Syncs have long been a powerful tool for exposure when it comes to songs. There’s Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” in the Netflix movie “Someone Great” and Apple’s use of Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” for an iPod ad. Lord Huron added a legion of teens to their fan base after “The Night We Met” landed key placement in “13 Reasons Why,” and the Fray’s “How to Save a Life” may forever be linked to “Grey’s Anatomy.” These songs not only made for big movie and TV moments but found continued life after the peak of the projects that featured them had passed.
As a teen, Amy Coles’ big music moment came by way of MTV’s “The Real World,” when she heard Semisonic’s “Closing Time.” “That was the first time I remember being aware of a music use in TV that connected with what was happening,” Coles says of her realization that this wasn’t a random occurrence — someone chose it for that moment.
Now Coles, VP of creative at Sony Music Publishing, is creating music moments of her own, most notably playing an integral part in catapulting Kate Bush’s 1985 single “Running Up That Hill” to the top of the charts. The song was featured as a plot device throughout Season 4 of “Stranger Things,” thanks to showrunners Matt and Ross Duffer taking the “music saves lives” theory to a new level with Sadie Sink’s character, Max Mayfield. While syncs have previously boosted older singles, they’ve never generated this level of resurgence for a 37-year-old song. The track peaked at No. 30 on the Hot 100 upon its release, but this year’s sync gave Kate Bush her first Top 10 U.S. hit.
Coles has been sending Nora Felder, music supervisor on “Stranger Things,” songs from Sony’s 1980s catalog since the show’s first season. In 2020, Felder reached out about a song that would be pivotal to Max. “Kate is very thoughtful. She’s very selective about what syncs she approves,” says Coles. Not only was it important that “Kate was confident that her work would be used in a positive, impactful way,” says Coles, but the exec also had to negotiate a fee structure that valued the song correctly, considering the number of repeat uses.
She spent the first half of the year on the phone with Felder, the record label and management, putting it all together. “It’s kind of the perfect alignment of the stars. A great production with a great script; a great episode combined with a great song and something that touches the viewers emotionally,” says Coles.
After the “Dear Billy” episode — about depression and suicide — debuted in May, the song took off organically and didn’t stop. “It doesn’t just disappear the minute that scene is over,” Coles says.
Indeed, “Running Up That Hill” is the 12th most consumed song of 2022. It may have taken 37 years to get its due, but “Kate deserves every minute of this,” says Coles. “It’s a beautiful song. It’s a timeless song.”
Listen to Coles speak about her career and Kate Bush’s runaway hit on Variety‘s Strictly Business podcast.