Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Adverts & Soundtracks

I’m a real stickler when it comes to the purist aspects of music and one of the things that sticks in my gullet is the use of pop music in adverts. Quite why this should gall me so much is perhaps due to my pernickety nature but I suppose I hate the idea that people are using others’ art to sell their own product.

This argument also applies to music videos. There is something in the way of condescension about spoon-feeding us a prearranged story so that we understand what the music is trying to say – just in case we missed it. Whatever happened to imagination? Some of my favourite music requires no visuals to tell its story – its just there – and it may not be the same story that you or anybody else ‘sees’. But does that really matter? Music becomes personal rather than generic and all the better for it.

Then there is the film industry who have cottoned on to the fact that if they stuff a movie full of great pop tunes they can sell the soundtrack to a vast audience as a separate money making exercise. And it is here that I have to admit that I’ve been had - but it’s not all bad.

In the film ‘Shrek’ (the first) there is a portion of the plot that equates to the standard ‘boy loses girl’ device and the sequence is backed by John Cale’s version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ to admittedly good effect. Anyway, I thought I’d like to track down a copy of this song and turned to YouTube.com to provide me with some examples. There were many, including an epic rendition from Cohen himself, but it was there that I discovered Allison Crowe.

Allison’s simple piano and voice rendition was by far the best and I googled her to find out a bit more about her. It transpires that she is a 25-year-old Canadian singer songwriter blessed with a voice of tremendous power and range who has been active for the last couple of years. I bought the album ‘Tidings’ directly from her
website and very good it is too. It comprises a collection of ‘Christmas’ songs, some carols, some not (like ‘Hallelujah’, ‘River’ by Joni Mitchell and ‘Let it be’) recorded in one take thus giving a very live feel. Apparently, a film of this album is shown every Christmas on Canadian television.

I’m glad that I have been introduced to Allison but I still don’t like the idea of filmmakers hijacking perfectly good pop songs for their own designs. Luddite or what?


Adrian said...

Martin, I, too, am glad you've been introduced to the music of Allison Crowe and that it moves you. I'm glad to discover your writings in turn! I serve as manager to Allison. As for songs in adverts - imo, it's almost always debasing to the music. I can think of ways in which music has a purpose that makes a fit - such as The Beatles donating "Across the Universe" for use in a World Wildlife Fund campaign. Or, "Imagine" and "Give Peace a Chance" can speak to the cause of global peace. "Revolution" sold by Michael Jackson for a Nike commercial? Abominable. Many artists today rationalize the use of their music for ads. Of course, there's so little integrity left in popular music. The Doors' John Densmore penned a great piece about the commercialization of song - you may have read Riders on the Storm. As for movies, if it's songs as 'product placement', then, I'm of the same view as I hold for the commercialization of music to sell commodities. It's debasing. I do believe, however, popular music can be, and is, used in film with integrity by some. Obviously, a documentary on an artist or band requires music for the experience to be dimensional. And, when songs are part of the creative process, integral to the visual art, and not merely a corporate marketing manoeuvre, then, it too, can be a meaningful, beautiful, even, thing.

My condolences to you and all kin and loved ones on the recent loss of your Dad, and, earlier, your Mom.

"All things pass away. Love and music last forever."

peace, Adrian

musicobsessive said...

Hi Adrian - thanks for dropping in. I agree entirely with everything you say and it still make me mad to think of the crassness of it all. Which makes it all the more refreshing to read John Densmore's piece (I was always a big Doors fan!), an essay I admit not to having seen before, but which has given me some comfort that not everyone thinks the same way about these things. Of course it is always easier to take the moral high ground when you have a stash in the bank but it's refreshing nevertheless.
Thanks also for your condolences - much appreciated.
My best wishes to both you and Allison for your future success!

Adrian said...

When I posted last week, I was in a Beatles' state of mind (Allison having just performed at a festival in Scotland that paid tribute, in spirit and character, to John Lennon). While shining examples of integrity in the music biz may not be commonplace, one can look to, at least, one artist of a generation that's come along since the '60s - Ani DiFranco.

Your observation that it is, indeed, easier for those sitting on a stash to keep to the moral high road, brings to mind Ani's words when interviewed about her refusal to perform on Late Night With David Letterman - when that show's producers requested she replace her anti-racism song "Subdivision" with something more "upbeat":

"Saying no to a record company when I was 20 years old and starving, looking forward to a whole lot of years of starving and working on my own — that’s difficult. Saying no to playing on this one TV show was really easy, but that gets a lot of notoriety because it’s @#%$ TV.”

btw, should the idea hold appeal, I'd be happy to exchange cultural items with you - should there be music of Allison's you'd like on CD in trade for a copy of your book. (One way or t'other, I'll be sure to read it down the road.)

Sláinte, Adrian

musicobsessive said...

Interesting. I suppose the lesson is that principles come at a price and you have to calculate whether it is worth that price in any given situation.

On another subject, your offer of a trade is attractive. I would love to have Allison's latest CD, 'This Little Bird' - would you consider this a fair trade for my book? If so, perhaps you could send me a mailing address via my email author@musicobsessive.com and I will mail you a copy.

Thanks for looking in again.

Adrian said...

And, of course, for Ani, at any age, in any situation, nothing is worth compromising one's integrity. She sets a standard for today's generation of musicians - and, imo, we're going to see more young artists who appreciate the meaning of such words as:

"I don't think the music industry is conducive to artistic and social change and growth. It does a lot to exploit and homogenize art and artists. In order to challenge the corporate music industry, I feel it necessary to remain outside it. I could be selling a lot more albums. Life could be a lot more cushy. But it's much more interesting to try and hammer out an alternative route without the music industry and maybe be an example for other musicians. You don't have to play ball." ~ Ani DiFranco

Your suggestion sounds terrific! I'll email you and we can arrange to post each other! (I'm at management@allisoncrowe.com )

cheers, Ad

Adrian said...

Enjoying a little extra “holiday” time for reading, in the middle of a lengthy Trent Reznor interview, just published by WIRED, I find this exchange:

Reznor: But I remember you know early '90s if your music was on a commercial, you were kicked out. That was -

Rose: Yeah totally. But now it's the opposite.

Reznor: Suddenly it's like that's a great way to break a band. Get on an iPod commercial. You know it's like, oh, we've come to that now. You know, I guess it's better than American Express. Or is it? You know? It's sad that it has to rely on those achieving things to survive these days. But I don't think you do.

The flame still flickers!

musicobsessive said...

Glad you were able to get some reading in over the holiday!
Like you say, the flame still flickers, but in order for it not to extinguish we need to add a bit more fuel. I still have hopes for the new generation of artists and I personally will continue to seek them out.

Adrian said...

I am an idealist, and, too, remain hopeful. There is always revolution, and, it's time.