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Rewind a moment to the Song of the Year at this year’s Grammys. It was Fun’s We Are Young . Even if you think you haven’t heard it, you have. It’s everywhere – synched to within an inch of its life and selling a couple of trazillion copies.
We Are Young could mark a crucial tipping point. From now on, it’s entirely possible that labels and publishers, instead of receiving a big pay cheque for allowing a song they own to be used on a TV show/film/video game actually do the paying instead.
Here’s why. When We Are Young was first released in December 2011, it limped into the US singles chart at number 53 and then fell away again. Practically no one heard it and the band would have moved on to another single if it weren’t for the great musical ears of PJ Bloom, aka the music industry’s most successful synch supervisor. Bloom decides what music gets used on shows such as Glee , CSI , Nip/Tuck and many others with massive ratings.
The policy at Glee is to use only established hits, but just one listen to We Are Young was enough for Bloom to tear up the rulebook and put the song on the show. The Glee version (bloody awful, but never mind) went to number one in the US and sales of the Fun original went up from 3,000 a week to 50,000 a week on the back of the Glee exposure. From there, the song got picked up by Chevrolet for a big ad campaign during the lucrative Super Bowl slot.
So, a song that was dead in the water suddenly went to number one around the world, won a Grammy and made its writers multi-millionaires overnight. PJ Bloom’s point is simply that Glee would have had to pay Fun’s record label a big cheque to use the song on their programme in the first place. Last week, he said he now thinks the label should be paying (and paying big) to get one of their acts’ songs on a show such as Glee which is watched in dozens of countries around the world.
The We Are Young story provides the leverage needed to make this a reality – and signal yet another big change in how we source our music. As wrong as it may seem to traditionalists, we are not picking up new music tips from the guy behind the counter at ye olde record shop, we’re hearing new music on mainstream TV dramas (or during the ad break) and downloading it there and then.
Is this a good thing for music? No. Is it the future? Definitely. According to Bloom (and there’s a mobile number you really want if you’re a songwriter) the songs that synch well on TV, films, etc are “the ones that deal with simple lyrical content – broad emotions like love, hate, anger, jealousy, break-ups. Not really cerebral stuff, not songs that tell a story . . . [or] that need three or four minutes to evolve.” He’s right: when did you last hear Tangerine Dream on Grey’s Anatomy ?