If you’ve been awake at any time during the past 6 months, you’ve heard that ‘Someone That I Used to Know‘ song by Gotye. It’s a pretty good song, and a strangely compelling video, but I found myself feeling kind of sorry for poor old Kimbra, the woman who duets with Gotye on the track. While his parents apparently supported him while he noodled around in a farmhouse somewhere, Kimbra’s been working her backside off trying to become a pop artist for years.
So I was happy to see that Victoria’s Secret has decided to use Kimbra’s song ‘Settle Down’ in their new commercials:
It’s a good choice in some ways: It’s got a distinctive beat and they’ve given it a remix with a lot of breathiness and echo that works well with the visuals.
But on the other hand, having heard the original song in its entirety, and watched the video – a sort of Stepford Wives-esque parody – I wonder if it was entirely the right choice:
Then I realize I’m probably the only person in the world who worries about this stuff, and remarking on it is part of the reason I never mastered the politics of ad agencies, where it doesn’t do to overthink these things.
However, it did get me thinking – and not for the first time – about music licensing, and how it’s become such a cornerstone of an artist’s ability to make money in the music business, rather than a sign of selling out. Moby, for example, has publicly regretted his ‘overlicensing’ of tracks, especially in English-speaking countries, but no one ever seems to criticize Justin Timberlake for turning one of his songs into an entire McDonald’s campaign.
(It’s true you may not remember this particular commercial – it’s the director’s cut and was only shown on TV a handful of times. But the “I’m lovin’ it” tagline is still being used.)
What about the money?
Ah, yes, the money. How much do artists get for licensing tracks like this?
Well, there’s where it gets a little tricky, because no one talks about the deals, and I’ve just spent almost 30 minutes searching for hard data on that, without success.
Twelve years ago I was told, by a longtime music industry type who was in a position to know, that Steve Goodman’s widow was offered $350,000 to use the chorus from ‘The City of New Orleans‘ (which he wrote) in a laxative commercial in the mid-1980s. This seems high, since it would only have been for mechanicals, but perhaps I’m underestimating the power of broadcast media back in the day.
In the mid-2000s, a PR exec told me that Justin Timberlake had been paid $10 million for ‘I’m Lovin’ It’ and that seems reasonable, given that he appeared in the original ads, the campaign was worldwide, and they were using the name of the song as a tagline. Plus it was a bit of a gamble for McDonald’s in 2003, since Timberlake’s first solo album was just about to drop and no one could really be sure that he’d be able to shed his former boy-band credibility gap.
On the other hand, I’ve licensed songs from unknown artists for $100. So the answer to the money question is probably a complicated formula involving (the artist’s agent’s negotiating skills x the artist’s brand equity) + (artist’s current level of desperation x potential for exposure).
Anyway, today’s blog didn’t have a particularly insightful point to make, I suppose. Except: I’d really like to see a peer-reviewed research paper which quantified the sales increases directly attributable to the use of 80s new wave music in commercials designed for a target audience of university-educated 40-somethings. Because I’m almost positive there is a demonstrable connection between the two.