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Music biz strikes a chord with TV placement

From ‘Glee’ to the Black Eyed Peas, the tube grooves with licensing

Mamie Coleman is looking into the eye of an MP3 hurricane.

Coleman, VP of music and production for Fox Broadcasting, recently put out the word to music labels and publishers that the network needed an upbeat tune for its January on-air promo campaign heralding the return of “American Idol” and “24.” Coleman and her marketing team have been so inundated with submissions that their computer hard drives are practically smoking.

The deluge reflects the increasingly vital role that TV plays in driving music sales and exposure for artists.

For years, labels and publishers avoided too-complicated TV pacts. But at a time when both sectors are looking for new sources of profits — and with radio on the wane and musicvids a rarity on MTV and VH1 — TV is serving as an extension of labels’ marketing departments.

The payoff can be huge: Veterans of “Idol” have sold 40 million records, with 60 No. 1 hits and 14 platinum albums. And that is just one show. Diskeries are more reliant than ever on TV placements to gain traction for new and catalog tunes, with everything from primetime dramas to daytime talkshows providing a showcase.

But it’s not exactly a win-win situation. Music dealmaking has become much more complicated as everyone wrangles over use (e.g., snippets of songs vs. an entire tune) and, crucially, deals involving the Internet and home­video rights.

It’s changed the way diskeries do business. In some cases, they’re timing the release of albums to a TV appearance (or, in a recent example with Shakira, across multiple TV appearances). Some are softening their long-in-place licensing terms.

Digital distribution, once the perceived bane of the major labels, has enabled some of the majors to get into the tune-peddling game with little upfront cost and no need for manufacturing or distribution infrastructure.

“We have so much direct contact with the labels and publishers now. We’re always getting people telling us they have the perfect song for ‘House’ or a great song for ‘Idol,’?” Coleman says. “A lot of labels have performances for us in their offices, and when we like what we hear, we’ll sign a deal right then and there.”

A smallscreen showcase has long been a key career boost for artists — think “The Ed Sullivan Show” or pop hitmakers like Perry Como, Dinah Shore and Andy Williams fronting TV variety shows in the 1950s and ’60s. But the relationship continues to evolve.

More recently, for example, when Britney Spears was prepping her music comeback, she didn’t look to MTV or radio. Instead, she partnered with youth-centered broadcast net the CW, which used her track “Womanizer” as part of a promo campaign for “Gossip Girl.” The spot worked for the show, focusing on resident womanizer Chuck Bass, played by Ed Westwick. And it gave Spears — whose image had been tarnished by several years of tabloid press — a much-needed coolness boost.

“It went over extremely well and helped set up that record,” says Leonard Richardson, VP of music at CW. “With our demo, we’re smack-dab in the middle of the sweet spot for the record-buying public. And when you have that type of artist and our viewers are right there, it’s a slam dunk.”

In October, Warner Bros. Records pushed up the release date for singer Michael Buble’s album “Crazy Love” by a few days to coincide with his appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” The album promptly debuted at No. 1 on the album sales chart the following week, after only three days of sales.

The growth in the use of classic and contempo tracks in TV series and in network branding campaigns has turned the job of music scouting and licensing into a full-time pursuit for multiple execs at most major nets and studios. CW’s predecessor, the WB Network, was a prime mover in this area in its heyday, turning little-known tracks like Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait” (aka the theme from “Dawson’s Creek”) into hits as the net sought to stand apart from the TV competish and resonate with its youthful aud. CBS and Warner Bros. TV built a successful gumshoe drama, “Cold Case,” that trades heavily on tunes to evoke the show’s ever-changing eras and moods.

Music licensing doesn’t come cheap for the nets — rights fees can range from $7,000-$10,000 a week per song for high-end material, but there are deals to be made, especially for emerging artists or if extra promotional weight is included beyond just a song’s appearance in a show. The WB was a pioneer in getting discount deals in exchange for a graphic at the end identifying the artist, song title and label. Now those credits are even seen in 30-second promo spots, execs note.

“We always think we overpay for music. It is expensive,” says Peter DiCecco, ABC senior vice president of business and legal affairs for music. “But we do our best to negotiate the most favorable deals. … Given the state they’re in, (labels) are looking to TV and being more flexible.”

DiCecco says marketing partnerships that labels might have once struck with radio or retail are now being offered to TV first.

That includes exclusive premieres of new songs or music­videos. The Alphabet network launched a website, ABC Music Lounge, where artists and songs featured on primetime series are highlighted — and sometimes available for download.

Recently, ABC simultaneously hammered home the availability of the new single by Shakira by placing the star in an episode of “Ugly Betty,” giving her a performance slot on “Dancing With the Stars,” offering the song as a free download on ABC Music Lounge, and exposing her music on other ABC programming.

“That exposure hit so many ABC-related programs and was a huge success for Shakira,” DiCecco says. “We definitely received reduced fees as a result of all that exposure we offered her.”

Fox has taken tune TV to new heights with the power that “American Idol” wields over the pop charts, and now with “Glee,” the song-centered dramedy set among glee-club members in an Ohio high school. In just a few months on the air, tunes from the 20th Century Fox TV skein have generated more than 3 million downloads via iTunes and two top 10-selling soundtrack albums. Fox has profited handsomely from its 50-50 joint venture deal with Columbia Records to distribute “Glee” recordings. That deal also covers the extracurricular recordings of “Glee” stars like Lea Michele, who joined the show fresh off a stint in the Broadway tuner “Spring Awakening.”

Moreover, the exposure that “Glee” and “Idol” gives to contempo and classic tunes has proven to boost sales of original and other related recordings. That’s truly music to the ears of publishers, who often see a triple-digit royalty spike on vintage songs after they get a workout on “Idol” or “Glee.” Just ask ex-Journey singer Steve Perry, who saw a windfall from songwriting royalties and from sales of the original 1981 recording when the “Glee” kids covered “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

Some artists and publishers were a bit wary about lending their tunes to the show before “Glee” bowed, but not any more, according to Geoff Bywater, senior veep of music for 20th Century Fox, who oversees the newly launched 20th Century Fox TV Records imprint.

“Everything we’re putting out is dragging every one of the original copyrights and masters along with it. They’re seeing (sales increases) of anywhere from 50% to 150% after our song hits,” Bywater says. “The community knows that this show will only work if they work with us, and it’s to their advantage. ”

Bywater cut his teeth on features such as “Moulin Rouge” when he worked on the film side of the 20th Century Fox. The amount of music incorporated into “Glee” is akin to “doing a ‘Moulin Rouge’ every week,” he notes.

“Glee” is so music-laden that it made sense for Fox to partner with a label that would bring worldwide marketing and distribution heft to the table. But Fox has also been building a solid business on digital-only distribution of tunes from some of its other shows, such as FX motorcycle drama “Sons of Anarchy.” That show has developed a signature featuring
rock classics done by contempo artists (e.g. Audra Mae and the Forest Rangers crooning Dylan’s “Forever Young”). The downloads for the two “Anarchy” EPs released to date have hit the six-figure range, Bywater says.

The burst of activity in TV-driven music licensing has made dealmaking much more complicated, because networks need to secure rights for Internet use as well as navigating the difference between use of a song snippet in a promo vs. a full track in a series episode. Homevid rights for DVD box set sales are another tricky area of licensing, where rights fees hinge on the studio’s projection of how many vids will be shipped to stores. There’s an awareness that no series should have to face “WKRP in Cincinnati” syndrome, in which the ’70s and ’80s tunes that were integral to the show have been stripped out for the series’ DVD release because of the prohibitive licensing cost.

Labels and publishers were once stubborn about working with TV producers, but that attitude changed once music sales began to plunge a decade or so ago.

“Music was expensive for the limited amount of rights you were getting back then,” says ABC’s DiCecco. “And the labels were less inclined to work with TV.”

At the CW, shows like “Vampire Diaries” are still promoting albums at the end of telecasts, but with a variety of marketing packages, depending on the deal. On a recent episode, the netlet featured music by Green Day, and the end of the show not only mentioned the group’s album but featured a musicvideo clip. The network did a similar deal for Kanye West on “90210.”

Now, Richardson says, the labels’ eagerness to make such deals has actually made his job more complicated: He now has piles upon piles of tracks available at his disposal.

“We’re cognizant of our brand, and have to be cautious of what we choose and what we use,” he says. “Our approach is to not just use the hottest thing that’s already out, but to be slightly ahead of the curve.”

But it’s not only the labels that knock on doors for music licensing. Earlier this year, there was a scramble among several broadcast nets to license the Black Eyed Peas’ hit “I Gotta Feeling” for on-air promo use. Fox made a big play for it, but the tune landed on CBS.

A major group like the Black Eyed Peas might not have licensed their song for a network campaign 10 years ago. But the savvy group knew where their bread was buttered: CBS owns stations in the top 40 markets across the country, and televises the Grammys — for which the Peas just scored six nominations. (The group also recently performed on the Eye’s Victoria’s Secret fashion special.)

“TV is the new radio. People say that all the time, but it’s definitely true,” Richardson says.