Remember when “selling out” was the ultimate betrayal? When licensing music for commercials, or video games, or Gilmour Girls was seen as career suicide for indie bands? Remember when record sales and touring alone were viable sources of income for mid-level acts? When people still learned about new, exciting bands from places other than iPod ads?
No? Neither do I.
Since the rise of illegal downloading and corresponding decline of major label dominance, selling music to corporations has not only become an accepted business model for indies, but essential to their survival. Below are 10 acts that played the game right and won—bands that became famous because they were on commercials.
The best of Apple
Feist – “1, 2, 3, 4”
Despite years of popularity in her home and native Canada—before Apple used “1, 2, 3, 4” to huck iPod Nanos—Leslie Feist was best known internationally for her work with Broken Social Scene. These days, Feist is a soul-crooning powerhouse in her own right.
Yael Naim – “New Soul”
Where would Yael Naim be without Apple? Thanks to her appearance in a 2008 Macbook Air ad, Naim became the first ever-Israeli artist to crack the US billboard top 10.
Ting Tings – “Shut Up and Let Me Go”
The Ting Tings were already enjoying moderate success in the UK when their music was featured in an ad for next-gen iPods. After the commercial however, the electro-pop duo became wildly popular across the pond where “Shut Up and Let Me Go” reached number one on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Songs—once and for all proving that there is no accounting for taste.
Chairlift – “Bruises”
One of Apple’s most surprising choices was also one of their best. Though Chairlift may never be a household name, their song’s appearance in Apple’s “nano-chromatic” commercial helped introduce the twosome to a vastly wider audience. Six years later they’re still making top-notch art—which is a lot more than we can say about some synth-pop duos on this list…
Jet – “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?”
It’s hard to believe it, but Jet is the band that started it all. Back in 2003, “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” was the first song to be featured in the now iconic iPod ad where iPod-wielding silhouettes dance to a band’s music in front of brightly coloured backgrounds. With their brash, swaggering, sound, Jet were the perfect band to announce the arrival of the new apple-era.
The Other Guys
Phoenix – “1901”: Cadillac SRX
When you think about it, Phoenix teaming up with Cadillac makes a whole lot of sense. They both make sleek, upscale products for urbane customers, and they’ve both been at it for a while. Thanks to Cadillac, a timely feature on SNL, and a few other TV spots, Phoenix became one of the biggest bands in the world back in ’09.
Matt and Kim – “Daylight”: Bacardi, Comcast Xfinity, Mars Bar
With its stuttering rhythms, joyous melodies and vaguely rebellious lyrics (“We cut the legs off of our pants / Threw our shoes into the ocean”) is it any surprise this song was such a hit with both admen and TV-watching audiences back in 2008?
Born Ruffians – “Little Garçon”: American Express
Born Ruffians working with American Express may look weird on paper, but it’s hard to argue with results. Since Amex introduced Midland, Ontario’s finest commercial game, they’ve had no shortage of other TV offers. (Sadly the commercial’s been taken down from YouTube so you’ll have to suffer through the album-version instead).
Passion Pit – “Take A Walk”: Taco Bell (Doritos Taco-Bell Fusion)
Taco Bell wanted something stomping and indie-ish for their Doritos Taco-Bell Fusion ad. Passion Pit wanted a truck full of money to buy Doritos Tacos with. That’s what I call a mutually beneficial relationship!
Heems – “New York Remix Song”: Glaceau Vitamin Water
Okay, so this didn’t actually launch any careers. Also it’s not a real song. Still, I’m going to give it a pass for being an excellent example of a musician raising their profile through an ad. Written for a Japanese audience, the 80 second ad features Heems (formerly of Das Racist) rapping about New York’s signature remixes, including sushi-nails, baby-car exercising, and fish-men.
Writer’s note: I had to watch a whole lot of youtube ads in order to get to the iPod ads I wanted for this post. That’s ads on top of ads! And while some of them also had nice music, they mostly just made me sad/want to try Coors Lite’s new vented can. Show your appreciation for my incredible sacrifice and share your own favourite commercials featuring alt music in the comments section below.