What once was considered selling out for musical acts is now just considered good business. Even the most credibility-minded musicians are appearing on TV shows “The O.C.,” “Las Vegas” and “Gilmore Girls.”
And for labels and managers, what once was a rarity — landing a TV gig for an artist — is now a priority.
“As the competition for space on radio becomes more difficult, and the need for a song, music, an artist to be more recognizable, it’s an important component to the campaign,” says Randy Miller, executive VP of marketing for Virgin Records, who counts Lenny Kravitz’s recent Gap ads, which feature his song “Lady,” as an example of a Virgin-related TV placement success story.
“We can’t rely so much anymore on just a musicvideo. We look for other, bigger television opportunities that can help us connect the dots between a song, the artist that performs them, and a song that a radio listener may be hearing.”
One of the major placements available to up-and-coming artists is on “The O.C.,” which has a near-weekly performance segment at the fictional Bait Shop by one of the bands constantly name-dropped by indie know-it-all Seth Cohen, played by Adam Brody.
“The O.C.’s” most direct inspiration, “Beverly Hills, 90210,” regularly featured performances at the Peach Pit, by artists like one-barely-hit-wonder Jeremy Jordan and the psychedelic rock band the Flaming Lips, who’ve developed into a Grammy-nominated, festival-headlining act.
“The performance venues on T.V. have become way less heinous (since then),” says Lori Feldman, senior vice president of TV marketing at Warner Bros. Records and an executive producer on “The O.C.” soundtrack series of CDs. “The Peach Pit, and the guy running it on ‘90210,’ was way less sophisticated and interesting than the artists that are playing in the club on ‘The O.C.’ ”
Though not every artist wants to play the Bait Shop — Feldman tells a story of a Warner artist who turned down the gig not once, but twice — many of the hippest bands in music are lining up to do the show. One of Cohen’s favorite bands, Modest Mouse, whose hit “Float On” took them from college radio darlings to mainstream success story, just played two songs on the show, as did the Thrills, the critically lauded Irish band who’s California-influenced love songs are a perfect fit for the West Coast locations of “The O.C.”
The first band to play at the Bait Shop was the Walkmen, who released their second full-length disc, “Bows + Arrows,” on the independent label Record Collection last year. Manager Dawn Barger says the show’s producers, stars, and music supervisors had seen the band in L.A. Because of that, the choice for her was very organic.
The band, however, had a more difficult time with the decision. “There are a lot of things that go on with a band like the Walkmen, who are part of an underground scene, being on a national television show,” Barger says.
“It makes a lot of sense from a business standpoint to have artists do television like that, because it’s such huge exposure. The way the band was integrated into the episode of ‘The O.C.’ was amazing for having people identify the artist — even more than radio. The characters talked about going to see the Walkmen play, there were fliers for the Walkmen’s concert, there were tickets made up for the show, and they were very integrated into the whole show. You knew that people watching the episode were given the name of the band over and over, along with the chance to hear the band and watch the band perform.”
But does it actually help the bottom line? “The show airs on a Thursday night, so you only get the Friday and Saturday sales for SoundScan for the actual week. We went up 200% for those two days from the week before. The following week we increased significantly — another 1,400%. Ever since that episode aired, our sales have been steady,” Barger says.
For some bands, getting their music on the shows isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity. For the unsigned melodic rock band Highwater Rising, placements on shows such as “North Shore,” where the band’s song “Wasted Day” recently closed the show, actually pay the bills.
“We’ve had so much interest from the TV side especially, that with the state of the music business and everything going on with the labels, it’s made a lot of sense to focus on the licensing side of things,” says Jennifer Yeko, the band’s manager. “So far, the film and TV (licensing) is what pays us … and allows Highwater Rising to continue to make music.”
It’s hard to imagine the last generation of alternative rockers appearing on shows like “The O.C.” It’s a stretch to think about Kurt Cobain playing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at the Bait Shop, or Pavement guest-starring on “Scrubs” and “Las Vegas” like the Polyphonic Spree did last year.
“When I started doing this a long time ago, bands were reluctant to do it,” says Lyle Hyson, who used to work with indie stalwart Matador records and now represents bands like Death Cab for Cutie and the Decembrists through his licensing company, Bank Robber Music.
“Even when I’ve (worked with) bands who’ve done Hummer commercials — some people (complain) for a while, but in the long run, they get a nice paycheck. And you’re really giving it to Hummer, because Hummer’s paying you a lot of money to use your song.”