Music Licensing: The Soundtrack To Life

Ever heard of Christina Perri?  Probably not.

For enthusiasts of the reality show, So You Think You Can Dance, however, the name will likely strike a chord. Perri, the music industry’s latest overnight sensation, was guest performer on the show last week after her song, “Jar of Hearts,” was used to choreograph a recent dance routine. The positive reception of the song instantly skyrocketed the 23-year old songstress up the ranks. In a matter of three weeks, she sold 100,000 downloads of the single on iTunes, signed a record contract with Atlantic, and quit her job as a waitress at a café in Hollywood.

“The Friday before the show, I was having the worst day ever at work….I got in my car at the end of the shift, and was really defeated,” Perri said in an interview last week with Entertainment Weekly. “And then I got the call that they’re using the song on that Wednesday’s episode.”

Perri’s name is now on every industry vibe-alert; her smoky, unrefined voice matched with simple songwriting puts her somewhere in the realm of those like Adele, Sara Bareilles, and Colbie Caillat. Regardless, her story of discovery is quickly becoming a recurring anecdote, as more and more artists find their brush with fame through licensing opportunities in other creative mediums. Having records played on a television show or film offers an artist not only enhanced visibility, but a chance to earn money when revenue from album sales is negligible. For the unsigned, undiscovered talent, such rare breaks can be a golden ticket.

Take, for example, British indie pop sensation, The Ting Tings. When Apple featured their hit, “Shut Up and Let Me Go,” in one of its iPod commercials, the duo, who’d already achieved success in the UK, immediately had every kid humming their tunes on the way to school. That along with placements on television shows like One Tree Hill and Gossip Girl, as well as the Oscar-winning film, Slumdog Millionaire, and The Tings Tings were worldwide stars, even earning a GRAMMY nomination this year for Best New Artist.

Apple also brought Matt Costa into the limelight, using an instrumental cut of his song “Mr. Pitiful” for their 3GS ads. The twenty-something rocker from Huntington Beach, CA had self-released the single on his third independent LP, finding only minor achievements on indie radio. The track also received placement in the movie, I Love You, Man, and the trailer for Youth In Revolt.  Costa is now signed with Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records, and will release his fourth record on the label this fall.

If it wasn’t for Alex Patsavas, music supervisor for programs like the OC and Gossip Girl, The Fray might not be a household name. Their GRAMMY-nominated hit, “How To Save A Life,” was first featured in a segment on Grey’s Anatomy after Patsavas saw the band perform live in Los Angeles. One week later, the song jumped from #51 on the charts to #29, eventually making it to #3.

Additionally, there are new developments on the digital front, rewarding artists for diligent self promotion. ReverbNation’s Fair Share program grants artists 50% of ad revenue generated from their profile pages.

“With hundreds of thousands of artists driving traffic to their pages, it only seems fair to provide them a cut of the profits,” explains Neal Moody, of ReverbNation.  “Through Fair Share, ReverbNation keeps half our monthly ad revenue, and redistributes the other half amongst the artists…For some artists, this doesn’t amount to much, but we’ve had others who’ve written in and used a few months revenue to purchase new drum cymbals, effects pedals, etc…They are being paid to promote themselves.”

ReverbNation also helps artists route their music into the hands of those who can facilitate a placement. With one of its newer programs, the company aligned with APM Music to get artists’ catalogs included in APM’s music library.

“In the past, we’ve worked with Windows on the Sponsored Songs and Playlist7 campaigns, which paid artists for providing their fans with free downloads,” adds Moody.

Because media placements and strategic marketing campaigns grant music entrée into an unconventional, yet complementary outlet, the savviest of artists are finding ways to get their work to supervisors and producers. Perri had a friend who sent “Jar of Hearts” to one of the choreographers on SYTYCD, and quickly it was pushed up the pipeline. Almost paradoxically, what makes such music desirable is the fact that the artist is unsigned. If an artist controls their work, it’s significantly easier to secure rights for usage.

Notes Moody, “Artists should always capitalize on opportunities outside the realm of just selling physical or digital music.”

Perri’s pay-off is arguably the sweetest testament of all.

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– Courtney Garcia

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