As Heard on TV: Popular Music in Advertising
(Aldershot: Ashgate 2009)
Review by Francesco D’Amato
The complex whole of ties between music and TV ads has been recently pushed to the foreground by the changes in the music production/commercialization system and correlated shifts from B2C to B2B business models. However it represents a relevant topic also for discourses about music circulation, changes in musical experience and how such processes join the aesthetization of daily life.
Music licensing has become a crucial practice for the economy and the promotion strategies of music. In the last twenty years a considerable number of artists have reached popularity thanks to the use of their music in advertisings, old tracks succeeded in hit (again) the charts, not to mention the sales of compilations with music from ads. At the same time, music has confirmed itself as a crucial ingredient of both advertising language and marketing strategies in general, as witnessed by the constant increasing of incomes for music firms from licensing, sponsorship, product placement, brand partnership, as well as from the emergence of a new kind of professional: the music supervisor.
Nonetheless there is a gap in music studies with regards to books trying to treat in a systematic way the relationship between music and TV ads. Bethany Klein comes to fill it with a book that deals with various facets of this relationship: how music is thought and used in advertising rhetoric, how musicians value music placement and the possible tensions with firms, the reactions and debates generated from particular uses of music in advertising.
Her work is based on analysis of popular and trade press coverage of music uses in advertising and in-depth interviews with 29 cultural producers related to this practice. Since one of the major interest of the book concerns the different ways to experience and comment associations between music and advertising, it would have been interesting a further integration with researches on the fruition.
After an historic overview, Klein deals in each chapter with a specific topic through the analysis of exemplary case studies: the role of authorship in music licensing, the legitimization of advertising as an artistic form appropriated for music placement, the pros and cons of music placement for musicians and their music, the uses of music in branding and the debates generated from uses considered not appropriated. The last argument introduces the final chapter, commenting upon ideological and moral aspects of the relationship.
This analytical route has a lot to offer to students and scholars either in advertising and music studies. Klein study is effective insofar she avoids one-sided explanations, while pointing out the different industrial, cultural, legal and technological aspects influencing the processes analyzed.
Chapters 3 and 4 offer a good example, illustrating how changes in the ways music is used in ads have been influenced by changes in the culture of production, derived from the entering of a new generation of creatives with artistic ambitions as well as from the growing competition and the need to hook audiences more and more knowing and busy. These result in more artistic approaches that encourage the disposability of musicians to music placement, generating opportunities whose importance grow with structural changes in music and radio industry, where opportunities for new artists are constantly narrowing. Music placement can bring money and exposure, but Klein points out some problems. First of all, like other media, Tv ads further some genres over others. Second, we’re still talking about a traditional media with its limits. Here it would have been interesting to consider the relationship between music and advertising in the context of digital media and new “pull” strategies, on the ground of the long tail thesis, in order to see eventual shifts in functions and opportunities. This could be a suggestion for future research. Third: how the growing importance of these and other forms of patronage could affect creative output and their eventual commercialization? What are the cons for a music strongly associated with an extremely popular TV ads?
Such questions bring to matters of textuality and meaning construction. Klein is interested in how the (new) contextualization of (already known) songs in TV ads impact on this process, “how the use of music in advertising constrains, highlights, or suppresses meanings that audiences have the ability to create” (p. 99). This is a relevant point even for all the new songs brought to popularity through media licensing, however the case studies in the book concern the use of very famous and strongly characterized songs (Lust for Life by Iggy Pop and
Fortunate Son by the Creedence Clearwater Revival). Klein examines how the recontextualization of lyrics, especially in ads using them as hooks, can further particular interpretations and reactions among different audiences, while she doesn’t say much about the music. Readers can’t find analysis of how the combination of specific sound and visual, as well as of rhetoric structures of particular songs and ads, can affect meaning construction. Although the chapter intends to scrutinize the construction of meaning, it lacks substantial references to popular musicology and semiology of music. Here lies probably the only weak point of the book.
Finally, aspects related to industries and musicians are very well developed, more than those concerning texts and consumption. The analysis of pros and cons, opportunities and problems, reciprocal functionality and disfunctionality of the relationship, are very articulated and balanced. This makes the book a crucial reference for further researches about music and advertising, as well as a model for studies of music placement in other media contexts. Rather than concluding with a final judgment about the moral implications of music uses in ads, Klein rightly underlines that the most important thing is to keep posing questions: “Dismissing the art versus commerce divide as constructed and the ‘sell-out’ debate as antiquated conceals the importance of acknowledging and investigating these tensions within and between the popular music and advertising worlds. When fans and critics perceive a line to be crossed, it is not necessary to redraw or reject the line, but to assess who is in control and to what end. It is through such scrutiny that the balance between cultural and commercial objectives, and its role in hypercommercialism, can be monitored” (p. 139).