Video may save the radio star

As many anticipate the decline of the radio, audiophiles are getting their fix from today’s hottest shows

Scrolling down the list of artists on your iPod, you suddenly stumble upon an unfamiliar name. Curious, you click on it to reveal the music you had no idea you possessed. It turns out to be one of the many songs you downloaded off the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack. Picturing the angsty faces of the interns in time to the sweet indie tunes, you remember that you actually really like this song.

Sound familiar?

Their songs croon in the Common Ground, the Tea Room, the P&CC, the Used Bookstore and virtually every student hangout on campus. Make no mistake, hit TV shows such as ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and the now long-gone angst-opera The O.C. are making their mark on pop culture not just through their juicy soap opera story lines and gorgeous stars but also through their strategic use of edgy indie music.

Television soundtracks are not an entirely new phenomenon—crime drama extraordinaire CSI: Crime Scene Investigation released a collection of music from their show back in 2002—but with declining audiences for the radio, music fans are looking for alternate sources to find new music and many are finding it on their favourite TV shows.

Similar to the trend of young actors (or just plain old celebrities) such as Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton releasing albums in conjunction with film and TV projects, many TV shows now are now routinely releasing CDs filled with songs that were aired at especially climactic or dramatic moments of the plot. Shows with successful soundtracks include One Tree Hill, Alias, Scrubs, Entourage, Nip/Tuck, House, M.D. and many others. Some shows, such as MTV’s The Hills and Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance, even show the title of the song being played on the screen, so viewers can identify (and download) it more easily.

Apple has capitalized on the TV soundtrack craze by creating an application on their latest device, the iPhone, which can identify a song being played if it is held up to the source of the sound. Called the Shazam application, it is able to identify the song and allow the user to download it right from

their phone. Music from TV has claimed a huge portion of both radio listeners and CD buyers. In 2008, Statistics Canada found that the number of hours spent listening to radio per week had declined significantly since 1999 for the 12 to 24 age group (from 11 to 7.5 hours for teens). The Canadian Recording Industry Association said revenue from physical formats of recordings dropped from $1.3-billion in 1999 to $676-million in 2006. Meanwhile, according to Nielsen SoundScan, sales of TV soundtracks jumped by 19 per cent to more than 27-million units in 2006.

But the Grey’s Anatomy and O.C. soundtracks are in a whole other dimension. Grey’s Anatomy Volume 2 has sold almost 350,000 units, making it more than three-times platinum, and was nominated for a Grammy. The six volumes of The O.C. soundtrack have sold more than one million copies.

The question is, has exposure on TV translated into sales and hype for the artists, as radio has for countless artists for over half a century? Is the one replacing the other?

It seems for some artists, television has made all the difference. The Hollywood Reporter found that weekly download sales of Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” jumped from less than 2,000 tracks to 21,000 after being featured on the Grey’s Anatomy finale of the first season. The Fray’s “How to Save a Life” became the number seven digital song of the year after also being featured on the first season of Grey’s.

Kieran Roy, Comm ’98 and general manager of Arts and Crafts, the label behind Canadian artists such as Feist, Stars and Broken Social Scene, said the use of Stars’ “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” on the The O.C. gave the band huge exposure.

“That definitely raised the profile of Stars in America,” he said.

But for the most part, TV is not yet a launching point for new acts. Roy said even though an artist may get a lot of attention from a particular place, such as a TV show, commercial or online networking site such as MySpace, it doesn’t always prompt people to tune in by buying or downloading the album or song.

“I think everything is becoming the new radio,” he said. “You’ve got this fragmentation of the media. Each one has a power to influence people but there is no single one that can make people listen. … With music you need kind of two or three stimulants to make people tune in.”

Because of this fragmentation, TV could never have the same kind of power and influence the radio has on an artist’s exposure and popularity. TV placements are simply one small way to compensate for faltering music sales.

“It’s no secret that CD sales are down. This is just one way to make up for it,” he said.

Although the concept of TV placements may seem lucrative, the use of a song in a TV show is really only profitable for record companies in the form of exposure, since licensing agreements themselves don’t account for a large percentage of revenue.

As Roy explained, there are two sides to copyright. The master recording is the right to play the same version of a song as was recorded, while the sync is the right to play a composition (for example, one would have the rights to the song but not necessarily the recording). TV shows pay for both of these when they use a song. Roy said money made from sync placements is currently 10 per cent or less of the cost of using the song.

Hopeful, perhaps, as the recording industry is that they may find a way to make up for faltering record sales, TV is not going to replace the CD. Ultimately, it still comes down to the artists’ abilities to impress the listeners, Roy said.

“People have to believe in the artist and be affected by the song.”

James Marton, ArtSci ’09, said it’s the Top-40, commercial aspect of the radio that has prompted listeners to seek out other forms of media for new music.

“Nobody listens to the radio because it’s simply not a viable source of information, as compared to other sorts of media right now,” he said.

Marton sees the attractiveness of TV placements as a marketing strategy for record companies, with shows such as Grey’s and The O.C. holding widespread appeal and a variety of potential audience demographics.

“If you can associate a band with your favourite show, it’s the perfect kind of commercial entity,” he said.

“It’s all about selling.”

Name that tune

Some of these songs were popular before, but most experienced an increase in commercial appeal shortly after being aired on these (even more popular) primetime television shows.

Grey’s Anatomy Season 5, Episode 79
Beck—”Youthless,” from Modern Guilt (2008)

Gossip Girl Season 1, Episode 13
Nicole Scherzinger—”Happily Never After,” from Her Name is Nicole (2009)

The O.C Season 2, Episode 24
Imogen Heap—”Hide and Seek,” from Speak for Yourself (2005)

Californication Season 1, Episode 10
The Purrs—”Loose Talk,” from The Purrs (2006)

Entourage Season 4, Episode 54
Yelle—”Je Veux Te Voir,” from Je Veux Te Voir (2006)


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