The traditional music business is feeling the pinch, but there is one bright spot for struggling artists. The soundtrack.
Still some bite left
"This is definitely a bright spot in an industry that can use some bright spots," Alexandra Patsavas, Hollywood's most in-demand music supervisor told The New York Times recently. She was referring to one corner of the music business that has not been laid waste by digital downloads and is actually throwing struggling musicians and the music industry a lifeline.
The soundtrack. Last month, the packaged soundtrack to the hit movie The Twilight Saga: New Moon, which is released in the UAE this weekend, went to the top of the US Billboard chart. It was the first time a soundtrack had achieved this feat in years. But then insiders knew it would. Patsavas had been the subject of major buzz in the music industry for the last few months. A spot on the New Moon soundtrack was the most coveted gig in music and pitches for inclusion arrived at her desk before she started the job in January. In the end, indie acts such as Death Cab for Cutie and Thom Yorke could count themselves lucky enough to hitch a ride on a bona fide cultural phenomenon. So far, the album has sold 22 million copies. The New York Times called the soundtrack "practically a miracle" for the beleaguered music business.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported that Don't Stop Believin', the first single from the popular high school TV dramedy Glee, went gold, selling in excess of half a million downloads. Glee: The Music, Volume 1 hit stores and iTunes earlier this month, and, propelled by the show's dedicated online fan base, debuted at No 4 Billboard chart. TV and film are driving sales in the troubled music market like never before, says the Q! magazine editor Paul Rees. While talent shows such as The X Factor and America's Got Talent create brand-new stars who sell CDs by the truckload, films and TV shows are giving established musicians a chance in an increasingly tough market place.
"As direct marketing schemes go," says Rees, "soundtrack albums are pretty much faultless." "If you're an artist that's successfully branded with a film as enormous as Twilight, you get a lasting benefit beyond the movie and the soundtrack itself," James Diener, the president of A&M/Octone Records told The New York Times. "You're able to access marketing dollars that the film company has been spending beyond what a record company could or would spend."
It's a process that has certainly worked for Imogen Heap. The New York Times noted: "If Imogen Heap's goal was to reach a generation of maudlin, tech-savvy 20-somethings, she could hardly have done better than lending her voice to the final sequences of the film Garden State and television's The OC." "The CDs and the tour hardly make any money at all," the twice Grammy-nominated musician said last month. "Soundtracks put food on the table."
TV and film are also helping lesser-known musicians build their careers. Songs by the LA based rock musician Brandon McCulloch, who tours and records under the name Silver, have been featured on the TV shows One Tree Hill, Smallville and The Deadliest Catch. For McCulloch, it's been a welcome opportunity to reach a wider audience. "TV placements equal publicity and money, and these are the things that help you survive," he says. "Would I like to get more of my stuff on TV shows? Absolutely."
The reason TV shows often support music by lesser-known artists is simple: they are cheaper, says McCulloch. "The music supervisor is working with a budget, and it's exponentially more expensive to license an established hit song, or a song from a super-famous band," he says. "If you can produce a song that is sonically and stylistically competitive or catches someone's ear the right way, you may make a music supervisor really happy by saving him or her tonnes of money.
"Inclusion on TV shows has given me lots of album sales from all over the globe. I can't believe how far away some of my record sales are from. I get e-mails from fans of the shows who are now fans of my music, " he said. But are artists worried they are cheapening their music by allowing it to accompany teen dramas, vampire movies and documentaries about deep-sea fishermen? "The term 'sell-out' used to be thrown around a lot," says McCulloch. "Most real artists do not adhere to this philosophy. I like writing for TV shows. The 2005 season finale of Deadliest Catch did a nautical montage to my song Transmissions and it looked really cool. I loved it."