The music industry has taken its fair share of blows over the past decade or so. The rise of music downloads (and the inevitable free music-sharing sites like Pandora that followed), piracy of untold proportions and CD sales that have fallen off a cliff have all taken a toll on some of our favorite musicians and their record labels. But there is one bright spot coming from an unusual corner: prime-time television shows.
Increasingly, shows like Gossip Girl, One Tree Hill, America's Next Top Model and the most recent hit Pretty Little Liars are incorporating recording artists' songs into their scenes and then featuring online playlists so viewers can find the song later. It may seem like a minor promotion, a mere blip on viewers' radar screens, but the results have been nothing short of astounding for some bands.
"It's the kind of thing where you'll always see some sort of bump in sales, by virtue of so many people seeing it, but the bump in sales can be dramatic depending on how long it's aired, where it appears and what kind of audience it has," says Steve Berman, the manager of VAST, an alternative rock band whose music has been incorporated into shows ranging from Wrestlemania to Smallville.
A 1,000% Sales Boost
Sales of a single can be boosted as much as tenfold after being featured on a TV episode, according to data provided to DailyFinance by Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks sales of music. While neither SoundScan nor the Recording Industry Association of America, the trade group for the music industry, track the overall effect of television shows on music sales, data provided by SoundScan for specific singles used in recent TV shows point to a dramatic sales lift. For the recording industry, such a trend couldn't come at a better time: Sales of CDs slumped 22% last year to $4.27 billion, according to the RIAA.
VAST, for example, saw sales of its single "Don't Take Your Love From Me" jump by more than 1,000% after the song was used in a Nov. 20, 2008 episode of Smallville, SoundScan says. The moody song, effectively used as a backdrop to Chloe's kidnapping by the villain Doomsday (watch the clip here), had negligible sales for the week ending Nov. 16, according to SoundScan. But after the episode aired, weekly sales of the single jumped to 2,000, with total sales to date reaching 9,000 units, the media-tracking service says.
A more recent example is Christina Perri's song "Jar of Hearts," which was plucked from relative obscurity by Fox's hit show, So You Think You Can Dance in early July. Perri, a young singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles, has no recording contract and few songs available to the public. Within hours of the song's use in a dance number on the show, it was rushed onto iTunes and Amazon, where it rocketed into the top 20. "Christina Perri" also become Google's top-ranked trending search term.
Perri learned about the song's use on the show after a long, hard day waiting tables at a cafe in Hollywood. Now, she plans to quit her job to focus on music. (You can see a performance of the song and hear the background story from Christina Perri at Cambio.)
Those results haven't gone unnoticed by the music industry. While rock and pop songs have been used in TV shows since Miami Vice in the 1980s, the practice became much more widespread a decade ago with teenage-drama Dawson's Creek, which released a CD in 1999 with songs by Sophie B. Hawkins and Jessica Simpson, as well as other artists.
Matching Music With Shows
Today, bands that are eager to tap into primetime television marketing machine sometimes pitch their songs directly to music supervisors, who search through hundreds of songs to find a soundtrack that will match a scene's mood. Intermediary services such as MusicGorilla.com have also sprouted up to help match up bands to music supervisors and TV producers. Because of the benefit a band may see from exposure through a TV show, more music groups are willing to license their songs for a nominal fee to help boost sales of singles and albums.
"Everything is $1,000 -- $1,000 is the new free," says I. Marlene King, an executive producer for Pretty Little Liars, which airs on Walt Disney's family-focused cable network ABC Family. Pretty Little Liars reaches the type of audience many bands are desperate to get in front of. Its third episode, which aired on June 22, was both the night's top-rated television program among women 12-to-34 years old and among female teenagers, according to Nielsen. Because hundreds of bands are looking to get in front of that audience, "it gets us an amazing song that only costs us $1,000 to use over the course of seven years," says King.
That's a far cry from what bands used to charge and represents a low-ball fee that more established groups may avoid, says VAST's Berman, who adds that his group signed a license agreement in 2002 for more than $10,000 for the song "Free" to be used by CBS's CSI. "We hold our line on pricing or walk away from the project," he says.
Music Is as Crucial as Wardrobe
Getting the right sound for a TV program is just as important as finding the perfect wardrobe for a character, King says. For a show without a huge budget, tapping into new bands is a way to enhance the program without spending a lot of money. "When people watch our show, they're dying to know on Twitter what was the band when Aria and Ezra get together," says King, referring to two of the show's characters. "It's not just music, but clothes and set design -- people are so fascinated -- it helps us break new artists and introduce new artists."
The song that accompanied the scene that King refers to, "Fresh Pair of Eyes" by Brooke Waggoner, saw a sales jump of 1,000% the week the Pretty Little Liars episode aired, SoundScan says.
But it's not only teens that are seeking out the music behind a favorite TV show. NBC's Parenthood, for example, appeals to a more mature audience than Pretty Little Liars. After its debut episode on March 2, sales of the Bob Dylan song "Forever Young," which was used twice in the episode, jumped more than threefold from the previous week, according to SoundScan.
Fan demand is why it's now seemingly obligatory for TV shows to provide their viewers with playlists. Both Parenthood and Pretty Little Liars provide fans with music guides to their episodes, including links for buying the music on iTunes.
"Our audience loves to discover new things," says King. "So it's win-win."
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