A proliferation of media channels and divergence in music consumption have created a world where the grim predictions of Napster’s doomsday book can finally, perhaps, be rescinded. Ben Gilbert explores the array of promo options available when it comes to landing the next “millennial sensation”.
There are few tracks in pop music that carry as much mythic weight as New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’. Originally recorded at a Cheetham Hill studio in 1983, multiple apocryphal stories about the song endure. Bernard Sumner claims his painstaking initial attempts at programming the backing track on primitive electronic equipment were ruined when Stephen Morris caught the plug with his foot, wiping the memory. Most famously, the band are then said to have lost 10p on every copy sold of the original pressing because of Peter Saville’s elaborate sleeve design. It would go on to become the biggest 12” in history.
Such comical skills of self-destruction colour New Order’s history and that of their original label Factory Records. Despite this, almost 40 years later, it’s clear that ‘Blue Monday’’s success is as distinct and lucrative as any example you can select from The Song Economy. Unequivocally a pioneering moment for the band and musical innovation globally, it has since taken on multiple new forms to embrace the digital era, most recently being reworked by Sebastian Böhm as the official trailer for Wonder Woman 1984.
Identified as “the new music industry’s growth engine” in a recent MIDiA Research piece, songs like ‘Blue Monday’ have found a position in culture and society that “allows them to become something quite different. They can be revived and multiplied. They can be hits over and over again.” Citing the examples of Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’, Toto’s ‘Africa’ and Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas’, it seems the proliferation of media channels and divergence in music consumption have created a world where the grim predictions of Napster’s doomsday book can finally, perhaps, be rescinded.
The Song Economy is founded on an array of options to recycle material
It’s been apparent for some time that bands never really split up. In 2020, many artists even defy death. Not only can a career be reinvigorated by album-themed shows or comeback dates but also a hologram tour. Sync across ads, documentaries, games, trailers and movies present an array of options to recycle material, with biopics becoming increasingly hyperreal in their audio and visual representation. Digital streaming services, playlist culture and dynamic platforms like TikTok provide the mechanisms for old and new hits to go viral and become, as MIDiA stated, “millennial sensations”.
“Digital streaming services, playlist culture and dynamic platforms like TikTok provide the mechanisms for old and new hits to go viral and become, as MIDiA stated, ‘millennial sensations’.”
The example of ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ is particularly prescient here, as Position Music‘s VP, Head of Synch Emily Weber, confirmed in an interview with Synchtank. Journey’s 1981 recording was a minor hit originally but then became inescapable in 2008 after featuring in The Sopranos and Glee. She pinpointed the moment a track “gets synched in a show or ad geared toward a younger audience, then everyone in that younger generation becomes familiar with it as well. That alone can propel a song into ‘super global success’.”
Weber cites music TV as a crucial factor in laying the foundations of the current landscape, as illustrated by the era-defining litany of international mainstream reality shows displaying remarkable longevity. “Songs can have a huge impact on their own but when paired with visuals, it’s stimulating more than just the ‘hearing’ senses. I think MTV figured that one very quickly back in the early 80s. The power of music videos is real and synch is equally as impactful when you pair visuals with the music. Every single one of us can remember and grasp onto any number of our favourite scenes in a movie or commercial when we think of a song,” she said.
“Songs can have a huge impact on their own but when paired with visuals, it’s stimulating more than just the ‘hearing’ senses. Every single one of us can remember and grasp onto any number of our favourite scenes in a movie or commercial when we think of a song.”
– Emily Weber, VP, Head of Synch, Position Music
Movie trailers targeting “cinematic or dark” remixes and covers
From Position Music’s catalogue, Weber highlights a recent trend for “remixes or covers done in a very cinematic or dark/dramatic way for movie trailers”, as illustrated by Böhm’s reworking of ‘Blue Monday’. Meanwhile, Mary Megan Peer, Deputy CEO, peermusic, identifies a number of contemporary tracks as mini industries in their own right, alongside a couple of older classics. “’Hotline Bling’ and ‘Firework’ come to mind as more recent hits, as well as older copyrights like ‘Georgia On My Mind’ and ‘You Are My Sunshine’,” she told Synchtank.
Peer also draws a direct connection to digital platforms in helping to revive the work of specific performers. “We notice an increase in streaming when these copyrights are used in ads – they are part of pop culture and listeners love to be reminded of them,” she commented. But do these catalogues require sensitive handling when it comes to seeking greater promotion while protecting an artist’s credibility?
“The balance between the two has really shifted – there aren’t many ways to exploit a song today which damages its legacy (outside of explicit or violent usages, which are turned down for most of our catalogue). Our prime concern is over exposure but that is rare in today’s world where everyone is constantly shifting between different types of media,” said Peer.
“There aren’t many ways to exploit a song today which damages its legacy (outside of explicit or violent usages, which are turned down for most of our catalogue). Our prime concern is over exposure but that is rare in today’s world where everyone is constantly shifting between different types of media.”
– Mary Megan Peer, Deputy CEO, peermusic
Digital era reengineering music industry infrastructure for the better
David Dunn, Managing Partner at Shot Tower Capitol, the leading investment banking firm focused on the music sector, has an informed take on how to formulate the valuation of a piece of music. “You really look at the individual characteristics of the song based on its age, its ability to be synced and you also look at the integration into playlists on streaming services. If a song gets in a ton of playlists, it’s incredibly beneficial. Performance income streams, even traditional from radio are also still pretty attractive,” he explained on behalf of the Baltimore-based company, who have closed more music M&A transactions than any other firm globally.
“You really look at the individual characteristics of the song based on its age, its ability to be synced and you also look at the integration into playlists on streaming services.”
– David Dunn, Managing Partner, Shot Tower Capitol
Dunn, who helps to oversee the music estates of Michael Jackson, Prince and Aretha Franklin, estimates that the majority of revenue from the million plus catalogue of a major label comes from just the top 10,000 songs. He also believes The Song Economy is ultimately reengineering the music industry’s infrastructure for the better. Dunn puts this down to the decline in album sales played out against the slow build of a myriad of new income generators.
“Now, from a revenue perspective, the initial spike from streaming isn’t as big but you have this recurring mechanical royalty revenue stream. A song might get integrated into a playlist and it’ll continue to generate income. So, you don’t have this big initial spike resulting from the upfront sale, but you have a very, very long-term revenue stream which, in my mind, is far more attractive than the old model,” he told Synchtank.