time to change the way we view music and the arts

Syncing Like a Rockstar

During the past week or so, I’ve spent some time contemplating Maroon 5‘s newest album, “Overexposed,” which was released on June 26th. exploring various reviews, giving time for the songs to settle after a few consecutive listens, seeing what opinions down in the YouTube trenches are like…

There already being many still-active YouTube uploads of albums tracks that are accessible, there are just as many accompanying comments along with each clip. One individual in particular, had left a comment in response to yet another non-official “video” of the second album single, One More Night. This person expressed discontent not for the song itself, but a general complaint about they felt like (paraphrasing) Maroon 5 was starting to sell out their sound and that they (the commenter) wouldn’t support Maroon 5 if they ever resorted to putting their music in things like commercials for cars and stuff.
This expression of disapproval got me thinking. Sentiments of this type from this YouTube commenter can’t possibly come from just the one person. Syncing music is a largely used method of attaining profit in the music industry. Everything with background tunes has an affiliated license for use. Now, clearly the majority of the industry can’t be against syncing or it wouldn’t continue to be supported. It’s truthfully (in my opinion) an excellent way for lesser mainstream groups to gain exposure and instant consumer attention/intrigue. People will rapidly run to consult Metrolyrics or Google if they manage to remember just a few of the words they hear or if it’s without words during the ad, most curious enough will track down the commercial on YouTube and someone will more than likely have commented to the oh so famous “Who is this by???” inquiry.
Say for a moment, that one goes with this commenter’s mentality (let’s call them Joe) that a band -established like Maroon 5 or otherwise, can be considered ‘sell outs’ if their music goes from being on just a record, to being in a TV ad for an American retail chain. In the example below, a song by Five for Fighting called “World” is featured as the background music during Sears‘s “Grant a Wish” Christmas commercial.

Okay, so Sears isn’t a music based company, nor do they deal in music related affairs or records. Thus, John Ondrasik (the man behind Five for Fighting) is selling out, isn’t he? The unintentional add-on of a charitable example aside, YouTube Joe’s logic would see Mr. Ondrasik in a sunken place as an artist; reducing himself to TV spots for more money because, before the commercial, well, he was a guy doing music for music’s purposes, not just to get a few extra bucks. He ‘wasn’t selling out up until that point.’

However, does anyone see anything wrong with the statement I just gave? “Music for music’s purposes…” What does that even mean? As I’ve said before, sound is ubiquitous and music is never far behind sound. Well, if one is to assume groups that sync their music with third party placement are somehow less ‘legit,’ then what does that say about the definition of legitimacy?

I believe there to be two sets of (generally observable) double standards at work with the idea that ‘syncing is selling out.’

  • Inclusions in soundtracks and live event compilations are not only (typically) exempt from such kinds of backlash but certain artists may very well be what makes a soundtrack highly sought after.
  • Creators/Performers of instrumental works synched with TV ads, films (and/or trailers) or the like, are not looked (up or) down upon for their chosen medium of public exposure for their work.
In reference to the first scenario, see below for the official SoundCloud upload of the track, “Survival,” by British Alt. Rock group, Muse. “Survival” was announced via Muse’s website as,

“…selected by the London Olympic committee to be the main, official song for the London 2012 Olympic Games. [Guitarist/Vocalist,] Matt [Bellamy,] wrote the song with the Olympics in mind. It’s about total conviction and pure determination to win.”

Keep in mind, that Muse maintains international acclaim and over the course of their five studio album discography, have sold “more than 15 million units worldwide,” as reported by the UK’s Telegraph.

Regarding bullet two: If you think I’m possibly being presumptuous in my claim, since a cited source is absent, if any of you out there were to see this the next time you turn on the TV or stream a show, would you give either the music’s composer or musicians performing the music, a second thought –let alone think of them as ‘selling out’ or reaching an all time low? At the risk of sounding presumptuous here: I really don’t think so.

The reason I make such a claim is to point out what I see, is a significant difference in how the general public tends to view and react to different styles and musicians therein, using music synchronization. When a group like Muse gets repeated top slot soundtrack appearance and promotion for a pop culture phenomenon like the Twilight Saga and openly admits to composing with the Olympics in mind, it’s like a victory for the band; an advancement in achievement. There are probably some that feel the opposite way about it as well, but I now proceed to ask you: Why is the same level of emotion (praising or critical) not given to a wordless work of equally or possibly more impressive construction.

Case in point? Leo Tolstoy’s novel, Anna Karenina, is being made into a movie for 2012 and the trailer features a complex and provocative orchestral work titled, “Nero” by music production company, “Two Steps from Hell.” See the official trailer below.

Yes, Two Steps from Hell describes themselves on their site as a company “[devoted] to writ[ing] original music for  movie trailers,” so the YouTube Joes of the world might say, “They’re not selling out because it’s what they do. It’s their thing. Whereas, [insert popular band here] didn’t start out as a pop-rock band only for ads and film.” What happens though, if we evaluate and combine the reception of Muse, the Jeep commercial and the Karenina trailer?

So, in Muse’s case, getting placed in a movie was a positive step upward. What if a violinist, “Musician X” who hadn’t pursued the film performance profession, had been offered the chance to be part of the orchestra playing the score for that Jeep commercial? Then “Musician X” has gained some small level of credit, since, after all, it’s only a car commercial TV sync. Well, then “Musician X” gets a call to be in the orchestra that’s recording Two Steps’s track for Karenina. The piece may have been designated for the film, but Musician X was not -at least not originally. “Musician X” took the opportunity because it was bigger and better than a TV commercial sync. (Especially in this example because the track “Nero” is actually available on one of two publicly accessible music albums, made in response to the the company’s work attaining popularity.)

Therefore, does this make “Musician X,” as an individual performer, a “sellout?”

If your answer is no, you and I are on the same boat. Personally, I’ll admit, most of the line of inquiry behind this post is rather superfluous, as YouTube Joe’s opinion is but one in a sea of listeners and likely an outlier due to lack of awareness about the impact of the synchronization market. Yet, revealing a lack of logically correlating opinion when it comes to musicians without acclaim mirroring the actions of those with it, does seem worth pointing out -even if for no other reason than possibly shedding light on a community of perfectly legitimate musicians. Band and orchestral alike, some of the performing and composing population are carelessly let in one ear and out the other every time their contributions get left emotionally unacknowledged by the listening public and sometimes, it’s nice to just step back and take in more.

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