Music

Spotlight: Small Bands Making Big Commercials

While licensing music for commercial use has become acceptable to the point of routine in recent years — we can mostly all agree that bands need to earn money somehow in the present landscape — it can still be a bit exciting/startling when a song by one of your favorite artists pulls you into an otherwise numbing commercial break (unless it’s the Super Bowl, when ads are watched as closely as the game itself). So when last Sunday night again turned a festival of music-supported product pushing interjected with football plays, I started to think about that grey area between good and bad examples of licensing. It’s a case by case situation, and some of it depends on the notoriety and success of the artist/band to date. A John Lennon song (or even an interview quote) used to sell cars does deserve some claims of sacrilege, while Volkswagen turning a whole new generation onto the underrated work of Nick Drake in their memorable Pink Moon spot does for whatever reason work better (or here’s a toss-up from Sunday: Echo & the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon” in this amusing Audi clip). That topic is probably best left for critical debate; what seems easier to approach though is when newer acts lend their work to a tastefully done ad, and likely score a significant pay day in their young career. Let’s highlight a few of those:

Safe to say the majority of Sunday’s record breaking Super Bowl television audience did not recognize the rustic keys and chords of North Carolina pysch-folk outfit Megafaun, but they probably thought the song fit as well as anything could for this affecting/sappy spot about people’s meaningful life experiences in their Toyota Camrys. And while these guys have received a decent amount of press since their 2008 debut (some of it thanks to their history with Bon Iver‘s Justin Vernon), it’s nice to see them get some mainstream love.


This commercial is great. Legendary NYC experimentalists Battles found their most accessible single in “Ice Cream” off 2011’s Gloss Drop. And the idea of it scoring a video game ad could have been a big miss, but the overall production, with its quick edits (that slightly recall the song’s stellar weirdo music video) and the presence of Steve Nash, really took this thing into hit territory. FIFA has a way of drilling these catchy songs into gamer’s heads, so Battles probably just scored a whole new legion of fans.


This commercial is not great. But it is a nice break for rising electronic artist Balam Acab, who just embarked on his first tour and could probably use a wallet boost. And really, Beyonce + eyelashes + Balam Acab? There’s something really odd and kind of amazing about that combination: high-def closeups of light-reflective eye illuminator makeup meets the textural wonder of “See Birds” — there’s a cultural “now” statement somewhere in this.


A few years back Crayola had this fun campaign called Color Explosion, which really captured the essence of a child’s creativity. Most notable from the set was their use of Animal Collective‘s relatively obscure Sung Tongs ditty “Sweet Road” (which can be viewed here). Another apt addition was the colorful art-pop stylings of 2009 class standout Micachu and the Shapes’ “Golden Phone“, whose innocent vibe complimented crayon melting just fine. And like the others, probably added some bank to her buzz.


Brooklyn chamber pop masters Grizzly Bear are no strangers to this process, having given “Two Weeks” to Volkswagen two Superbowls ago. What they did for Washington’s Lottery took it in more adventurous directions: a song written specifically for the occasion. And with the Grammy nominated director of Feist’s “1234” at the controls, this ad turned into a really compelling, theatrical dream sequence. And certainly got us hopeful for the next GB album.


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