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How Soundtracks Like ‘Mid90s’ Capitalize on Promo Synergy and Evergreen Appeal

Even as "A Star Is Born" revives the traditional movie album, "fluid soundtracks" on streaming services offer a new model.

Stripped of CD playing time limitations, Spotify devised the fluid soundtrack last year, one that could add song after song as a TV show progressed. HBO’s “Insecure” was the guinea pig; by mid-October it was up to 159 songs. The streaming service is taking it further this month, partnering with Jonah Hill and A24 on the first evolving playlist for a film, “Mid90s.”

After Spotify hosted a premiere party that included DJs spinning many of the 200 songs Hill listened to while writing the film, the streaming service went live with a 17-track soundtrack/playlist with the intention of adding more tracks and videos from the era. It’s taking a shot at creating a pop-culture moment with the audience that made phenoms out of “The Greatest Showman,” “La La Land” and “A Star Is Born.”

“Soundtracks are evolving to playlists and experiential moments,” says Xavier Jernigan, Spotify’s head of cultural partnerships.

While soundtracks for animation and films with musical performances still sit high on charts for months, tech and public taste are driving changes in the soundtrack space. Interest in music tied to film, TV and advertising is growing thanks to the identification app Shazam (acquired by Apple), and streaming is creating opportunities that did not exist in the physical product world.

Witness Spring Aspers’ work on “Hotel Transylvania 3,” for which Sony Pictures released tracks by Joe Jonas, Jonas Blue and Tiesto via three different labels.

“Artists can put forth what they created and it doesn’t have to be packaged in a traditional way,” says Aspers, head of music for Sony Pictures, whose next project is working with Republic to launch Post Malone’s single with Swae Lee for the animated “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” “Sometimes, having the artists release via their respective labels means you don’t have to have just one partner and navigate getting rights from different labels. You have a lot more flexibility.”

Or as Universal Pictures president of music Mike Knobloch says: “All the older models have been disrupted in one way or another. But there are still those brass rings.”

The newest “brass ring” is Interscope’s soundtrack to “A Star Is Born,” which debuted at No. 1 a week after its Oct. 5 release on sales of 231,000, the biggest week for a soundtrack in three-and-a-half years. The first single, Lady Gaga’s “Shallow,” has ruled the iTunes Top 10, with other tracks floating up and down sales and streaming charts. “It’s only when the music taps into the culture and people’s lives that you get this kind of response.” says Interscope’s film/TV exec VP and soundtrack guru Anthony Seyler.

Atlantic Records West Coast president Kevin Weaver is getting set to extend the life of the label’s soundtrack for “The Greatest Showman,” a likely Grammy contender that has been certified double platinum. On Nov. 16, the label will release “The Greatest Showman — Reimagined,” a collection of covers of the film’s songs by pop artists such as Panic! at the Disco, Pink and Kelly Clarkson. He describes it as “youth-oriented, but in line with the ‘Showman’ brand.”

“I do one or two soundtracks a year,” says Weaver. “I know the bandwidth required to do A&R, sales, marketing and publicity globally that benefits our partners as much as the property benefits us. I try to bet on the things that have the biggest potential.”

At Universal, Knobloch is betting on Tyler, the Creator, who has two tracks in “The Grinch.” Knobloch says bringing young hip-hop stars into mainstream movies provides a marketing opportunity to audiences that might not otherwise show interest in a particular film. “Using Tyler to do those tracks and utilizing Pharrell as narrator is very on brand for Illumination [Entertainment],” Knobloch says. “When things were formative, we asked who had the right kind of voice. You’re almost doing auxiliary casting. It’s not so much about a trend, just what’s right for the film.”

Seyler, who started working with Warner Bros. worldwide marketing president Blair Rich from the moment two years ago when Lady Gaga signed up for “A Star Is Born,” says: “Our job a lot of times isn’t just to get people to buy the music. The goal is to get people into theaters. The magic is when everything is trying to drive people to see the film and the soundtrack becomes a part of their lives.”

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