"Pitch Perfect," the little soundtrack that could, has achieved a level of success that has Universal Pictures taking a harder look at how it handles the release of soundtracks. What was once an album that no front-line label was interested in releasing, "Pitch Perfect" has sold 533,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan; has had a newly recorded track serviced to radio; and has induced talks of a "Pitch Perfect 2" and interim album.
"There's no rhyme or reason or science as to why this is happening," Universal Pictures president of music Mike Knobloch says. "It does owe to the attention to detail that went into the record, and not just copying and pasting the music onto a CD and hoping people will buy it. It does not logically lead to 'soundtracks are back.'"
What it does lead to is more concerted efforts to connect music and marketing, plus a mind-set that accepts a greater role in-house. The soundtracks to "Pitch Perfect" and "Les Miserables," an expanded edition of which comes out March 19, required financial and musical input from an outside label.
Now, French electronic band M83's score for the movie "Oblivion" will be handled through Universal's in-house label Backlot, which has traditionally been used for score albums with small audiences. (It will also likely release Pharrell Williams' songs for "Despicable Me 2" this summer.) The "Oblivion" score is all instrumental, save for an end-title vocal track, and Universal will use its own movie marketing team to get the word out about the M83 music connected to the April 19 release of the Tom Cruise-Morgan Freeman futuristic thriller. The first piece of the puzzle is an M83 video.
"'Oblivion' is an 'up-level' for us in that regard," Knobloch says, noting the closest it has come previously was the Chemical Brothers' soundtrack to "Hanna" in 2011 that has sold 29,000 copies. "We made the deal with M83 without being beholden to their label, Mute. And we're not only using our machinery to get the word out worldwide, but engaging some a la carte vendors to help with the price and positioning, the promo and marketing. We're doing some of it at our expense to bolster what we already have with our vast movie marketing team."
The long view was the initial attraction for Knobloch to Universal Music Enterprises, the Universal Music Group catalog division that picked up the "Pitch Perfect" soundtrack after numerous labels passed. "Their model is closer to what you need to sell a soundtrack than a major label, which has a different agenda, with the artists squeezed in between cycles and releases," Knobloch says.
The film "Pitch Perfect," with a production budget of $17 million, grossed $65 million at the box office between its Sept. 28 release and Feb. 14 (more than 90% of that tally was earned before Thanksgiving), according to Box Office Mojo. The soundtrack, however, truly caught fire around Christmas, when the movie was released on DVD and Anna Kendrick's performance of "When I'm Gone"--aka "Cups"--became a viral phenomenon extensively covered by fans.
Republic, which released the "Les Miserables" album, has stepped in to partner with UMe on "Pitch Perfect," assisting with the late-March release of a new version of Kendrick's song. A band was brought in and she redid some of the vocals (an edited version without a reference to whiskey was cut for Radio Disney). It's No. 85 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The unexpected success of "Pitch Perfect" fits into one standby category: Girls in their teens--and younger--are the biggest potential audience for soundtracks. While UMe and Universal look to keep the brand going-a film sequel, a second album and an interim DVD project are all on the table-Universal has to see if a soundtrack can meet expectations when recording artists are involved.
"Fast & Furious 6," set for a May 24 release, has several music options being discussed, one of which would completely dictate where the soundtrack winds up, Knobloch says. "We're really swinging for the fences," he notes. "It has been a while since there was a big brand-name anthem for the film [franchise]. It's due for a signature song."