July 25, 2005
Indie Music on Network TV
|But, before the credits roll, a voice on your TV tells you that "this episode featured music by Rooney" and implores you to buy the band's self-titled album. You, along with thousands of others, do as told, and Rooney's staggering album sales triple less than a week later. Well done, you!|
Music has always been an integral part of television, and we always associate certain songs with specific scenes of our favorite television programs: Randy Newman's "The Natural" played on during the final scene of The Wonder Years; Kate Bush crooned "This Woman's Work" as alcoholic Bailey begged bed-ridden Sarah for help on Party of Five; Gilmore Girls' Lane and Dave shared their first kiss to Nirvana's "The Man Who Sold The World". Even theme songs today are no longer the generic voice of some no-name singer, but rather classics by our favorite bands or unfamiliar tunes by up-and-coming artists. We automatically think of The O.C. when we first hear the tinkle of the piano keys of Phantom Planet's "California". We will forever remember our Friends every time the Rembrandts belt out "I'll be There For You". We rock out to The Who every time "Baba O'Reilly" plays during CSI: New York's opening credits.
It has been old-hat for years now for music supervisors on television shows to pick out album tracks that best fit certain scenes, as well as the overall feel of the show. Getting all of these songs on television programs is a relatively easy task. After all, what musician wouldn't offer up consent for a chance to gain recognition, increase album sales, and collect royalties every time an episode featuring one of their songs airs?
While getting artists' approval seems simple enough, music licensing isn't the most economical of business transactions. Television programs have meager music budgets as it is, so when it comes time to cough up the money to pay their musical artists, it is anything but pain-free. This can leave television producers and their music supervisors no choice but to find alternative means to get the right music on their shows, all the while not exceeding their music budget. Said alternatives, however, can end up being either a blessing or a curse for television and music lovers.
One attempt at lessening the financial blow began in 1997, when The WB network started promoting artists off of WB music labels on its programs, running promotional clips for their albums at the tail-end of episodes. The WB was able to gain access to songs via a kind of family discount: decreased to even free„licensing rates in exchange for promotion. This gimmick certainly launched Paula Cole's career, as well as the careers of many others, back during Dawson's Creek's heyday. (Where her career's at now, well, we can't blame The WB for that, now can we?)
This cross-promotional stunt was quite the success and still lives on today: WB programs pimp the albums of featured artists after episodes and the shows' websites do the same, inducing television viewers to purchase the albums and various show soundtracks. It seems to be working in everyone's favor.
Therein lies the problem: yes, these bands cost less, but what will most certainly follow their instant fame is an increase in licensing costs. It's a vicious circle, and will leave music folk to scour the music scene for yet another independent band. Unless, y'know, they all get to fame and success first. Still, it's a commendable act, bringing good music into the fore and getting a larger population to listen in to what a small minority fell in love with long ago, but it always leaves some fans angered that their favorite bands have sold out. (That is a debatable point, but that's another story for another time.)
Moving beyond the primetime hours, the costly music licensing Episode also stretches into DVD boxed sets, affecting the quality of the product and playing a vital role in whether or not some of your favorite TV shows will ever make it onto DVD format. Musicians are originally paid royalties when they or their song made a television appearance, but when their episode makes it to the DVD, they will most certainly want a share of the profits. Even if their song played for but a mere few seconds.
To save money, a few modifications are made: a song is cut here, a song is replaced by a less-expensive track there. To but a few, these changes can go unnoticed. To a slew of others, this is an outrage: compromising the quality of a long-awaited box set by tinkering with the music? Music does play a substantial role on television programs, and to tamper with that even the tiniest bit can irritate television viewers, and rightfully so. So a studio has to decide whether it is worth the money to keep episodes as is, if they should just scratch the box set, or if it's time to raise the cost.
A price hike is usually seen as a bad idea in the buyers' eyes, but die-hard fans will perhaps think it a wise investment and an appropriate price considering what the DVD could have been. American Dreams' first season was released on DVD last year, with an extended music edition, for a whopping $90. Makes sense: A good 80% of the originally-aired music was retained, and it could be a possibility that all the current artists who performed as '60s icons demanded a piece of the pie, as well. Perhaps there is a reason why there is no word of season 2 and 3 sets as of late.
|Granted, it is a smart marketing ploy and has worked well for them these past few years, but nearly every emo and indie band now has a following, so there will eventually be no product placement on primetime television left.|
So, keep on shopping for television's sake, and happy listening!
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