A Rant About Music in Commercials

A Rant about Music in Advertising and Forced Associations:

While I think mostly commercials are derivative junk, they do on occasion strike some semblance of artistry. This commercial, for some new LG phone, is not one of the commercials. But the ad guys did pick a good song for it. And while mostly I don’t like it when misuse an artist’s music by falsely connecting their songs with an image that I’d rather they create or I create on my own, Laura Veirs’ “I Can See Your Tracks” is a strong enough track to stand on its own and pull away from the all-new smart phone for the American consumer with a hole in his heart.

I think I might will be getting a bit on a rant, “I Can See Your Tracks” actually stands as a good footpoint for my argument.

When I listen to music, I instinctively create an image, an idea to go with it. Essentially a soundtrack to an imaginary world. I connect jazz with the red brown of autumn, Motown with summer nights’ trafiic lights, tribal drums with rain storms. These associations are borne out of experiences and moods.

But when a song is connected with a commercial, I immediately lose the freedom to create these associations; there are instead presented to me forcefully. Thankfully commercials’ pastiche is usually so generic that all of it is easy to ignore or songs I already knew had their own associations. Thankfully, I don’t connect the Dodos’ “Fools” with lime-flavored light beer and randomly moving bottles because I’ve already connected to summer joy-rides with friends, a connection that absolutely strengthens the song for me. Had I heard “Fools” via the Miller commercial, there’s no guarantee that that association would have ever been made, weakening or ruining the song’s personally affecting nature.

This is especially true of the recent LG commercial using Joanna Newsom’s absolutely incredible “Bridges and Balloons” with some little shitheads putting on a neighborhood play with the help of the parents’ all-new communication device with the comfort of voice-to-text texing–making everything easy and bringing everyone together under the umbrella of fabricated childhood! Harsh words to be sure, but the commercial does the song not even the slightest semblance of justice. It may be because the connections I have with this song are deeply felt and have nothing to do some Where the Wild Things Are knock-off, but I can’t help and outright mentally and physically reject the image I’ve been presented. The saddest thing of all is that as a result of hearing that commercial, my first thoughts linger to that little fabrication of a play entirely through no will or desire of my own. The song used to be about lost potential, silly, misplaced love and sitting in a car with someone you genuinely like and talking about nothing.

Now it’s about a goddamn phone.

As a brief mention, I also explicitly didn’t buy a Blackberry (when I could have saved money by doing so) for their mangling of both the song and meaning of “All You Need is Love.”

Or maybe the evolution of indie music and advertising is missing the point on both ends. It began with Nick Drake and the Volkswagen Cabrio, a commercial I will stand behind. This is because I think its one of the rare ads that is artistically viable and could likely function as a music video for the song. The association it makes, between “Pink Moon” and driving nowhere during a long night, is one that I’m happy to have and one I regularly purport on my own. There’s probably many who are as indignant about the Cabrio ad as I am about the LG one, but I think there’s a definite difference: it’s clear that the music in the Cabrio ad was the original focus, while the LG one could have anything in it and be just as effective. It’s clear that there was artistic respect for Mr. Drake.

In fact, the Cabrio in that ad could be any car and it’d have the same meaning. While that might not exactly make a great ad, its respectability comes from its artistry, or at the very least its respect for artistry. Something virtually dead in advertising. (And yes, even Apple’s ads could be put in the LG category.)

The argument for it is of course that the artists need the money and they need the exposure. It’s a hard argument to counter. The music industry is making less money than ever and artists are getting all that they can. There’s no easy solution and there’s certainly no easy compromise. In fact, it’d seem the easiest solution is to support the artists you like. And support the good ads. God knows they’re rare enough. In a perfect world, the artist and advertiser would work together to get an easy medium and ads wouldn’t be so afraid to be art. In a perfect world.

As for me, I’m not buying from LG for a long, long while.

(and if anyone uses The National or Sufjan in a commercial then I’ll just give up buying things entirely.)

So then there’s the Laura Veirs commercial, similarly for an LG phone and a commercial that upon hearing, my friend thought was Joanna Newsom. I told him, no but I did really like whatever it was. It was easy and calming and my mind made an image of a snowy mountain. I was watching my computer at the time, so I actually never saw the commercial during this exchange. Upon later looking it up, I had to ask my roommate what it was for–what the actual product, the thing they were trying to sell me. It seemed to me that someone wasn’t doing their job. But it was ultimately to my benefit. I got exposed to Veirs and her excellent July Flame, an album that I missed way back in January.

The song’s a good one and if you read through that mess of writing, here’s your reword–in mp3 format.

Laura Veirs – I Can See Your Tracks {download}

I realize I made a previous post defending commercials and advertising, but I’d like to make the distinction that I do not outright reject the use of indie music in advertising–only its misuse.
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