“It used to be pretty rare to hear an indie band on an ad. It’s not that rare anymore.”
Gabe McDonough – VP, Music Director at Leo Burnett Chicago
Steve Olenski gives us an overview of why big brands like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s prefer to use indie rather than mainstream pop music in their promotion campaigns. His article touches on the importance of music in communicating the brand story and how using indie music in commercials is affordable, authentic, and beneficial to both brands and artists.
Understandably, indie talent is a cost-effective solution for brands. According to AdWeek, “an indie track would probably run from four to five figures, whereas a well-established act would likely charge at least six figures for a brand to use a hit song for a national TV commercial.” More importantly, since indie music doesn’t conform to mainstream trends, it represents novelty and uniqueness, which attracts the “hipsters” (defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as people who are unusually aware of and interested in new and unconventional patterns). This body of curious and open-minded millennials makes up a large market for brands to cultivate.
The relationship between brands and indie music is not one-way, because big corporations can help artists take off too. Signing with a record label is competitive, especially to artists who have distinctive tastes and styles and won’t easily give up their originality just to please the majority of pop music listeners. Thus, they seek opportunities to expose their music in the advertising field. In fact, big companies have been sending their people to SXSW music festivals to recruit talented artists and help them advance their career. In other words, advertisers are becoming the new record labels. This is also how Mark Foster of the indie pop band Foster the People worked his way up from a commercial jingle writer to a Grammy award receiver.
Apart from helping brands expand their target market, indie music also helps convey the commercial’s content better. Let’s say each video we watch leaves an impression on us, and each song does the same thing too. So what happens if we use a song we already know in a video? Then the impression will be mixed. That is why I usually look for soundtracks that are a little unusual and unfamiliar when editing my videos so my content is more likely to convey a clear and authentic impression. Brands want the same thing. They don’t want people’s bias towards the music contaminates their brand image, so they look for the less popular indie music. On the other hand, a brand can ruin a new song’s identity too, which is why some indie artists are still reluctant to shake hands with advertisers. Moreover, as they say “easy come, easy go,” songs that gain population too quickly through commercials, movies, and other mass-media production can be short-lived sometimes, as Dee Lockett hilariously demonstrates in her list of 16 indie songs ruined by commercials.
While I think music should be interpreted and appreciated in its own form, I can’t accuse advertisers of “killing” good music by exposing it to a larger audience. It is a trade-off that artists have to consider by themselves in order to send their music on their favored track.