Moby? Ever heard of him. In fact, I’d be amazed if you haven’t. You can’t escape him. He’s everywhere, ubiquitous and insidiously infiltrating everywhere you go. His album “Play” has been the first album in history ever to have every single one of his tracks licensed out to advertising campaigns, and there 18 tracks on the album. All in all, Moby's music from play has been licensed out to over 420 (that’s right, four hundred and twenty) different adverts.
No wonder it’s the biggest selling album of the year then, with so much over-exposure. It’s sold over 5 million copies worldwide, and it took over 65 weeks to reach no. 1 in Greece. Not bad going for an album that first charted at No. 33 and then disappeared off the chart for months on end. Until all of a sudden advertisers realised every single track could be exploited for this end. Everything from washing up liquid, coffee, films and cars have all co-opted Moby to make them look cool and hip again. With the creative and commercial decline of Depeche Mode, Mute records now need Moby as a cashcow to keep them afloat, a role he’s seemingly happy to embrace. So much for independent ethics eh?
Now some bright wag a while back decided the best way of keeping Moby around was not only to keep the product (its not music anymore) in people minds but to make it cheaper than anyone else. For months Mute records pushed the album at midprice (£10.99 everywhere) significantly cheaper than the majority of other chart albums, maybe only by a pound or two, but enough to make a difference, and not just in one shop, but everywhere, every high street retailer. Before you know it, Moby has compromised his artistic integrity. Moby is a brand name like Pepsi, Coke or Intel, like cars or everything else.
Ironically, had Moby been more original, we would never have had this problem. His first big hit, “Go”, filched its musical structure from Angelo Badlamenti’s theme from Twin Peaks, underlaid with a new bassline and drum beats. Then an advertiser wanted to use it, and Moby told them no. So the advertiser contacted Angelo Badlamenti, and got his permission, and recreated the track. Moby tried to sue, but couldn’t. So he re-released Go with the profits going to anti-car organisations. Ever since then, he used this excuse to claim he may as well take the money and run. Of course, the benefits of commercial impact are enormous. Moby started out the play tour playing the London Scala – capacity approximately 500. By the end of the tour, he was playing to fields full of 100,000 strong crowds at festivals like Glastonbury and headlining arenas. Quite simply, with Moby, you knew what you were getting: you know all the songs of the telly, off the that bloke who did all the adverts, and when you see him live, you think hang on that cover of James Bond is really good, I wonder if they’ll put that out for the next Bond film? What’s that one that sounds the theme from twin peaks? Wow, he’s been ripping off other people’s tunes – they’ll do great on the 2nd album. Then you’ll go back to your fuel-injected, middle of the range Ford Mondeo and play the CD on the way back, along with Roni Size to prove you’re still in touch with the yoof, just like the yuppies who played “Nevermind” constantly for 6 months back in 1992 in the valley.
Instant exposure to the public through constant rotation of advertising is one of the best tools money can’t buy, and even better, they pay you. You get media exposure, and what does the advertiser get? Something it can’t buy: your credibility as an artist. The advertiser identifies the audience demographic, finds a band that’s associated with it, and wants to piggyback on your credibility. People don’t buy the Renault Megane just because some wag at their advertising agency used the Manic Street Preacher’s phrase “Stay Beautiful” in the advert. But people associate that with the coolness, the hip of an artist. In today’s brand obsessed culture, a musician is just as much a brand name as anything else. Everything from Puff Daddy leisure wear – as much as a brand as Gap – to band merchandise are a means to make money; so much so that Raekwon of the Wu-Tang Clan once said that “the music, the movies are all part of the pie we are making so that in the year 2005 we might have Wu-Tang furniture on sale in Nodenstrom.”
Advertising is simply another extension of that, and in MTV, the advertising is the product and vice versa. Two of the most important brands in terms of merging pop music and advertising are Gap and Levi’s. For Levi’s, there was a time when the music from every Levi’s advert went to Number one: Marvin Gaye, Babylon Zoo, Mr Oizo’s “Flat Beat” (so successful it spawned an imitation Flat Eric doll- and one of them is looking at me right now as I type) you name it, they made Number one if they appeared in a Levi’s ad. For Gap it was even more pervasive: Rufus Wainwright’s sales soared after an appearance in a Gap ad, so much so that his record company sold his CD’s with the sticker “The guy from the Gap Ad”. The Mavericks broke big with “Dance the night away” after appearing in a Gap ad. Not that this is all – advertising is everywhere. Fatboy Slim’s “Right here, Right now” appeared in Adidas adverts when the single was scheduled for release, earning Fatboy Slim (aka Norman Cook) an estimated £200,000. Barbara Zamopyska, from MCA publishing (who deal with Fatboy Slim’s licensing) stated the following “We needed to concentrate on establishing the record in Europe, and this is a pan European ad…” ;you can work out the rest. But Barbara also said the following, very notably :”There are a number of factors we have to consider when licensing a track; whether it creates the right image for the material, whether the visuals are right..” Basically its as much about selling the artist as the brand. Talking about the deal, she continues “We’ve turned down so many other’s (because) ..the ad was not so generic that it would alter peoples perceptions of the artist and the product was considered credible enough... Put simply Adidas is cool.” And that’s exactly what we are meant to think by Adidas too. At what point does the artist sop being an artist and start being a mouthpiece for whoever has bribed them the most then?
Adverts quite simply, are a gateway to the public consciousness, a way of selling records. Would Cornershop really have hit Number one in 1998 with “Brimful Of Asha” if it hadn’t been used in advertising? No. Amazingly, this was even more significant, because it was the Norma Cook remix that made it to the charts, making his name , and Norman Cook (as Fatboy Slim) makes a hell of a lot of money out of advertising. His first album hit no.57 in the charts when it was released, and by the time the second album (after the Cornershop remix) came out, it hit no 1 straightaway. Not that he was the only dance act to be used in advertising : the Propellorheads “Dive” was used by Adidas in the US (and came with a huge sticker stating so), Dylans Rhymes “Naked and Ashamed” was used by Smirnoff Vodka. And it doesn’t end there. Primal Scvream (“Movin on up” – for salon selective), Embrace (“Now You’re Nobody” – Nike), Lenny Kravitz (“Fly Away” – Peugeot 206, and then made no. 1 on the back of it too), Blur (“The Universal” – British Gas), Hurricane #1 (“The Strongest will Survive” – The Sun), the Supernaturals (“Smile” - Egg Bank). The Cardigan’s licensed “My Favourite Game” to Ford Fiesta adverts , netting themselves £100,000 in the process and significant radio play, boosting the album sales back into higher than ever before. Their previous major hit, “Lovefool” was also because it was a media tie in – appearing in the film Romeo and Juliet. Once again, the Cardigans, like Fatboy Slim, took this advert due to for its European wide stature :”it will help break the single “ (and therefore the band) “ and win a lot of places like Italy and Spain”, says Eric Hassleqvist, Deputy Managing Director of Stockholm Songs, the publisher. And counterculture is no different. Korn have a sponsorship deal with Adidas, they even did a song called A.D.I.D.A.S. – how individual and anti-corporate is that? How alternative is that? How rebellious is it when Max Calvalera (of Sepultura), anti-corporate hero – or so he would like you to believe – gets $1 million for advertising Pepsi products on Brazilian TV? Yet in every interview he talks about Pepsi, drinking Pepsi... so much for artistic integrity.
The proliferation of advertising has become so prolific that business week Announced on 24 May 1999 that piggybacking on advertising campaigns had become “Today’s top 40 radio”. Its been that way for a long time – in the 1980s George Michael, Run DMC, Eric Clapton, Whitney Houston, Robert Plant, Madonna, Robert Palmer, David Bowie, Tina Turner, Lionel Richie and Ray Charles all did Coke or Pepsi adverts. Microsoft paid £5.5 million to use the Rolling Stones “Start Me Up” – and the Rolling Stones were the first band ever to have a sponsored tour, with their 1981 tour sponsored by Jordan fragrances. Their 1999 No Security tour was sponsored by Tommy Hilfiger, and some of the tour advertising didn’t even list venues, just the locations of the Tommy Hilfiger shops. Tommy Hilfiger also had the exclusive rights to provide stage clothing for Mick Jagger and support act Sheryl Crow.. Even the Wonderstuff had their 1994 “Idiot” tour sponsored by a brewery (Labatts) and even started their UK tour at a venue owned by Labatts. It doesn’t stop there: Molson Breweries in Canada owns a series of venues and owns 50% of Canada’s only national concert promoter (Universal concerts). Molson now hold concerts (called Blind Date concerts) whereby the main appeal is a major superstar has been bought in for an exclusive beer company gig in a compartively tiny venue– be it Soundgarden, INXS, Hole, the Cure, The Sex Pistols. The idea is that it’s an exclusive event, building brand recognition and brand loyalty and the artist is just secondary to the product, to the brand. It’s a Molson event, not a Soundgarden event. “In a funny way”, say Steve Herman of Universal Concerts, “The beer is bigger than the brand”. Ain’t that the truth.
Ultimately, it’s a false economy. Quite simply, any band that thinks they can take on a brand name and win, to beat the brand at their own game, merely in order to get more recognition is fooling themselves. Babylon Zoo is never going to be a brand name that outranks Levi’s, and as long a companies continue to creatively leech off artists, then these corporations will take all the benefits , reap the rewards and devalue the music you listen to and love – and as the Manic St Preachers said “Rebellion it always sells at a profit”. They will take what is seen to be cool, subversive, and with it, and want to attach their own corporate money sucking leechlike vampiric ethics to your music to get you to part with your money, and to be seen to be cool, in a cynically calculated move of psuedo-credibility. They want the cool they can never truly have, and as long as we think we can do it and still be cool, then we are fooling for ourselves. I don’t see how we can’t see through this, and when artists sell their music to sell Pepsi, I’d rather they sell it to people who give a shit and care about the songs they listen to, not how much money they can make from it. To sell advertising your song is an act of creative self-sabotage, one that makes your music no more art than the product you are advertising.
Perhaps one band that have made the most money out of advertising in recent years is ... wait for it ...Blur. Woohoo indeed. “Song 2” is now their defining moment, thanks to advertising, the song that made them in America. Despite only staying in the charts briefly upon its release, it was soon picked up on by advertisers. Blur accepted an advert offer from Intel – gaining £500,000 in the process – as well as gracing promotional material for Labatts, the US hockey league and gaining considerable exposure in the TV adverts for the film “Starship Troopers” – leading to many calls for it to be re-released. Its reckoned to have made some £2 million in terms of endorsements alone for “Song 2”. Woo hoo for blur. Lockheed even wanted to use “Song 2” for the unveiling of the new US stealth bomber; fortunately the band said “no”.However, in doing so, Blur have written themselves out of the artistic equation. Damon Albarn recently spent some time in an NME interview saying about how he earns in a year is the equivalent of 10% of the gross national wage of the population of Mali, and then accepts the money of a company who knowing employ slave labour in the unregulated export processing zones of the Phillipines, where workers are paid a pittance per hour, forced to work unregulated overtime, abandoned on short term contracts, and unionised factories are actively encouraged and trade activists (and their lawyers) have been known to be murdered under suspicious circumstances for daring to speak out. Its hard to ignore the hypocrisy there. Nike, Adidas - they also use the same exploitative labour practices, all of which are ignored by the artists endorsing their products.Levi's Flat Eric looking over my shoulder as I write has a "Made in China" sticker. Its all part of ther globalisation of culture, where everyone across the world will all consume the same products, the hijacking of contemporary culture for profit, another part of our life and culture identity to be hijacked and sold back to us - for a profit of course.
As Bill Hicks once said…”Everyone is hawking products – It’s the highest thing you can achieve now. Let me tell you something right now, you can print in stone and don’t you ever forget it- Any performer that ever sells a product on television is now and forever removed from the artistic world. I don’t care if you shit Mona Lisa’s out of your ass on cue, you’ve made your choice”. Next time I buy my music, I’m not buying the brand it sells but the songs within. Any artist who puts their music to a product is no longer part of the creative cycle, but has devalued their music to point whereby it no longer has artistic value, but only the value of the product it is selling; not songs we can love, but songs to sell us dreams we can never have. I’m not buying. They can buy the songs but they can never buy what it means to me. Not ever.