“Synch This” is a new Variety column written by MAC Presents VP and former Billboard branding reporter Andrew Hampp, highlighting new songs that we deem ripe for synch use. Insiders can skip over the “Synch 101” in the introduction, which will be linked to in future columns, to get straight to this week’s pick.
The term “synch” is a funny one – even if you’ve never heard it used before, it’s a convenient catch-all for something you hear every single day.
Short for “music synchronization license,” synchs have long been a prime method for music, new and old, to get discovered in TV commercials, box-office hits and the latest buzzy TV hit. So much so that synch revenue accounted for 2% of the recorded music industry’s global revenue in 2016, or roughly $314 million, an all-time high.
The first time I heard the term “synch” used it was in reference to “Unwritten” singer Natasha Bedingfield’s latest album Strip Me in 2010. Though the project debuted at a disappointing No. 103 on the Billboard 200, a former colleague of mine still considered it a success because several of its singles “got amazing synchs,” referencing a high-profile ad campaign for NIVEA and movie trailers for the Rachel McAdams rom-com Morning Glory.
Not only does all that marketing spend serve as free promotion for artists during crucial album-release cycles, with national multi-month ad campaigns spending as much as $50-100 million in prime-time and digital ad dollars, the revenue generated from the synch can buoy an otherwise flat project for the artist and their label.
Not that it’s a music supervisor’s job to replace a radio programmer or major label marketing exec. Indeed, many of the most memorable synchs over the years have been from the use of classic catalog tracks, obscure oddities or deep cuts from music icons not looking for iHeart or Spotify playlist spins. But it can also be quite thrilling when the right song finds the right spot, to the point where you can’t imagine the commercial or the product itself without it – and vice versa.
One of the best examples of those commercials from the past five years is Christian Dior’s “J’Adore Dior” campaign starring Charlize Theron, with a synch from The Gossip’s “Heavy Cross.” In the spot, Charlize is seen running late to strut her stuff down a Paris runway (apparently alongside a digitally restored Marilyn Monroe, who we see in a neighboring vanity) while Gossip guitarist Brace Paine’s riff stutters along. By the time Charlize turns the corner to start storming the catwalk, draped head to toe in gold couture, the commercial unleashes its real secret weapon — Beth Ditto’s signature howl on that chorus. “I trust ya-a-owwwww!”
So for this inaugural Synch This! column, in which Variety will be shining a weekly spotlight on notable un-synched songs worth licensing, I thought it only appropriate to take a look at a track from Ditto’s upcoming project Fake Sugar, her debut full-length for Virgin/Capitol Records.
Though the rockabilly jam “Fire” was a more-than-welcome return to form for the “fat, feminist lesbian from Arkansas” when it dropped in April, the real stunner released so far is “Ooh La La.”
It has all the trappings beloved by car or cell-phone commercial music supervisors – hand claps, a recognizable riff, a gut-punching “Hunh!” where the more popular “Hey!” might otherwise appear — but with a killer delivery from Ditto that swings from coquettish to carnal, the kind of quirks beloved by fashion and tech brands. Heck, it could even connect in France, with Ditto sprinkling in lines like “Please don’t stop ce soir” and “Je ne sais pas” throughout.
Beyond the fact that the right synch could give cult favorite Ditto’s solo career a nice boost (The Gossip parted ways in 2012), “Oo La La” is exactly the type of song ad agencies have been craving since the Phoenix-ization of the airwaves in 2009. It’s a capital “R” rock anthem at a time when such songs are seemingly near extinct from the mainstream, with the hard-earned authenticity from someone with more than a decade of great music under her belt.
Who’s to say that kind of cred couldn’t help sell the next Cadillac, too?
Andrew Hampp is a vice president at New York-based music sponsorship and experiential agency MAC Presents.