As Advertising Week descends upon New York this week, Billboard puts a spotlight on four notable music supervisors and agencies making songs and artists the stars of some of the year's biggest campaigns.
Behind every great use of a song in a commercial, there's a few good music supervisors who've helped scout that track -- sometimes over the course of a month or two, but often in a matter of days or even hours. Whether it's a surprising take on a classic track, a clever cover or an impactful score, music in ads continues to be a blazing-hot category for the industry, as well as artists' wallets. According to the IFPI's 2012 industry report, synchronization revenue grew 2.1% and totaled $337 million, up from $330 million.
And in recent years, ad agency music supervisors have risen to a level of influence on par with radio DJs, as their ability to place songs in national commercials can often start a campaign for an active single and force the other platforms to keep up with that momentum (just ask fun., whose "We Are Young" commercial with Chevrolet during the 2012 Super Bowl remains a gold standard for many supes nearly two years after its initial use.)
Founder, Good Ear Music Supervision
In the late 2000s, as a music supervisor for Apple at TBWA’s Media Arts Lab in Los Angeles, Andrew Kahn was part of a team (led by Steve Jobs, of course) that made unlikely hits out of quirky indie-pop songs like Yael Naim’s "New Soul," the Ting Tings’ "Shut Up and Let Me Go" and Chairlift’s "Bruises." But after he left the agency in 2011 to start his own supervision company, he found there were more avenues to explore.
"There’s just so much great music—just working for one brand, you can really use so much of it," says Kahn, who due to various non-disclosure agreements still only refers to Apple as "the brand." "I was just eager to try my hand at exposing more music."
In the two-and-a-half years since founding Good Ear Music Supervision (G.E.M.S.) in March 2011, Kahn and fellow supervisor Alex Tzenkov have helped brands like Cadillac, Target, Sonos, Diet Pepsi and Southern Comfort place memorable songs in their spots. Even Oprah Winfrey is a fan—she tweeted her love this summer for the hooks of "Ula Ula," a Spanish hip-hop song by Illya Kuryaki & the Valderramas that Kahn helped place for Target.
The "Ula Ula"/Target campaign is a classic example of what’s known in ad circles as "temp love"—when a song or creative reference is used as a placeholder to spur other ideas, but "nobody can move on after that reference. It happens in almost every single campaign," he says. Of course, there have been plenty of other instances of "temp love" that have ended in lawsuits. "Some go-to references are the White Stripes or the Black Keys, and this is where people always get in trouble because they always reference that song," Kahn says. "You always want to make sure the songs aren’t replaceable or re-synchable themselves."
Sarah Bates, an associate creative director on Honda at RPA, says she and Kahn speak in "cultural code" when it comes to relaying very specific creative briefs for her client’s music searches. "We’ll say, ‘Hey, we’re looking for a pop song but it’s something guys be would be into,’" Bates says. "It wouldn’t even be specific to a genre or an era, and he’ll pull old stuff or stuff that’s not even out yet and just completely nail what we’re going for in ways that other companies can’t."
The reverse is true when it comes to publishers and labels looking to pitch Kahn. "It’s always nice if they know me and they say something like, ‘This is a really weird Greek psychedelic rock song,’" he says. "If you distinctly describe a song in an incredibly interesting way, it helps."
VP of Community, GSD&M
David Rockwood has just finished listing all of his duties at GSD&M, the Omnicom-backed creative agency headquartered in Austin, when he realizes he needs a change to his job title. Currently the agency’s VP of community, Rockwood splits his time as an account director on golf client the PGA Tour, a community relations director for GSD&M’s nonprofit clients, a music supervisor for clients Walgreen's, Zales and Southwest Airlines as well as account director for TV show 'Austin City Limits.
"I guess that doesn’t really tell you what I do all that much," he says with a laugh after sharing the descriptor on his business card. "At least 25% of my week is dedicated to music, and that will go up as time goes by."
Rockwood also helps book bands for agency showcases at the GSD&M offices on W. Sixth St., which have quickly become a routing tool for touring bands looking to court brands’ favor. "We had our Walgreen’s client in a few weeks ago, and Warner Bros. said, ‘Johnny Rzeznik from the Goo Goo Dolls is going to be in Dallas. We’d love to fly him down to Austin for a few hours to come play for you guys,’" Rockwood recalls. "They flew in for six hours just to perform at our agency. Things like that help keep everyone up on the emerging trends of how music and licensing are evolving."
A veteran of music management and touring, Rockwood spent a good chunk of the ’90s working in the Austin area at companies like Direct Events and on shows with Willie Nelson before coming onboard at GSD&M. He’s also good buddies with Austin-based C3 Presents, which is just a few blocks down the street. Having one foot firmly in the local music scene allows Rockwood to celebrate the community of Austin whenever possible through his clients’ creative and the songs they license. That’s why local band Quiet Company was one of a recent trio of indie-rock groups he chose to feature in promos for the PGA Tour across broadcast partners like NBC, CBS and Golf Channel.
"[Executive creative director] Jay Russell has challenged the agency so that if we have an opportunity to put music in the spot, wouldn’t it be great if we could use this lens of Austin?" Rockwood says. "That’s where I have these long-term relationships in the past to go either to the band themselves, a licensing guy or even a booking agent and say, ‘Hey, can you send me this album, this track,’ and get access to music within minutes to put it against a rough cut of the spot. If I can keep doing that and do what we did for those bands, we’ll all be more successful."