Folk singer/songwriter Priscilla Ahn is more than a cute girl with a guitar. She's also a "guilty pleasure for indie rock dudes" (or so says her label's senior VP of marketing Zach Hochkeppel), a rising star in Japan, and a new wife. But perhaps most important, she's a TV/film synch superstar.
Ahn's first album, 2008's "A Good Day" (EMI/Blue Note), found its way to listeners thanks to sleeper hit single "Dream," whose most notable synch was "Grey's Anatomy." A myriad of others -- ranging from "So You Think You Can Dance," to the film thriller "Disturbia," to a Jeep Wrangler ad -- continued to trickle in for "Dream" and other album tracks. According to Hochkeppel, Ahn is still getting synch requests for her debut even now, after Blue Note has released Ahn's second full-length, "When You Grow Up."
Video: Priscilla Ahn, "Oo La La"
On "When You Grow Up," out this week, Ahn's delicate take on folksy pop matures musically through songwriting collaborations (with, among others, Sia Furler and Eleni Mandell) and impressive production (by Ethan Johns). But the approach -- a focus on TV, film and advertisement synchs -- remains the same, and Ahn is just fine with that.
"In whichever way my music can get out there I'm just like, 'Sure,'" she tells Billboard. "It's also through the TV synch licenses that I've been surviving. I don't really make money through record sales. I used to be really picky: 'No, I don't want it to be the song of a commercial,' but nowadays it's what you need to do to get the song out as much as you can."
Ahn's first album has sold 52,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Yet she's performed "Dream" (which has sold 199,000) on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and has had her music used in national ads and hit TV shows. In fact, she'll return to "The Tonight Show" today (May 5) to showcase her quietly charming ways and gentle folk songs once more.
Video: Priscilla Ahn Performs "Dream" on "Dancing With The Stars," 5/3/2011
On the day "When You Grow Up" was released (May 3), Ahn took the "Dancing With the Stars" stage to accompany ballerina Patricia Zhou with "Dream," despite the fact that the song does not appear on her latest effort. Synch deals for "When You Grow Up" are in the works, but Ahn, who recently played a showcase in Los Angeles for music supervisors, understands the organic feeling necessary to create a meaningful synch.
"With some artists, I've noticed that after their songs have been licensed, on their next album you can totally hear they're trying to write a song for 'Grey's Anatomy' and it doesn't work," she says. "It's just one of those things that has to feel genuine to last a long time."
Ahn's team is also making a push for international markets -- in Europe, Germany specifically -- and continuing her touring record of opening for heavyweight folk and indie acts including Ray LaMontagne, Amos Lee, Willie Nelson and DeVotchKa. Plans for a Japan release of "When You Grow Up," including a different lead single than in North American markets, have been put on hold while the region recovers from the recent natural disasters. But when she's able, Ahn intends to visit Japan, a country that has embraced her music since her unsigned days.
Video: Priscilla Ahn Performs An Original Song For Japan
"Back when I just had my EP and I wasn't signed, somebody in Japan -- I think it was some people at Tower Records -- found my EP and they were ordering hundreds of them," Ahn says. "I think I appeal to Japanese people because my songs are really soothing, and I'm sure [the fact] that I'm half Asian doesn't hurt, either."