Pop songs boost awareness, drive consumers to cinemas

Music — often the last element added in the making of a movie — has become as much marketing tool as mood enhancer. Everyone knows a popular film promotes a featured song, which in turn boosts soundtrack sales. In turn, frequent radio and video play of a pic tune drives consumers to cinemas.

While music decisions for films are usually made by the director, they also come from execs and producers like Jerry Bruckheimer who also wield clout when it comes to tunes.

Sometimes song choices come from another direction: Despite pleas from top AOL Time Warner execs, Warner Bros.’ “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” soundtrack doesn’t include a pop song because creator J.K. Rowling didn’t want any, sources say.

On the flip side, execs are also the ones complaining that pop tunes are often inappropriately tacked on to the end-title credits of movies.

Most often, when a song placed in the soundtrack is at odds with the mood or theme of a film, execs say it’s a marketing decision to seek a hit single and boost awareness of the movie.

The ideal is to match song with movie in a seamless fashion, says Glen Brunman, president of Sony Music Soundtrax. In Sony’s “Charlie’s Angels,” the hit “Independent Women” by Destiny’s Child, chosen by the director McG, is an example of a “song that’s so much about what the movie is. That’s a huge benefit for the soundtrack and the movie. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.”

Gary Lajeski, senior VP of film music for Buena Vista Motion Picture Group, says that in “Pearl Harbor,” a movie with natural male appeal, producer Bruckheimer sought a song that would attract a bigger female audience. So, the producer signed up Oscar favorite Diane Warren to write “There You’ll Be” with the film’s romantic angle in mind. Warren incorporated themes from Hans Zimmer’s score, and Faith Hill, a country artist with wide appeal, sang the song, which became a hit and garnered a Golden Globes nomination.

Often, the films themselves inspire musicians to compose specific tracks. Sting wrote the Globes-winning waltz “Until …” after viewing a copy of “Kate & Leopold.”

Director James Mangold didn’t initially want pop music in the film, says Miramax president of motion picture music Randy Spendlove. But the director thought Sting’s song captured the spirit of the film and put it in over the end credits.

These days, it seems what helps get songs on soundtracks is when the movie and music company are under the same corporate umbrella. A Warner Bros. or Sony film arm can go to their respective sister music labels for song deals.

A unique example of this corporate synergy is at Vivendi Universal, where Kathy Nelson holds the titles of film music prexy for both Universal Music Group and Universal Pictures.

She says there is no pressure to use music from Universal’s labels, which include Motown and Interscope, but there are incentives to do so. It’s easier to negotiate terms and prices, cooperation is greater, and Universal has the world’s largest music catalog.

But even when music and movies are in one corporation, the soundtrack project often goes outside. The company’s labels get first shot at a film, but may not be interested or may not have the artist or music the director wants.

Gary Le Mel, president of film music for Warner Bros. Pictures, says the soundtrack for “Training Day” went not to a Warner label but to EMI-owned Priority Records because of the latter’s specialty in rap.

The marketing push doesn’t end when the film is released. Music is promoted and soundtrack sales spike with a new DVD or pay-per-view window. Disney’s Lajeski says a Carnegie Hall concert accompanied the DVD release of bluegrass-flavored “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” whose soundtrack went on to certified sales of 3 million units.

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