Everyone knows about that dude Tom Waits. Gravelly voiced, make your heart break in a million pieces singer songwriter artist with hobo beatnik persona.
You know what else he is? He’s smart enough to know that Tom Waits is also a guy with integrity, who knows the the thing he offers to the world--his talent--is unique, and shouldn’t be copied or stolen by anybody. And he’s willing to keep suing every time it happens to maintain that integrity.
Why won’t he get with the program? Music should be free for all, right? It’s not like this has any effect on him, or the ad industry. What’s the big whoop? He’s just a grumpy old man who should get with the times.
To this I say Bullshit. Followed by, way to go Tom Waits. Just because the times they are a changin’ doesn’t mean you have to change with them. In fact, you should rally against them if you want to maintain your own integrity, too. And thankfully other people still are.
We already met David Lowery . Now let's take Adam Weber. He is a partner and co-founder of New York City based Agent Jackson: A music boutique that prides itself on finding and retaining the best roster of musicians it can get its mitts on. Whenever they can, they create original music. Original content. (Full disclosure: Kidsleepy has worked with them, and they do indeed make that happen.)
Adam had a pretty strong take on the Free Culture movement and what it’s doing to advertising. Namely, it sucks. It's a negative dip that started early in the aughts and picked up its downward spiral trajectory in 2008. Not just on the rich rock stars with familiar names and their own recording industry. But on the musicians Weber works with at Agent Jackson in the music production industry, too.
Launched in 2003, Agent Jackson prides itself on collaborating with active musicians. Weber said they built the business slowly with a great reputation. Have worked on big brands and small alike, with the same treatment and approach. Choosing to remain boutique. The equivalent of an indie label not wanting to get swallowed up.
And while some of the declines in music production can be attributed to the current economy, that creates smaller budgets, Weber is quick to point out too, that “people are now just expecting to pay less for it either way.” Maybe with incidences like soundalikes happening more and more as David Lowery holds, the ethics have dropped along with the price.
No so with Weber. Agent Jackson refuses to create sound alike songs. To him “…That VW spot was the last straw. That infuriates me to no end. We take pride in working with artists who actually create music.” Asking musicians to create knock off songs “devalue the integrity of people who still hold value in original music.” And it seems the question is coming up more and more.
What’s even worse, Weber mentions is the rise of new music houses who are looking at the art the same way a teenager with a empty terabyte hard drive does: They don’t hold any value in the music, an treat it as a cheap commodity.
This type of production house that commodifies music are as exploitive as the record companies from days of yore, and as the Megauploads and Pirate Bays of today. Music houses of this kind “…they’ll go to local bands to get tracks from them. They get the music pre-cleared at $1500-2500 a pop, already licensed and ready to go." Musicians are undervaluing the price of their own music fearing their work will be ignored, because they are thrilled to get “exposure”
Exposure at what price, though. What a lot of bands don’t realize is that is that in exchange for so-called exposure, they’re not only being short changed, but are part of a tiered pricing scheme. Would a band be as enthusiastic if they knew their tracks were falling under the “mid-range,” or “el cheapo” pricing point? Most likely not. Yesterday’s Ok Go . Today’s needle drop stock song.
The value of music drops. Not just in home sound systems and on iPods, but on licensing, too.
For the production houses, Weber says, even securing a chance to do basic music for a retail spot is getting tougher.
“There are more than 250 companies out there. And fifty of them could be cold calling for the same job. Plus the opportunities for creating original music that is married to the concept of the spot (as opposed to retail) in that situation are few and far between.”
Despite the doom and gloom scenario, Weber and Agent Jackson find the greatest success "by cultivating the same relationships with agencies and clients as we do with our musicians." Simply put, they work with like-minded people. Creative directors who can really get the ear of the client.
Clients who still understand the value of a TV spot with a concept, and music created to fit the concept, and not just a hit slapped on top. And both agency and clients who understand that yes, as much as it smarts, you should have a music budget because you’ll get something that is right for the spot. Whether it’s licensed or created just for the commercial. It costs. But then quality always does. And that's true of the director, the cinematographer, the agency and the song. And for Weber it's the one-on-one approach that keeps the train from riding off the rails.
How long those like-minded people will still be here though is anyone's guess. Musicians like Tom Waits will keep rightly suing to protect their image, their livelihood or their "Brand." And Weber will keep his ethics where they belong and continue to say no to knock-offs, and try to keep the ad industry and its relatives out of the gutter the only way he knows how: Leading by example.
Someone’s got to carry the torch of respect. Even if it gets heavier each year.
See also Collateral Damage Part one: David Lowery
Collateral Damage Part Three: Rob Levine
Collateral Damage Part Four: Britta Phillips.