November 17, 2008
The New Radio
My friend Bethany Klein, communications professor at the University of Leeds, has a terrific interview in the new issue of Miller-McCune about her research on the relationship between pop music and advertising:
[Y]ou get people flippantly saying, “Sure, what’s the big deal? This is what people do now.” But when you further investigate, you find that everybody has some kind of internal checklist: “What kind of product is it? What’s my relationship to the product? What type of commercial is it going to be? Who’s directing the commercial?” If it truly was just submission to hyper-commercialism and an embrace of advertising, would it really matter? The other interesting tension I noticed in the interviews was that all these musicians were, of course, huge music fans. Many of them saw their own work as not very precious, that it couldn’t possibly be a big deal if they licensed a song, but then if you talked to them about instances in which their favorite musicians had licensed to advertising, they couldn’t help but feel that sadness of a fan about it. There was a difficulty in reconciling these two positions, thinking nobody could possibly care that much about your own work but knowing how much you care about other people’s. In my book, I devote a chapter to The Shins. They licensed “New Slang” to McDonald’s, relatively briefly, maybe just during the Olympics a few years ago. And that case was an amazing example of “Oh, people do still care.” You could see in all the interviews that James Mercer, their singer, did about this — and it got brought up in every interview — he was really struggling with the idea: “What’s the big deal? This is just a commercial — it happens all the time.” And, on the other hand, he could recognize how painful it would be if, say, The Smiths got used in a commercial and how terrible that would make him feel as a fan.
Bethany also talks about one of my favorite examples in the music-movies-commercials nexus: Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life,” which rocked the soundtrack to Trainspotting (resuscitating Iggy’s catalogue and career), got picked up in one advertising campaign after another (demonstrating the commercial viability of that style of music), and eventually (I think) helped get all those garage-y classic rock bands like Jet major label contracts for ripping off the riff to… “Lust for Life.”
Miller-McCune is also just an intriguing journalistic model: a foundation+subscription-supported magazine about the intersection between academic research and current social issues/problems, like a combination of the Chronicle and Mother Jones.