Jon Pareles of the New York Times wrote an interesting think piece on the way marketing tie-ins and advertising/TV licensing have changed the music discovery and music listening experience.
On the one hand, Pareles acknowledges the harsh realities of being a professional musician during these trying times:
Musicians have to eat and want to be heard, and if that means accompanying someone else’s sales pitch or videogame, well, it’s a living. Why wait for album royalties to trickle in, if they ever do, when licensing fees arrive upfront as a lump sum? It’s one part of the system of copyright regulations that hasn’t been ravaged by digital distribution, and there’s little resistance from any quarters; Robert Plant and Alison Krauss croon for J. C. Penney and the avant-rockers Battles are heard accompanying an Australian vodka ad.
On the other hand, Pareles wonders how those realities then affect the very creation of music itself:
The question is: What happens to the music itself when the way to build a career shifts from recording songs that ordinary listeners want to buy to making music that marketers can use? That creates pressure, subtle but genuine, for music to recede: to embrace the element of vacancy that makes a good soundtrack so unobtrusive, to edit a lyric to be less specific or private, to leave blanks for the image or message the music now serves. Perhaps the song will still make that essential, head-turning first impression, but it won’t be as memorable or independent.
I agree to this extent - I remember music placed in films more than I remember music placed in ads. When you are watching a film you are (hopefully) engrossed in the film, or at least the particular scene, where a song appears. I personally prefer to hear music in either my car, iPod, or home stereo so I can judge a song purely on its aural impact on me: does a particular lyrical phrase grab me?, is the solo undeniably killer?, do I want to hear the hook over and over again? Basically, I want to make my own determination of the song's worth to me personally.
That being said, when do we get unvarnished experiences with any art form these days? Before you see a film you are bombarded with on-screen advertisements. Radio is filled with endless commercials. TIVO and DVRs have save many of us from having to endure many TV ads placed in our favorite shows, but when we do have to view them how many are remembered? The "not-for profit" arts sector is filled with corporate sponsorships supporting everything from fall seasons to particular art exhibits.
So why should we expect listening to music to be a mystical experience? Isn't that asking a bit too much from the musicians themselves, just trying to be heard? (Period). Pareles admits as such here:
Apparently there’s no going back, structurally, to paying musicians to record music for its own sake.
Advertising, if anything, is moving to formats even shorter than the 30-second spot. Marketers know their messages are being tuned out willfully in a DVR culture. If marketers need music to help their messages stand out, then God bless the musical community able to earn their livings off the back of those marketers' needs to differentiate themselves from competitors. We tend to be selfish, us music listeners. We love the pure listening experience, but how many of us have time to just sit and listen to music in an ideal environment? Not too many of us I'd venture. I'd tell Jon Pareles to take a listen to one of my favorite Joe Jackson songs - "I'm the Man" - to remind him the party doing the selling needs to have a survivor's cuthroat instinct. In the case of music licensing - we know the buyers already have that mentality.
UPDATE: Charles Moran from AdAge.com's Songs for Soap blog also has some thoughts on the Pareles piece - here.