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Can licensing to film/TV hurt a band?

November 14, 2008 |  8:52 am

The benefits of licensing music to television and film were called into question at a Thursday afternoon panel as part of the Billboard/Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Music Conference in Los Angeles. At a time when artists are looking to licensing for increased exposure, and labels are striking partnerships with music supervisors, Chop Shop founder Alexandra Patsavas cautioned bands against thinking that a song in a hot television show would be a career changer.

Patsavas, who's been behind the music on such shows as "Gossip Girl," "The O.C." and "Grey's Anatomy," noted that there are "huge uses and there uses that just fly by." Referencing Death Cab for Cutie, an act that was launched into the mainstream by being woven into the narrative of the former Fox drama, Patsavas said such opportunities are rare, and as more shows tap into indie talent, hard to come by.

"Sometimes," Patsavas said, "the songs that are played are just used as background. I think bands are hoping for the Death Cab experience."

Her comments should have launched a deeper discussion about the merits of licensing use, and if bands should be more cautious or inquisitive about aligning with a brand, but it was an opportunity missed. While Jeffrey Jampol, who manages the estates of the Doors and Janis Joplin, said the Death Cab "brand" may have been hurt if the act had licensed music to a reality series such as "The Biggest Loser," no evidence was offered to support the theory.

Patsavas brought up indie-pop act Of Montreal, who raised the ire of its fanbase after licensing content to Outback Steakhouse, yet that move hasn't seemed to have affected the band's sales. The group's recent "Skeletal Lamping" scored a top-40 debut on the U.S. pop charts, entering at No. 38 after selling 12,000 copies in its first week, according to Billboard.

An audience member went so far as to ask if her band erred in licensing music to reality series "Living Lohan," but moderator Bill Werde, Billboard editorial director, speculated that audiences wouldn't hold such a move against the act, even as Jampol warned against it. The manager suggested that while young bands seem more eager to exploit their catalog, they should do so only if it aligns with their lifestyles -- not to do it just to take a paycheck.

Otherwise, Jampol seemed to hint, there may never be another act with the cultural impact of a Nirvana. He went so far as to suggest that no band had managed its brand as carefully in the past 18 years as Nirvana -- "not even Radiohead," although he didn't expand on the topic.

But large and unfounded pronouncements aside, the panel offered little in the way of thought-provoking discussion. Jampol spoke in grand cliches, tossing out the generic line that record label business is hurting, but music business is doing just fine, and Lionsgate president Jay Faires, president of music/publishing at Lionsgate, hyped the upcoming Rob Zombie song for "Punisher: War Zone."

Having Patsavas on the panel, who currently has the No. 1 album in the U.S. with the soundtrack to "Twilight," could have prompted some discussion about future models for record labels. Her Chop Shop is affiliated with Atlantic, which is part of the Warner Music Group, but the pros/cons -- and long-term effects -- of such business arrangements weren't discussed.

Instead, the panel focused on bigger-issue questions, such as how will the economy affect budgets for licensing music? Answer: Unclear, but expect people to try to pay less for music.

-- Todd Martens

Related: TheWB.com's 'Rockville, CA' has a musical hook


For the record: An earlier version of this blog misidentified Bill Werde's title.