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Is old music ‘killing’ new music..? And if so, what does that mean for music in media and advertising?

Last month, author Ted Gioia wrote a blog post titled ‘Is Old Music Killing New Music?’ in which he states that old songs now represent 70% of the (US) music market. The main point of his argument was that this is really bad news for the development of new music and new artists. He argues that “never before in history have new songs attained hit status while generating so little cultural impact.” and that  “success was always short-lived in the music business, but now it hardly makes a ripple on the attention spans of the mass market.” The reason for this is claimed to be a lack of nurturing of new artists by record labels and publishers, due to the favoring of massive investments that are being made in music rights of established artists and composers.

Gioia’s article directly relates to an interesting development in the music industry that has become a steady headline-generator in the past years. It’s all about the selling of entire music catalogs by major artists. Every week, there are new reports of artists who made their way to fame a long time ago and are now choosing to sell the rights to their catalog to major publishers like Sony, Warner Chappell, Universal, and new players like Hipgnosis. This week it was Neil Diamond who chose to sell the publishing and master rights, but many have gone before him; artists like Sting, Bob Dylan, Shakira, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks, all decided to sell the rights to their music in recent years.

Quoted in this response article, music strategist Dan Fowler further elaborates: “Proactively investing in new talent may make less and less sense from a pure short-medium term business perspective, but this will also have a chilling effect on the overall development of our industry. Unfortunately it is somewhat of a free-rider market failure in that new talent is of course essential for the development of the industry but investment in emerging artists at an individual level is likely seeing decreasing returns within the streaming paradigm.”

Basically, in today’s music streaming ecosystem, investing in new artists doesn’t make much financial sense anymore.

So What Does This Mean For Music in Sync?


For music companies that operate in sync, there are different reasons for choosing an old or a new song. When it comes to their effectiveness and impact in media, both have their own strengths and weaknesses. One of the key functions of music in media is to trigger a certain emotion, which is often established by recognition. Because of the factor of audience-familiarity, older, famous songs are popular with advertisers, brands, film companies and trailer makers. A positive emotion being linked to a product through a song that their customer base already knows and loves, is a very valuable factor for an advertiser. Who doesn’t remember this commercial for Bavaria, for example.

And the same goes for a film producer using a well known song in an important scene of a film. It triggers recognition and nostalgia, while also giving an opportunity to match lyrics to the narrative on screen. Because of this effect, it’s become an unwritten rule that film scenes about flying a helicopter in the Vietnam War must always be accompanied by ‘Fortunate Son’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Where these two categories collide is in film marketing. Well known songs have become a staple in trailers and teasers for feature films to persuade global audiences into going to the movie theater. Like when Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ was used in the theatrical marketing for The Matrix Resurrections last year.

At the same time, there is tremendous value for new music in film and advertising. For an advertiser, working with an artist on brand new music ensures that there will forever exist a unique connection between the piece of music and the product or brand. Something that is more difficult to accomplish with older music. When a piece of music is irreversibly linked to a product, that product will be in people’s thoughts any time they hear that piece of music, as a new song can be customized to fit the exact parameters and personality of that brand.

And at the same time, working with a ‘relatively’ unknown artist can be a way for a production company to reduce costs, because licensing a well known hit song can be relatively costly. Plus, it is often a really great opportunity for an artist to expose a bigger audience to their art when their music is played in an ad, feature film or VOD series. Many new artists have a sync placement to thank for a gigantic career boost. Back in 2003, this Apple Ipod add ensured that everyone around the world had ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl’ by Jet imprinted in their minds for a long time.

The Role of Music Supervisors


Everyone who is active in the music industry benefits from a rich, dynamic, and sustainable music ecosystem. If the development of new artists and music isn’t properly supported, we’ll still be listening to the same songs fifty years from now.

The role that music supervisors play in this game is to find and recognize songs that are relevant for a specific audience and match them to the moving image. Mostly that means selecting music that is meaningful to that audience. For example, playing the right music at the right time can be used to send a powerful message or to make a statement. And with the right timing, new music also has a great chance of becoming impactful through their use in visual media.

At Clear Music, we’re always on top of new artists and developments in music, and we also know our way around back catalogs and classic hit repertoire. In the end it’s all a matter of finding the perfect fit for a project.

So if you are in need of the perfect song for an ad campaign, film trailer, or documentary, reach out and we’ll make it happen!