“Songs for Screens” (formerly known as “Synch This”) is a Variety column written by Andrew Hampp, a VP at New York-based music sponsorship and experiential agency MAC Presents and former branding correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column will highlight noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as new and catalog songs that we deem ripe for synch use.
Andrew Kahn is doing his best to soak up the Los Angeles sunshine.
Speaking on a balmy Thursday afternoon from his Silverlake apartment, which doubles as the home office of his seven-year-old synch firm Good Ear Music Supervision (or G.E.M.S.), his sun-drenched terrace will likely serve as the closest he’ll come to the outdoors for the better part of the next month.
That’s because music supervisors like Kahn are knuckling down for the deal-making onslaught that only comes in first quarter, when major TV events like the Grammys, Super Bowl, Oscars and NBA All-Star Weekend all draw some of the year’s biggest audiences within weeks of each other. Throw in a Winter Olympics year and it’s no wonder Kahn doesn’t plan to stray from his phone or computer until well into February.
“As somebody who has worked for and is contracted by agencies, you know this is the time they need you because it’s the last element in the production that’s locked in place,” says Kahn, who prior to founding G.E.M.S. spent four years at ad agency TBWA’s Media Arts Lab, where he was involved with some of the most iconic Apple synchs of the iPod, iPhone and iPad era.
The Grammys, for example, are just two weeks out and many synchs for campaigns have still yet to be secured, as have key spots for this year’s Super Bowl, which this year marketers are planning to spend $5.5 million just to air their creative for 30 seconds.
Kahn’s phone has been quite active as of late as the founder of G.E.M.S., which secured a record 60 synchs for brands and agencies in 2017 — to the tune of $8 million in gross revenue that was distributed to labels, publishers and songwriters. Kahn and his colleagues Jackie Shuman and Erik Sutch worked with artists big and small, from Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar for Apple Watch to Cher and Future cover Sly & The Family Stone for the Gap to long-lost Ohio soul band Penny & The Quarters for Oreo.
It’s that ability to give back that excites Kahn the most after a decade-plus career of synch maneuvering. “When you get to peek behind the scenes and talk to artists and see ‘Oh yeah, this synch enabled me to buy my own studio’ or go on a tour or invest back in themselves that’s always the most rewarding and joyful part of the business. When you actually get to see the goodness behind the work that we do.”
Kahn, 36, caught up Songs For Screens to delve deeper into the trends shaping music synchronization at large, which is on track to top the $204.3 million in revenue grossed by the U.S. music industry in 2016 (according to the RIAA), and why “authenticity” will continue to be the most crucial element behind the best synchs.
Recorded music has been a loss leader for artists big and small for over a decade – a means by which to make money from other channels like touring or merch or brand partnerships. Yet companies like yours represent one of the few ways artists and songwriters can still make meaningful money from their masters amid the complicated streaming economy. What do you see as contributing to the growth in meaningful synchs right now versus other types of music?
I think one of the things that has built up our business and industry too is that more and more companies that would have traditionally not cared about music are starting to see more value in it. This [past] year, along with doing a few massive campaigns which are always wonderful, we did a ton of really small synchs – even without indie labels. Whereas a brand may have gone to a stock library in the past, they’re carrying a little bit more about putting heart and soul in their videos now.
When you’re working with newer clients or companies who are relatively green to the synch world, how do you educate them on the value of music without scaring them away?
I think a lot of times we get a smaller brand or a brand less experienced with licensing that may come to us requesting a perpetuity term or a 5-year term along with a baby budget — let’s say less than $10,000. And then you need to politely finesse that conversation so that it’s more digestible. So there’s these leftover expectations, because that’s what they would get if they were doing a stock song. “We used to get perpetuity terms for $1,000 and now we have $5,000.” So we have to say “that’s not really possible or realistic but here are ways we can make that happen.”
What was most difficult license to secure in 2017?
I wouldn’t say it was the most difficult, but we definitely learned just how unpredictable Mijac’s [Michael Jackson’s Mijac Music catalog] estate can be. We licensed two Mijac songs for the fall and winter Gap “Meet Me” campaign – one was Sly & The Family Stone “Everyday People” and the other was Freddy Scott’s “You Got What I Need.”
It was a process, but those were both less traditional work than we typically do. We don’t always do covers. We’re typically just licensing the master and publishing together. In this case it was finding about the right song to do a re-record with these huge artists – teaming Future with an icon like Cher and then working with a superstar like Janelle Monae. They actually re-teamed with the creative team behind the Gap music work from the 1990s too. It was great, and a great reminder of how influential Gap was and how you can still see that nowadays. You still see other brands using elements of what the Gap did 20 years ago in their spots today.
What trends do you see taking shape for synch in 2018?
I think a huge trend not just for music but for everything this year has been an embrace of diversity. You see it in movies and ads and I think it does trickle down to our job as well. Brands are using licensed music to represent an authentic voice. And I think you see where the missteps have been, for example infamously the Kendall Jenner Pepsi spot. That was more of a creative issue, but it just speaks to how important authenticity has been this entire year.
I think that one of the best examples was the 1800 Tequila commercial we did that was all about the two sides or dynamic qualities of a person. It represented and portrayed a character that was both a classical pianist and a boxer, so we tried to research and find songs that would be authentic and speak to that. We ended up using a song that featured Chance the Rapper on a track by [dance producers] Octave Mind song with the pianist Chilly Gonzales. I thought it captured all those elements really well.