DEVELOPING alternative revenue streams first is no longer a case of putting the cart before the horse for recording artists, especially the independent acts who are finding that placements in television and film provide a bit of financial freedom.
Obviously visual media provide immediate paydays, and the return on investment for an artist, especially one working outside the major label system, can easily quantify the impact of a song placement.
“Double, triple,” guesses Nashville-based singer-songwriter Katie Herzig during a conversation about her annual income since she landed songs in “ER,” “Smallville” and on two episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy.” “It gives me freedom and takes pressure off me having to live off touring and record sales.”
THE “MOVIE MONEY” as several young artists call it, is having a dramatic effect on the direction they take with their albums. The bonus money provided by placements has led to everything from major label signings to enhancing the sound quality on an album to being in a position to offer downloads for free. Three examples:
- Peter Salett’s fifth and most accomplished album, “In the Ocean of Stars,” will be released today through Sony BMG’s Red. It is his first album since he scored Edward Norton’s “Down in the Valley” and co-wrote three songs for “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” while training Russell Brand and Jason Segel in musical performance. The scoring work allowed him to finance a recording with strings and additional mixing sessions with the well-respected Todd Burke.
- Eric Hutchinson, an indie iTunes phenom, got his tune “Rock & Roll” licensed for “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2” right as he was inking a deal with Warner Bros. to distribute his debut album “Sounds Like This.” “Rock & Roll” has been used in the film’s trailers and is the first single from the soundtrack which will be released Aug. 5.
- Herzig will have her newest music in two episodes of “Bones” this fall and the second “Sex and the City” soundtrack. After releasing her second album “Apple Tree” in May, she turned to the new Noise Trade website this month to offer a free album download in exchange for three emails from each customer. In less than two weeks she had doubled her database of fans.
Timing, luck and happenstance all play roles these days in the independent world, and last season’s TV placement success of young singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson certainly opened doors for indie acts. On top of that, Warner Music’s soundtrack for “Juno,” a collection dominated by previously issued indie recordings, is one of the conglom’s three top sellers for the year, another score for the underdogs.
THOSE STORIES, though, would have been major longshots just a year or two ago when major labels looked to use particular placements as key marketing tools. In 2007, for example, Columbia Records hitched Brandi Carlile’s star to “Grey’s Anatomy” during Mays sweeps that involved a significant iTunes component. It appeared to be the start of the wave of the future.
Salett even addresses that issue point blank, “No major label, no leverage,” he says, realizing his success has come from personal connections. His most recent project is a arrangement of Kiss’ “Beth” for Paul Rudd to sing in an upcoming David Wain film.
“Scoring movies feels like the place to be right now,” he notes, having moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn about a year ago. “There’s less of a an impulse to tour just for the hell of it.”
Hutchinson, who posted highest chart numbers by an unsigned act in iTunes history, is nearing the end of tour opening shows for Missy Higgins. Tour ends this weekend, right as Warner Bros. prepares the re-release of his album “Sounds Like This” and “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2” opens in theaters.
His story is far more random — and perhaps more feel good — than the efforts of Salett and Herzig, who has signed with Lynn Grossman and her Secret Road firm, who orchestrated Michaelson’s efforts.
“It’s a cool idea to write for film, but it has to come from a personal place,” Hutchinson says. “I love that the trailer went before ‘Sex and the City.’ If nothing else, my mom is excited.”