Artists Use TV to Sell New Songs
NEW YORK (AP) – For one week this summer, Bruce Springsteen was the biggest star on television.
There he was in Asbury Park, N.J., where the “Today” show transplanted itself for a day to watch him perform. Ted Koppel interviewed him on “Nightline.” Two nights in a row, Springsteen and his E Street Band were featured on David Letterman’s “Late Show.”
The appearances were timed to coincide with the release of Springsteen’s album, “The Rising,” and the exposure paid off. The disc sold 526,000 copies its first week, the strongest debut of his career.
Springsteen’s small-screen blitz made plain a change that might surprise generations that spent hours cranking the car stereo or hooked up to a Walkman: Television ó and not just MTV ó has supplanted radio as the chief means of exposing new music, particularly for veteran artists.
“You’ve just about got to do it for people to know that you have a record out,” said singer Tom Petty, who was on “Today” earlier this month. “You’ve got to spread the word however you can.”
Springsteen and Petty’s most loyal fans aren’t likely to be reading music magazines or visiting music stores every week to see what’s new. They have jobs, kids, mortgages to worry about.
But they probably watch TV ó perhaps “Today” while gulping their morning coffee, or Letterman just before drifting off to sleep.
At the same time, shrinking radio playlists have less room for new music. Far more radio stations are likely to play James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain,” for example, than take a chance on his new single.
So Taylor spread his easygoing charm liberally before the cameras ó “The View,” “Today,” “The Charlie Rose Show,” “60 Minutes II,” on CNN and tabloid entertainment shows. He sang the song, “On the 4th of July,” on NBC on a Fourth of July special.
Taylor’s new album, “October Road,” surprised many in the music industry by debuting at No. 5, his best start ever.
Television networks once synonymous with music ó MTV and VH1 ó are important for viewers under age 30. But they don’t play videos that often anymore, and are less crucial for veteran artists than they were 10 or 15 years ago.
“The video thing has become irrelevant,” Petty said. “They really don’t play videos that much on the video channels, so it’s almost become not worth your while to make one.”
Not every artist can command a half hour on “Today” or a handshake from Letterman. Still, TV opportunities abound, especially for good performers, said publicist Marilyn Laverty, the architect of Springsteen’s campaign.
“It’s become possible for artists who have quality and are well known to have something of a saturation,” she said.
David Bowie touted his new disc on A&E’s “Live By Request.” Bravo has started a musician’s version of “Inside the Actor’s Studio.” PBS’ “Austin City Limits” is another popular performance show.
Music marketers know other places to look where people wouldn’t expect. CNBC’s “Power Lunch” often features musicians in the summer, with a captive audience of Wall Street executives. Emeril Lagasse’s cooking show has guest musicians. Local morning shows are grateful to book celebrities.
Prime-time dramas and comedies are eager for music, too. Songs by Norah Jones, whose debut album has sold 1.5 million copies, were in the background on “The West Wing,” “Providence,” “Crossing Jordan” and “Dawson’s Creek.”
That may not sell many discs by itself, but it tells viewers that “this girl’s everywhere,” said Zach Hochkeppel, marketing director at Blue Note Records.
“A lot of these older folks have kind of given up as music consumers,” Hochkeppel said. “You have to sneak in there and get in their psyche without them knowing.”
Stepping beyond background music, Jakob Dylan’s Wallflowers appeared on an episode of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” this season. Aimee Mann performed at a political rally on “The West Wing.”
One big factor in Taylor’s success was a whimsical advertisement that featured the musician walking into a guitar shop as a young salesman struggles for the chords to “Fire and Rain.” Unrecognized, Taylor grabs a guitar and sings a few lines from “October Road.”
Many artists are reluctant to make commercials.
“We asked very, very nicely,” said Larry Jenkins, senior vice president at Columbia Records. “We just felt it was something that would have a big impact, and James was gracious enough to do it.”
Singer Tracy Chapman wouldn’t mind a commercial that showed the cover of her album or a performance snippet. But she isn’t about to act.
“There was talk of me being in a commercial and that didn’t feel very comfortable to me,” said Chapman, who released a new disc this month. “We couldn’t think of a way of doing it in a dignified manner.
“I feel like that’s the record company’s job ó to sell what I made,” she said. Yet recent successes tied to commercial exposure are breaking down barriers. Musicians noticed that Sting’s last disc doubled in sales in a few months after the song “Desert Rose” was featured in a Jaguar ad. Moby licensed every one of the songs on his “Play” album for commercial purposes and it boosted sales with little damage to his reputation.
Even Bob Dylan made an ad for his last album that depicted him playing poker.
Sheryl Crow seemingly hasn’t turned down a TV opportunity this year. She’s sung at the Super Bowl, at a NASCAR race and carried her guitar into the “Big Brother” house on CBS. She also filmed an American Express commercial at the same time she made a video for “Soak Up the Sun.”
Some marketers say there’s a danger of overexposure on TV. Crow’s campaign has raised some eyebrows.
“There is always the issue of how much is too much, and what is crossing the line,” said Steve Berman, senior executive at the Interscope Records family. “She’s been very gung ho and aggressive. She’s very proud of this album and is working very hard behind it. She wants to get it out there, and it’s a very challenging environment in which to do that.”
All the efforts count for nothing if the product isn’t good. But in a business where first impressions are increasingly important, Laverty knows the Springsteen campaign hit its mark.
“Television definitely had a lot to do with the audience’s awareness of the record that week,” she said.
Artists Use TV to Sell New Songs