Music: Who's top of the pops?

Robin Hicks polls the advertising and music industries to find out what they really think of each other, and asks them how they could change things to work better together.

The music and advertising industries have never really seen eye to eye. Among other less troublesome differences, such as hairstyles and the drugs they do at parties, they have rarely been able to agree on the value of each other's products. So there has always been the suspicion that one is trying to dupe the other.

Relations between the two are cuddlier now, however, because they need each other more. Both are struggling in a world in which demand for their traditional wares is shrinking. Single sales and TV budgets are heading south and so, out of necessity, they have huddled closer together.

Also, artists tend to be less cynical. Six years ago, the rock rebels Primal Scream growled: "You got the money, I got the soul, can't be bought," on the track Kill All Hippies. Today they are licensing their music for Bacardi ads and feature on the soundtrack to the computer game Grand Theft Auto.

The improved relationship, however, is not without baggage. This is why both camps were asked, in a Campaign survey of the top players, what they would change to make the relationship work better.

Richard Kirstein used to run the film and TV department at BMG Zomba before he set up Leap Music at Bartle Bogle Hegarty. "Clients are demanding and expect quick answers," he says. "Agencies expect the same from their suppliers. You sometimes get the impression, particularly with the major labels, that they are doing you a favour by returning your call."

What used to take three months - to clear a copyright or run a search - can now be done in half an hour. Playing hard to get helps music companies hold firm on price, Kirstein says, but being aloof plays into the hands of the smaller, independent labels.

Rachel Wood represents several independent labels through her company, Woodwork Music. She says the indies tend to be more flexible and hungrier to strike a deal. The majors, with up to one million tracks in their catalogues, cannot match the indies' knowledge of their artists. "I can't stress how different they are," Wood says. "Indies don't have marketing budgets or PAs. Most pour blood, sweat and tears into offering the best service."

Tracie London-Rowe is the director of film, TV and advertising at Universal Music Group, ranked in our chart as the third-most-admired music label in adland. "I won't lie, we have a huge catalogue and we can't know everything," she admits. " But for each of our labels (which include Mercury, Polydor and Island) we have specialists - I've made it a priority that they know their catalogues inside out."

Big labels stand accused of deluging agencies with whatever happens to be on their release schedules for the month. "It's no good bunging a load of CDs in the post," Lisa Cooper, JWT's head of TV, complains. "We don't have record libraries any more and we're all very busy. Why not send us fewer tracks that are bang on brief?"

Cooper's counterpart at Saatchi & Saatchi, Andy Gulliman, doesn't see it that way. "As an agency we should always have our ear to the ground for new releases. This is the crucial point at which we need a closer relationship with the labels," he says. He objects to what he calls the "ratecard mentality" of labels and publishers. "We pay them a sync-licence fee to promote a track and a band and they get sales and royalties on the back of that. We need to discuss the value of a campaign: who's directing it, where is it running, the media involved. We both have assets to offer, but the old mentality of seeing agencies as cash cows does not work."

Unsurprisingly, the value of music is an area where the relationship breaks down. Richard Corbett, the head of the music matchmaking service Ricall, is familiar with Gulliman's gripe. "The value of a song is a grey area," he says. "The industry is missing a standard setting, so music companies are plucking figures out of the air and agencies are being overcharged."

One agency, of course, has taken price matters into its own hands. BBH raised hackles when it launched Leap in 2003 (which came last in the best in-house music arm chart, above). Leap negotiates all-encompassing rights, enabling it to pay less than most for music. Most in the music industry, bar Kirstein - who says he is acting in his clients' best interests - regard this as an abuse of an agency's position. Ultimately, though, Leap "was a brilliant ploy to bring down the value of music", according to Corbett.

Ricall is set up to demystify the music brief, another cause of confusion. "This is a part of the music-buying process that rarely works," Corbett says. "The problem is taste - your idea of what sounds sunny and happy-clappy will be different to mine."

Dave Bartram, the head of media and marketing at BMG Music Publishing, says few ad people know how to write a music brief. "Single-word descriptors such as 'credible', 'cool' or 'contemporary' muddy the search process," he says. "Creatives usually don't know what they want and some briefs are so specific it's impossible to find the right track."

A rough cut of the ad usually helps refine a search, Melanie Johnson, the promotions manager at EMI Music Publishing, the highest-rated publisher in our survey, says."We only get to see visuals for one in three searches, so the best solution is for agencies to come to us as early as possible, ideally at the script stage."

Creatives should talk directly to the music supplier, rather than rely on the TV producer to relay a brief, Ed Howard, the sync manager at Sony/ATV Music Publishing, adds. "Creatives are better than producers at conveying what they want. Too often, a TV producer will take a poorly written brief and send it out to everyone."

Another common mistake is for agencies to obsess about what they think the music should sound like, rather than how it will make the listener feel. "There's an element of science to choosing music," Fiona McBlane, who runs Huge Music, says.

"Certain music evokes certain emotions: gentle, innocent, aggressive, seedy. Some tracks you can deliver to any of those words, and the best creatives are open-minded and look for a consensus."

Unsurprisingly, agencies often demand "the next Sony Bravia". This is unrealistic, Bartram warns. "Most of the time, the visuals don't lend themselves to music driving the spot. Besides, 'balls' and, say, Lynx's 'pulse' are one-offs," he says.

Gulliman, whose T-Mobile ad featuring Vashti Bunyan creeps into the best use of music table, agrees - up to a point. "It goes back to Levi's 'launderette'," he says. "Radio play and brand awareness are set as goals. This is naive - for 20 unsigned bands in ads, maybe one will get on a playlist. Even so, music companies should always be looking to deliver hits for agencies."

Corbett is not so sure. "For the past two years, agencies have been struggling to clarify their relationship with music," he says. "Most want re-recorded tracks that will get them into the top ten based on the gut feelings of a creative or director. They're missing the point. They should be thinking about the music that fits the target demographic. They're paid by their clients to sell more stuff, not find a piece of music they happen to like."

There is no sign of the trend of "we can launch your career" music choices slowing down, Wood observes. "Agencies are obsessed with 'great' music," she says. "I'd love to see agencies being braver and considering composition more. What about using music ironically? Music and comedy can combine to devastating effect." Wood praises Grey's "see it, want it" spot for Cathedral City cheese - featuring At the Hop by Devendra Banhart - for using music in an interesting way.

Music is not an easy thing to talk about, Wood says, which makes it hard for agencies. "Music is so personal and people are intimidated by it," she says. "It can be embarrassing to admit to a client that you haven't bought an album for five years and the last song you listened to was by Damien Rice."

But that's no excuse, she adds. "Bravery will always reward you. When they walk away from your £500,000 commercial to make a cup of tea, consumers are far more likely to turn around if they hear a tune that interests them."

Finding music for an ad remains core to the agency-label connection. But this is changing. Duncan Bird, who worked in advertising for 20 years, latterly at Nitro, is now the vice-president of Futures at Sony BMG Music Entertainment, a division set up to explore new revenue streams.

"We're trying to broaden the relationship beyond sync," Bird says. "At the moment it's based on a short-term deal, from which both parties probably feel short-changed. It's a quick burst of lots of people throwing lots of music and money around."

But as gigs, downloads and mobile promotions become part of a bigger music marketing effort, agencies and music companies are starting to work more closely together for longer. "As both industries change, so the opportunities will broaden," Bird concludes. "Culturally, advertising and music are like oil and water. But with the right brands working together, we can be a powerful force."


Ad agencies were asked to name the publishers, labels and in-house agency music arms they rate highest in terms of service and proficiency. Music companies were asked to name the top agencies for their understanding and appreciation of music. Both industries were asked to name campaigns that demonstrate great use of music.

Top choice = 3 points; Second choice = 2 points; Third choice = 1 point

1= EMI Records 15
1= XL 15
3 Universal Music Group 12
4 Sony BMG 11
5 Domino Records 10
6= Sunday Best 8
6= Warp Records 8
8 Independence 7
9 Moshi Moshi 6
10 Relentless 5


1 Levi's 501 Shrink to I Heard it Karl Jenkins
fit 'launderette' Through the Music/EMI
Bartle Bogle Hegarty Grapevine Music
Marvin Gaye Publishing 1986 25

2 Sony Bravia 'balls' Heartbeats
Fallon Jose Gonzalez Peacefrog 2005 20

3 Levi's Double-
Stitched 'clayman' Boombastic Virgin Records/
Bartle Bogle Hegarty Shaggy Livingston
Music 1995 18

4 Guinness 'surfer' Phat Planet Sony Records/
AMV/BBDO Leftfield Chrysalis
Music 2002 17

5= Stella Artois Hungarian
'la sacrifice' Rhapsody Hungariton
Lowe Franz Liszt Records 2005 15

5= Levi's Engineered
Jeans 'odyssey' Sarabande Jeff Wayne Music/
Bartle Bogle Hegarty Handel John Altman 2001 15

7 Honda Diesel 'grrr' Hate Something,
Wieden & Kennedy Change
Michael Rossoff
/Sean Thomson Amber Music 2005 12

8 Nike 'secret A Little Less
tournament' Conversation RCA/BMG/Elvis
Wieden & Kennedy JXL/Elvis Presley
Presley Enterprises 2002 9

9 Volkswagen Golf GTi Singin' in the
'singin' in the rain' rain Faith & Hope/
DDB London Arthur Freed Direction/ 2005 7
abd Nacio Herb Sony BMG

10 T-Mobile 'flex' Diamond Day
Saatchi & Saatchi Vashti Bunyan Spinney 2006 6

1 BBH 16
2= Wieden & Kennedy 15
2= Mother 13
4 TBWA\London 9
5 Lowe 8
6= Fallon 7
6= Saatchi & Saatchi 7
8 CHI 5
9 VCCP 4
10 WCRS 3

1 Stream 20
2 Huge Music 10
3 Leap Music 8

1 EMI Music Publishing 14
2 Universal Music Publishing 12
3 Sony/ATV Music Publishing 10
4 BMG Music Publishing 9
5 Bug Music 7
6= Chrysalis Music 6
6= Warner Music 6
8= Music Sales 4
8= Touch Tones 4
10 Boosey & Hawkes 3
Source: ZenithOptimedia.

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