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CMJ 2010: The Limits of a Sync

by Max Willens on October 21, 2010 · 1 comment

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Before we get into the takeaways from Thursday’s CMJ panels, take a second to watch the above video.

Looks familiar, right?

If you heard the music that backs its final eight to ten seconds, you’d probably be able to identify both the brand and the product associated with its music, right?

But can you name the artist who made it?

The song, “Perfect Timing” by Orba Squara, is one of 12 that Orba Squara has licensed for various advertisements over the past couple years. But even though that’s earned him a lot of money, his name isn’t exactly recognizable; at an afternoon panel entitled “The ‘What’s Cool’ Culture of Indie Placements,” an executive from Universal Music Publishing named Tom Eaton asked a room packed with musicians and publishers how many people had heard of Orba Squara, and just four hands went up (and Next Big Sound shows that they were a pretty representative sample).

If you’re going to license your music to film, TV, video games, or anything else, understand that it’s not always guaranteed to raise your profile. If you have a profile, or some cache already, then it’s likely that an ad can do some modest good. But until you become prominent within a given scene, it’s unlikely that syncs will do much good for you in that regard.

Some other takeaways from this publishing and sync-heavy Thursday:

Connections Trump Label Representation
One song you’re likely to hear during plenty of commercial breaks this fall, “You Always Make Me Smile,” by Kyle Walters, was picked up for use in Holiday Inn’s latest ad when Walters was unsigned. So how did Walters, whose music is now available on iTunes (and will be featured on Grey’s Anatomy tonight), swing that? He knew somebody at McCann-Erickson, the gigantic advertising firm that owns the Holiday Inn account.

Another song that you already hear too much of during commercial breaks, “Hey Soul Sister” by Train, was first featured in an advertisement that aired during halftime of the Super Bowl. At the time, the VH1 favorites were without label representation; the sync deal (the first of far too many) was hustled up by the band’s manager.

The Songwriters Have the Power Now
At the unfortunately titled “Chop a Pubby” panel, the head of SONGS Music Publishing, Ron Perry, had a grim reminder for all the aspiring pop artists in attendance. “Every artist has to start all over again with each new record,” Perry announced to the crowd. “There is no more fan loyalty. Fans go through artists much faster now.”

Perry was explaining that even established pop acts don’t get to make the same record twice, and that if they want to remain on top, they have to have a new hit on every record. That means working with new producers, new songwriters, and even new stylists, every time they want to cut a new album.

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