How the Best Bands Break Through
And soar above the cultural clutter
The Doors’ Jim Morrison once threatened to smash a Buick on stage with a sledgehammer if his bandmates went through with a deal to sell “Light My Fire” to GM for a car commercial.
Not every musician resists synergy with such fervor. The Monkees briefly outsold the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in 1967, thanks in large part to their hip and entertaining NBC comedy series.
Today, synergy remains an important tool for musicians eager to slice through the cultural noise. Consider the recent No. 1 album on the Billboard charts, “The Descendants” soundtrack. The album ties to the hit Disney Channel telemovie of the same name. The feature follows the teen kids from iconic villains like Maleficent, Cruella de Vil, Jafar and the Evil Queen. It’s one of four film or TV soundtracks to top the charts this year.
The others? “Pitch Perfect 2.” “Furious 7.” “Empire.”
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So synergy matters to musicians in 2015. But is it more important at a time when the pop culture clutter makes standing out so very, very hard? Music lawyer William Hochberg said despite the leaps in technology, bands have access to similar platforms to explore.
“We still have all the tools we had back in 1967,” he said. “It’s always been around. It’s just different means of doing it.”
Not all synergy is created equal, though. Younger audiences are more entranced with social media, said Hochberg, whose clients include composer Lalo Schifrin, who wrote TV’s iconic “Mission: Impossible” theme now playing in Tom Cruise’s latest film.
Old-school radio remains a crucial way to get exposure for new bands.
“They’re more interested in on-demand programming,” Hochberg said of today’s youth. Case in point: Disney released the first six minutes of the “Descendants” movie July 23, mere days before the film’s July 31 debut. It racked up more than three million views since then.
Even older media still pack a punch. Old-school radio remains a crucial way to get exposure for new bands, he said.
“It’s still perceived by the music industry as the most important way to discover music. People stuck in their cars listening to terrestrial radio is huge,” he said.
Television isn’t always critical to synergy as it was in the past. Yes, Beatlemania flourished in part because of the band’s appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” but not every act wants its close up.
“Many (acts) don’t want to be on a particular kind of show,” Hochberg said, such as an indie rock group with a strong connection to their fan base. If a show doesn’t align with the brand, synergy could actually hurt record sales, they fear.
Other singers fear the political fallout from a synergy cross-promotion. Neil Young recently rebuffed GOP presidential contender Donald Trump after the frontrunner began using “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World” at campaign events.
That said, Hochberg noted that most bands wouldn’t follow in Morrison’s principled footsteps.
“Today most every band would love to be in a commercial,” he said.