Easy on, Dave

A good song can reach a great pitch



Help. I am slowly been driven insane by my mate Dave. He’s there when I switch on the telly. He’s lurking down the sides of web pages and I hear him when I walk down the street. It’s not that he’s stalking me, it’s just he fronts a band called Elemeno P and a catchy wee tune he co-wrote called ‘Baby Come On’ is playing somewhere in the country roughly—oh, let’s see—about every five seconds.

Dave is tracking me courtesy of Telecom. Last year the telco exhorted us to ‘Come Together’, now it’s giving us the giddy-up with ‘Baby Come On’. (Would it be churlish to point out that we’ve been more than ready for some reasonably-priced, lightning-speed broadband, and that the more salient question to Telecom would be—to paraphrase another ad campaign—where the bloody hell are ya?)

Cheap shots at Goliath corporations aside, the latest campaign confirms that a great piece of music can help build a brand and sell a product (think Air New Zealand and The Exponents, TV One and Evermore, Cadbury and, ahem, Phil Collins), not to mention selling films, television shows and video games. Ironically once a song has done selling these products, it may also help sell a few records too. As I write this, what’s the number one selling single and DVD in the country? Phil bleedin’ Collins …

Music publishers specialise in this commercial matchmaking. While the end result might seem obvious once it’s airing on national telly or playing out in the local multiplex, the odds of being the right song in the right place at the right time are just as unpredictable as any other music trend.

Publishers try to shorten these odds by building relationships with ad agencies and music supervisors, and maintaining exclusive catalogues of repertoire. Typically that exclusivity can be for the lifespan of three recorded albums (however long that may take), plus an additional ten- to 15-year retention period after that. Publishers work on a commission basis and the general rule of thumb is a 75/25 split between artist and publisher respectively.

In Elemeno P’s case, Telecom’s ad agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, used a Sydney-based music supervisor who subsequently asked Auckland-based publishers Mushroom Music Publishing (MMP) to pitch songs for consideration. Once the song was found, MMP managing director Jackie Dennis quoted a licensing fee and the deal was struck. Originally planned for just the broadband campaign, Telecom has now extended the song across all product brands and there are at least eight different remixes of the song for different uses.

Despite the trans-Tasman to-and-fro (MMP itself is an Australasian company with a dedicated New Zealand office staffed by Kiwis), having a local track for a local company is not rare occurrence, although I’ll admit to a bemused schadenfreude from Elemeno P deposing The Beatles, the world’s most valuable publishing catalogue, as Telecom’s signature tune.

Dennis worked in the Aussie office for a considerable time and says it’s much easier to get New Zealand music into New Zealand ads than it is to get Australian music into Australian ads, an indication of the loyalty of Kiwis towards home-grown music. Tracks the company has licensed over the last six months are songs that have been written and recorded within the last five years, which synchronises nicely with the advent of New Zealand Music Month campaign and the upsurge in local content on radio.

Having a diverse catalogue helps too, with MMP representing a broad spectrum of acts such as Neil Finn, 8 Foot Sativa, Scribe and Chris Knox.

Heineken’s agency recently used Knox track ‘It’s Love’ for a North American campaign.

There still exists a certain dislike of publishing deals in some quarters, particularly with artists uncomfortable with the exclusivity clause. However, this is no different to a record deal or any other business where you would seek to protect your investment. Having someone actively working material beyond its retail shelf life is clearly a better alternative to diminishing returns, and in the process places real value on the repertoire—something that has become depressingly neglected in these file-sharing days. At the end of the day, says Dennis, the songwriter still owns the song and still has the last say on its usage.

As Keith Moon once said: “It’s not selling out—it’s buying in.”

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