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Songs for Screens: How Vulfpeck Scored a Lucrative Apple Synch With ‘Back Pocket’

Songs For Screens 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.

Like most artists who’ve been synched by Apple, Jack Stratton found out his band Vulfpeck’s song “Back Pocket” had been used in a cinematic new spot for Apple at the same time as the rest of the world, upon its debut on March 22. But the song wasn’t just featured: his band had struck the holy grail of synchs, a song featured in a minute-long prime-time commercial for Apple, with a creative concept tailored specifically to the song’s swaggering, blue-eyed soul groove and staccato chorus.

Not bad for a self-released song by a band previously best-known in industry circles for gaming Spotify to raise money for a tour off a “silent album” featuring no music whatsoever.

Throughout the spot, called “Fly Market,” a stylish actor sashays, snaps and even toe stands, Michael Jackson-style, through a flea market whose items magically come to life and outfit his body through the ease of the new iPhone X Apple Pay feature.

“I loved it. It was really well done and that actor’s fantastic,” says Stratton, who noted the commercial’s visual flair is similar to the official music video for “Back Pocket,” released in 2016. “We worked with a talented director named Tim Hendrix who used all these surreal camera moves — very whimsical and engaging. There’s something about that song that evokes post-processing and after-effects.”

Recently, Apple has been on a synch roll on a par with its early 2000s heyday of breaking songs and entire artists’ careers. In the past 15 months alone, the brand has sent alt-pop duo Marian Hill to the top 20 of the Billboard 200, helped loft New York electronic/dance duo Sofi Tukker into the Top 40 and premiered a new single from Grammy nominee Anderson.Paak in a rapturously reviewed spot directed by Spike Jonze just last month.

Though its music-supervision process is legendarily mercurial — Stratton says the band and its music-licensing agency Zync Music was approached by an Apple rep for the musical stems to “Back Pocket” for an unnamed project a month before the spot aired — the impact of Apple’s media spend can be vast. According to advertising analytics firm iSpot.TV, “Fly Market” has aired more than 500 times on U.S. broadcast television, valued at $22.5 million in paid media, including prime slots in CBS’ coverage of NCAA March Madness and NBC’s high-rated live broadcast of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Stratton says the band has seen a boost in Spotify streams, and depending on the demographic tuning in to the spot, a significant lift in social-media chatter. The band is embarking on a series of tour dates in late April, and is hoping to further optimize the exposure to set up a big launch for a new album and full-length tour in the fall.

“I think the smart bands are ready to pounce on this little uptick, and we’re still figuring it all out,” Stratton says. “We haven’t been a licensing band previously, per se, aside from a couple spots we’ve done with Apple, ironically. We’re heavily influenced by music for television, whether it’s Quincy Jones or all the great studio musicians which we’re kind of based off of. I guess we’re into a different era of music for TV, so whenever someone needs that we can deliver that.”

Stratton is also hoping the increased exposure can help the A&R process for Vulfpeck’s follow-up to 2017’s “Mr. Finish Line,” which featured a diverse lineup of guests including Alabama R&B vocalist Charles Jones and former Quadron frontwoman Coco O., along with guitarist David T. Walker and Bootsy Collins.

At the top of his wish list? Michael McDonald, who successfully sailed past “40-Year-Old Virgin” late-career lampoon into full-blown appreciation by the Pitchfork generation when he paired with Kenny Loggins and Grammy nominated musician Thundercat for 2017’s “Show You The Way.”

“I have a song where he would be just great. I just gotta muster up the nerve to send the cold email,” says Stratton. “It sounds like it’ll be strange to send him a song that we were trying to write that sounds like him. It will probably freak him out to hear someone else writing a Michael McDonald song.”

But after seeing his own song inspire a whole Apple commercial, imitation may yet take on new forms of flattery to Stratton. “I couldn’t believe they took this cool little sweep of a sound from the song, it’s a click that kind of sounds like ‘Wheel of Fortune,’ and layered it under the actor spinning with jewelry. Someone must have had fun putting that together.”

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