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From Daytime to Late-Night, Live Music Is Thriving on Television

“The best things come together when I’m strategizing with management and a few key label and indie publicists,” says booker Suzanne Bender.

In August of 2016, Diana Miller, music booker for “The Late Late Show With James Corden,” finally caught a unicorn. “It’s important that the talent is instantly recognizable in “Carpool Karaoke,” and that the segment features big hits,” she says. And so, after months of pursuit, she convinced Michelle Obama to appear in an episode, alongside Missy Elliot.

According to Nielsen, digital sales for “This Song Is for My Girls,” the charity track they promoted, jumped 1,652%. The segment also featured sing-alongs of Elliot’s “Get Ur Freak On” (which saw a sales increase of 312%), Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” (up 42%), and Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” (up 76.5%).

That was then; streams are now. As consumers have increasingly abandoned downloads, the goal of music-on-TV has shifted from moving units to creating viral events. The benefits are symbiotic: Artists are granted an internet afterlife, while shows count those numbers as key performance indicators. Case in point is Miller’s other success story, a “Carpool” with Adele that clocked nearly 179 million YouTube views. Notes “Conan’s” Roey Hershkovitz, “We always have people reaching out, asking, ‘How can we do more? Can we do a second song for the web?’”

“Having an artist on TV is not a golden ticket, but it is about people finding that video and sharing it,” says Doug Smiley, marketing director at Brilliant Corners Artist Management (Phantogram, Death Cab for Cutie). “The hope is that it will elevate their career. Perhaps venue bookers will put them in bigger spaces. Or maybe they’ll get a brand opportunity.”

That perceived payoff is essential, because any appearance requires overhead such as travel, gear and crew costs — a bill the label has to swallow. “My biggest challenge is availability,” says Suzanne Bender, a music booker for “Dancing With the Stars” and “American Idol.” As their budgets shrink, “Touring is the No. 1 thing for artists now.”

Network execs frequently task Bender with acquiring artists with mainstream appeal. To score her coups, such as Beyoncé on “American Idol,” she frequently leverages relationships with an artist’s team. “The best things come together when I’m strategizing with management and a few key label and indie publicists,” she says.

With the music-booking market saturated, persistence is also key. “The Talk’s” Deirdre Dod had been pitching Cher’s publicist for more than a year. When she did land the legend, “The Talk” went all out, even re-creating the “Cher” show’s 1975 opening. “Booking daytime is very different from nighttime,” says Dod, a “Letterman” alum. “Everyone is awake and popping. You have to book something they’ll love” to keep them watching. For his part, “Ellen’s” Jonathan Norman almost single-handedly dominates hip-hop in the afternoon, by using the host’s enthusiasm for the genre to book A-list rappers.

“Good Morning America’s” Monica Escobedo worked for “years” to land an exclusive with Kesha, who emerged from an imposed exile on the morning show in 2017, her first appearance since 2012. Escobedo also helps promote artists with wide appeal across ABC, such as Dolly Parton, who taped “Nightline” right after a GMA segment.

Despite these rating juggernauts’ emphasis on boldface names, they’re also mindful of maintaining a cool factor. “‘Idol’ will let me do a couple newbies,” Bender says, name-checking Bishop Briggs, who just appeared as a duet partner and mentor. “She’s relatable, young, and brings in that demo.” Escobedo, meanwhile, helped steer the mainstream zeitgeist towards “Despacito,” inviting Latin superstar Luis Fonsi to perform on “Good Morning America.”

Fonsi actually appeared on “Conan” two months prior to the “GMA” performance. “At the time,” says Hershkovitz, “the idea of doing a Spanish pop song on our show seemed insane, but Conan likes taking chances.” Hershkovitz presented the idea to the music-loving host who replied, half-jokingly, “I’m about building bridges, not walls.” To that end, “Conan” also leveraged Fonsi’s YouTube fans, garnering nearly 28.4 million post-performance views.

“The main thing that comes out of it is the performance footage,” says one publicist for a major indie label. “A lot of people want to see what an artist looks like live, plain and simple. In these performances, they look great, and they sound awesome.”

For a Who’s Who in music-TV booking, check out Variety’s Spring 2018 Music for Screens gallery.

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