Peas (yes, they’re to blame) and Feist.

Telepopmusik got recognition for their song “Breathe” thanks to its placement in a Mitsuibishi car commercial; another in the series featured Dirty Vegas’ “Days Go By.” More recently, I caught a Target commercial recently that featured one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite acts, “My Love” by The Bird and the Bee, and got a bit excited.

Hopper’s piece notes the economics and visibility of a song placement, no matter where you are on the spectrum, can be a good boost, which, in a time of shifting economic realities for music creators, can be critical for an artist.  It can also get much-needed visibility for an artist, leading to airplay, album sales, and even potentially get a career on track in the most optimistic scenarios.

So, that track? It’s a song called “Climbing Walls” by Australian band Strange Talk, and it’s incredibly catchy. Commercials have become a music discovery opportunity, and thanks to Sony I discovered them and their U.S. EP, which is uniformly awesome and worth your money.  At one point it might have been selling out; today, it’s a major part of breaking many acts.  I never much minded it, but I’m glad it’s not nearly as stigmatizing today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *