When rock songs appear in TV ads, they are often classic songs by artists whose careers are decades past their prime. But that's changing as advertisers seek out hipper, underground bands. A lot of those bands are playing along at their own risk. From member station WHYY, Joel Rose reports.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
JOEL ROSE: A little over a year ago, the Spinto Band from Wilmington, Delaware got a call from Sears. Would the band be interested in licensing its song "Oh, Mandy" for a TV commercial? Singer Nick Krill says the band weighed the pros and cons.
NICK KRILL: At the time, Europe had just been catching wind of our music and we had the opportunity to tour over there, but we didn't have any way of funding that. And so this came along and all of a sudden we could use this to fund the Europe - like a tour of England. And that was a big pro.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OH, MANDY")
KRILL: (Singing) Show me where the money is, hey, won't you show me where the money is...
KRILL: The cons are a sort of the stereotypical cons of putting songs in advertising, which is just like, you know, our people are not going to think we're cool or something like that.
ROSE: The Spinto Band had good reason to worry. In the hipper-than-thou world of indie rock, many fans still expect their favorite bands to suffer for their art. In the end, the Spinto Band decided to take the money, and they joined a growing list of indie bands that have done the same, from the Apples in Stereo to the Flaming Lips to the Shins, who licensed their song "New Slang" to McDonalds.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW SLANG")
JAMES MERCER: New slang when you notice the stripes, the dirt in your fries. Hope it's right when you die, old and bony. Dawn...
ROSE: The Shins spent some of the money building a home studio. For advertisers the attraction is two-fold. Underground bands make a product seem hipper and they're a lot cheaper than big-name acts, says industry observer Gerd Leonhard.
GERD LEONHARD: You may be on the Web site like garageband.com, or myspace, for that matter. And you may discover something that you say, that's the perfect sound for my commercial, right? But it won't cost much if the band isn't well known.
ROSE: Many bands have argued that TV commercials are a fairly harmless way to make money, generally in the low five figures. That can seem like a lot to a band that's just starting out. But it isn't always that simple.
JIM D: Does music appearing in commercials cheapen the music? Does it lessen the artistic experience? And for me it's a resounding yes.
ROSE: Jim DeRogatis is pop music critic at the Chicago Sun Times. DeRogatis says any band that's willing to hand over control of its image to an advertising director is taking a risk.
DEROGATIS: I'm now having an experience with that music that's controlled by advertising directors instead of the artist. The artist wants to manipulate me to have some sort of experience with their art. And the advertising director wants them to manipulate me to go buy their crap.
ROSE: Some musicians insist they've used commercials to their own advantage. Moby licensed every single track on his 1999 CD "Play" for commercials or soundtracks. And the album went on to sell more than 10 million copies worldwide.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ROSE: On the other hand, all that exposure might have led to a backlash. Moby's next record, "18," didn't do nearly as well. As for the Spinto Band, Nick Krill says nobody is calling him a sellout because of the Sears ad - at least not to his face. But he says the band members were surprised how many fans and journalists asked them about the commercial.
KRILL: We have been asked since that to license songs, and I think this experience has made us a little more particular. It makes us think, well, if this is going to get talked about as much as the Sears commercial, we don't want to throw it around willy nilly, make sure it makes sense.
ROSE: Still, if they had to do it again, Krill says they would take the trip to Europe.
From NPR News, I'm Joel Rose in Philadelphia.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OH MANDY")
KRILL: (Singing) Oh Mandy, oh Mandy -
MONTAGNE: And you can hear how classic rock bands are happily cashing in on commercials at npr.org.