Advertising Killed the Radio Star: How Pop Music and TV Ads Became Inseparable

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Pop singers and TV advertising seem to be a perfect match for each other. Clockwise, from top left, an Old Navy commercial featuring music by Ingrid Michaelson, OK Go and Chevy, Feist and Apple, and Sting and Jaguar

Also in 1999, a little-known online music-sharing service called Napster debuted, and the industry was about to be transformed. Over the course of the next decade, rock and pop music sales fell by half, and Napster and other sites like it complicated things by planting the idea that consumers didn’t have to pay for music. Then iTunes debuted in 2003, MP3 players like the iPod spiked in popularity, and physical-CD sales plummeted as people downloaded individual songs for less than a dollar instead of buying entire albums. And many just pirated what they wanted for free.

All that money artists had been making needed to be recouped. But it still seemed relatively uncool for musicians, especially newer bands, to hawk products — until Apple changed things. In addition to reinventing the personal computer, the mobile phone, the handheld music player and the tablet, Apple’s Steve Jobs transformed TV advertising and the music industry along with it.

First featuring well-known artists like U2 and Eminem in its iPod ads, the company started including emerging musicians: Jet in 2003, Feist in 2007, CSS in 2008. Apple ads were suddenly the vehicle to break new bands, even becoming Billboard magazine’s No. 1 place for “Maximum Exposure.”

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“It’s such an overused phrase, particularly in my industry: Advertising is the new radio,” says Loewy. “Well, it kind of is.”

Write Something Happy!
Lynn Grossman is the owner of Secret Road, an artist management and music service that represents unsigned musicians, including Ingrid Michaelson. She started with Secret Road about six years ago, when advertisers were discovering the magic of emerging artists.

Grossman represents two types of musicians: the ones who will allow their music to be in an ad if it’s a company they believe in or an ad they like, and the rest — which is most of them — who are actively trying to get their songs in any commercials. There’s a good way to do that, she says: Stay upbeat.

“We get approached by people usually looking for positive messages in songs,” she says. “Things like, ‘I feel good,’ ‘Life is great,’ ‘I’m the man,’ ‘I feel good about myself,’ or something about coming home or feeling at home. They’re all pretty similar.”

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After getting a request, Grossman will either find existing songs from her collection of artists or guide musicians to write songs that the company wants. When Michaelson’s “The Way I Am” got picked up by Old Navy, it was no accident that clothing was in the lyrics.

“I think Old Navy actually looked for sweater,” Grossman says. Michaelson’s song has since sold 1.5 million copies.

Singing for Expedia, Singing for Allstate
While Michaelson isn’t writing songs specifically for ads, some artists are. Matt Mahaffey is the lead singer of the Nashville-based pop-rock band Self. But you’ve probably heard “Expedia — dotcom!” rather than Gizmodgery, an inventive Self album recorded with all kids’ toys.

“They hired some nasally dude to do it now,” says Mahaffey of the jingle for Expedia, a travel website. “But I wrote that.”

Mahaffey writes compositions for movies, commercials and cartoons, and also composes pneumonics, which are essentially micro-jingles. Is it discouraging to him that he makes more money from three-second ad spots than from his Self work?

“Oh, it’s a bummer,” he says. “But I’ll get paid a lot more to do a 30-second commercial than for something with the band, and it will take less time to do it.”

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