A while back, maybe a few months ago, I posted a music video from Feist’s song “1234”. Now this song has become virtually inescapable thanks to the Apple ad for the new iPod Nano. When I first saw this ad, I was really excited for her. Her most recent album is fantastic and now getting the attention it truly deserved.

What’s incredibly interesting, at least for me anyway, is how it took a tv commercial to make this song the hit it deserves to be. A blog that I’ve recently discovered and has quickly become a daily read is by a music industry analyst (maybe ranter is a better word) named Bob Lefsetz. He made some brilliant observations regarding this commercial and how it is an example the lack of exposure of great music by conventional music outlets. Here are some tasty bits (pardon the french):

Once again, we don’t have a piracy problem in the music business, we’ve got an EXPOSURE problem. Leslie Feist’s album was released on May 1st. It was a must buy amongst hipsters. But those not in the know had NO CLUE! All it needed was a bit of exposure.

Back in the day, as the kids are so fond of saying, radio would have given this record a chance. Maybe featured it on a “Smash it or trash it?” segment. That was back when radio was run by innovators, when the program directors were music fans as opposed to wannabe general managers worried about ad sales. Or when we were all addicted to FM stations that were the heartbeat of society as opposed to calcified museums of what was played THIRTY YEARS AGO!

You wonder why we can’t sell music? BECAUSE THERE’S NOWHERE TO HEAR IT!

Oh, believe me, if they had the VMAs NEXT WEEK they’d feature Feist. But a month ago, if her label had called up Christine Norman she would have LAUGHED! Our RESEARCH tells us our audience is not interested. She’s too OLD!

But then Apple makes the record a hit, and EVERYBODY WANTS HER!

Isn’t it funny that “1234” sounds NOTHING LIKE what’s on the radio. But APPLE chooses it for its ads. Aren’t major corporations supposed to play it safe? Go with brand names? FAMILIARITY? But that wouldn’t fit with Apple’s image, as a cutting edge corporation. They need the new and different.

I don’t want to get into a deep analysis of commercial tie-ins. Unlike the labels and agencies who tell you you should just make the deal, it’s VERY COMPLICATED! Depending mostly on whether it’s about breaking through or going on a victory lap. What’s more interesting is how the pillars of the business have lost their way, are in decay. The majors won’t sign and promote a Feist. Radio won’t play it. And brick and mortar retail won’t stock it. In other words, you can’t hear it and you can’t buy it. Great formula for success.

Let’s not revel in the success of “1234”, let it be evidence how fucked up things are. It’s not about radio and TV now embracing the track and the act, but figuring out how we can make it easier for the public to hear new and different music and ACQUIRE IT!

As someone who seeing things from a band’s perspective, I certainly don’t fault Feist for licensing her music to Apple for the ad. As Lefsetz points out, most of the conventional outlets for getting music out there are totally broken, or severely neutered at best. Bob is also right, no radio stations touched that song before it was on the Apple ad. MTV or VH1 wouldn’t have even pondered giving the song a chance (even though the video is pure genius). Simply put, these kinds of opportunities are becoming the only ones left for artist these days to get their music heard. Even the critically acclaimed band Wilco licensed a song to Volkswagon for a commercial.

It’s fascinating (and scary) what’s happening in the music world. At least we’ll have Bob Lefsetz to entertain as we collectively nose dive towards our doom. ๐Ÿ™‚


19 thoughts on “1234

  1. Good post.

    I too have probably delusional interest of my band being successful, although we all work career type proper jobs. So I see this from arguably both sides.

    The counter point is doubtless that the internet has revolutionised stuff and people now hear about things by word of mouth through the internet, indeed I’ve heard of Wheat cos of you (and Jim) [and props on having the ‘told you so’ bragging rights on Feist :p]. But the problem with the internet is that its way too open, there’s no filter that then presents the better stuff to you, you’re left to find it yourself from an infinite sea of acts.

    My question is why wouldn’t MTV show the Feist video? Does that fall under the ‘she’s too old’ category?

    As for the ‘selling out’ tag, selling out is tailoring your artistic output to commercial influences; using commercially successful outlets to sell your genuine material and is not selling out.

  2. I was just going to say the same thing regarding the internet changing the rules of hearing music. I honestly don’t know what MTV plays and doesn’t anymore, or radio. I was made fun of for buying the new ROoney record. I didn’t know it is “uncool” or whatever. I liked their first record and bought their second…

    I listen to my CDs 99% of the time now anyway…and count on my hipper friends to help me stay in the know…

  3. Great post, Zach. Really interesting to hear your perspective on this. I remember reading a while back that your band passed on a Chevy ad (did I read this or am I delusional?) … I understand your decision, but I also think that acts like Feist and Wilco have to do whatever it takes to get their music heard. I wouldn’t blame them for agreeing to include their CD in a box of Cocoa Krispies.

    Maybe I’m naive, but I also think that great music will ultimately find a way to be heard, that musicians’ drive to find an audience and the audience’s drive to hear something of substance will eventually forge some kind of solution to the quagmire that is the music industy today.

    We tend to forget that before it became the problem, MTV was, for a period of time, the solution to the mess the music business had created for itself in the late 70’s.

  4. Kyle, that’s a great clip of rollins. he makes a great point but I think it’s a different scenario when you are still an active band. if i’m not mistaken, he only referenced bands that are no longer making records our touring on a regular basis.

    if this kind of opportunity came to us now, i’m not quite sure what we’d do. we have been offered car commercials in the past and have turned them down. i think we’ve generally stuck to a principle that we would do whatever we could to not commercialize our music. but with that being said, it is a much different world out there at the moment for bands like us and we’d certainly have to think twice before turning an opportunity like that down.

    at some point, somethings got to give. either fans start supporting their artists through by buying their music or bands should be given more leeway to use other or less conventional ways of profiting from their recorded material. the wilco scenario is a perfect example of this.

  5. Yeah, he wasn’t really specific as far as retired or active bands.

    In the past couple of years I’ve heard ‘musical secrets’ of mine in commercials for everything from Pontiac, to Apple, to AT&T, to Levi’s, to more things than I can remember. I’ve never felt slighted or betrayed by them. Actually I thought it was pretty kick-ass that their work was being recognized.

    I can’t imagine it would be any different for a band like yours. Just as long as it’s not for Hummer. ๐Ÿ˜€

  6. i think it makes perfect sense for them and I we’ll have to wait and see if it’s a model than can work for bands who aren’t radiohead. what we have to remember is that radiohead had the benefit of the old, more profitable major label model during the 90’s and early 00’s.

    i think maybe the better question to ask if a new “radiohead” would emerge from the current climate of the music business today? would any radio station or tv channel play “high and dry” or “fake plastic trees” nowadays?

  7. Hey Zach, i know my upcoming words dont belong here, cos this blog isnt about talking about business, but i just wanted to say that im looking forward for the next JEW album. hope it is good like the rest!!!
    is it possible to meet you one day personely when you tour thou germany next time?


  8. great question…it’s not fair to put this pressure on Rick Rubin; but I hoping he can make it happen over at columbia. we’ll see…

  9. steve, i don’t think rubin will be able to do much. what rubin doesn’t realize is that he’s attached at the hip to the old model because the old model is what has lined his pockets so nicely. when he produces records, his budgets are astronomical. the minute you hire him to produce your record, your budget goes nuts and the artist either doesn’t have much, if any, of the back end of their advance, or they are in that much deeper of a hole to climb out of in order to start seeing income from their record sales.

    granted, he’s shows an amazing ability to guide artists and produce fantastic records, but show me a time he’s done that for less than $250k.

    as a band moving forward, we are more interested in spending less. i know that’s crazy, but it just might work.

    if you read the new york times article on rubin, he’s immediately shopping for new buildings to house the label, and the buildings he’s looking at are not cheap by any means.

    if the music business wants to get serious, they are going to have to take a serious look at how the spend money. employees are getting fired while the execs still fly either first class or on private jets. execs stay in the nicest hotel in any given location they go to.

    execs need to stop thinking they deserve the bono treatment. that would be a nice first step, and it doesn’t really seem like rubin has caught on to that yet.

  10. the new album is great…

    i am driving home and find myself dancing to song #8… at first I was thinking to myself, “this is from the 80’s.”

    good stuff. thanks for blessing the world with great music.

  11. hey jim,
    my favorites are numer 9, 1 and 4. in this special order. but anyway, i think the whole album is great! and the price of the album is also ok! thanks for blessing us with great songs,mates! i cant wait them to come to germany again. i`ll definitely go to a show.

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