That syncing feeling
On the morning of Monday 24 January 2011, at a plushly-carpeted auditorium in the Palais des Festivals in Cannes, an audience of publishers, record labels and intrigued industry onlookers gathered to listen to scores of MP3s submitted by songwriters and encompassing every genre from heavy metal and hip-hop to ambient and electro.
The event was part of a ‘music pitch’ session at Midem 2011, the annual global music industry trade fair. The aim was to showcase new tracks for possible placement in films, TV series, adverts and videogames - a process known as synchronisation or ‘syncing’.
The beleaguered music industry is now focusing intently on syncing for fresh revenue. For many artists and songwriters meanwhile, syncing remains something of a holy grail, and a difficult nut to crack.
But examples abound of the profound effect that an expertly-placed track can have on artists’ careers. In 2006, Snow Patrol’s US fortunes received a colossal boost when the track Chasing Cars was used in the US television medical drama Grey’s Anatomy. And in 2009, when UK indie band Noisettes had their single Don’t Upset The Rhythm Baby (Go Baby Go) featured in both a Mazda advertisement and BBC TV’s long-running soap EastEnders, the track reached number 1 in the iTunes download chart.
Well-sync’d tracks can attain near-iconic status, with both music and visuals lending mutual gravitas and meaning. Here, MusicRadar selects ten of the most enduring sync successes ever…
The New Seekers - I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony) (1971)
The idea for this colossally successful television campaign came from Bill Backer, advertising executive with McCann Erickson. Backer allegedly wrote the line ‘I’d like to buy the world a Coke’ on a napkin after being delayed at Shannon Airport in Ireland and noticing a group of teenagers talking and joking while drinking Coca-Cola.
The resulting advertisement featured a collection of multi-cultural young people standing on a hilltop and singing while holding bottles of Coke. It exuded a message of love and hope, and captured the zeitgeist of the time. The song was re-recorded without the Coca-Cola references, reaching number 1 in the UK and number 7 in the US.
WATCH: Coca-Cola ‘Hilltop’ TV ad
Honeybus - I Can't Let Maggie Go (1968)
The track chosen by British Bakeries to convey the calorie-reducing potential of its Nimble bread was this breezy 1968 hit by British pop combo Honeybus, which featured the line ‘She flies like a bird in the sky’.
In a rather literal attempt to drum the point home, Nimble girl Emily Jones was filmed dangling from a red and white Nimble balloon as it rose over an Alpine mountainside. The ad caught the public’s attention but did little for the fortunes of the long-disbanded Honeybus, who found themselves pigeonholed as one-hit wonders.
WATCH: Nimble Bread TV ad
The Commodores - Easy (1977)
In this TV advertisement for the Halifax bank, the first loft-living yuppy most of us had ever clapped eyes on wakes on a Sunday morning and saunters off to the local hole-in-the-wall machine for cash to buy milk for his famished cat.
The relaxed vibe is perfectly enhanced by the wonderfully carefree strains of the 1977 hit Easy, performed by the Commodores and penned by Lionel Ritchie, which reached number 15 in the UK charts following its subsequent re-release.
The Hollies - He 'Aint Heavy, He's My Brother (1969)
Proof, if it were needed, that an outstanding song can inject real weight and sentiment into a television ad campaign. Here, a man’s rather innocuous journey to the pub is cut with stylised imagery of an imposing mock-band who appear to have been carved from granite.
The Hollies’ He ‘Aint Heavy, He’s My Brother was first released in 1969, reaching number 3 in the UK and number 7 in the US, and re-released following the ad campaign, climbing to number 1 in the UK charts in September 1988. The session musician hired to play piano on the track back in 1969 was none other than Elton John.
Stiltskin - Inside (1994)
The 19th century American West is the setting for this classic advertisement, in which two young Amish women chance upon a muscular cowpoke taking a dip in a desert watering hole. This initially sombre ad takes a more playful and witty twist as the ponderous intro recedes and the grunge-by-numbers track kicks in.
Stiltskin were formed by Peter Lawlor, who wrote the music for Levis and was looking for a band to perform it. The single topped the UK charts in 1994 and the band achieved some success in the US and Europe before splitting in 1996.
Wet Wet Wet - Love Is All Around (1994)
Written by Reg Presley for his band The Troggs, this track reached number 5 in the UK in 1967 and No7 in the US in 1968. Over a quarter of a century later it enjoyed a spectacular renaissance when it was re-recorded by Scottish pop outfit Wet Wet Wet and spent 15 weeks at number 1 in the UK singles chart, an achievement fuelled by its use in the blockbuster comedy drama Four Weddings And A Funeral.
No-one was happier than Reg Presley, who allegedly spent some of the subsequent royalties on crop circle research.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - Our House (1970)
There are moments when the original sentiment of a song becomes so obliterated in its re-used form that you ponder the ethics of syncing. Such is the case with Graham Nash’s 1970 paean to Joni Mitchell, in which he charts his moral struggle between the notion of hippy free love and the desire for a monogamous relationship.
Here, the song is appropriated by UK bank Halifax in its most literal sense, to sell mortgages. Despite this, the feel-good slant and the inventive stunt of using humans as physical and emotional building blocks pays off.
Snow Patrol - Chasing Cars (2006)
The Northern Ireland band’s biggest-selling single to date was released in the UK and US in the summer of 2006 and given a colossal boost stateside when it was featured in the second season of TV medical drama Grey’s Anatomy. The track was then made into a music video for the show to promote the third season.
For the band meanwhile, the exposure led to a larger listening audience as the track pushed its way into the US charts. Singer Gary Lightbody wrote the song after a drinking session at his producer’s house and says it is his “purest love song”.
Noisettes - Don't Upset The Rhythm (Go Baby Go) (2009)
The maddeningly-infectious second single from this UK band has been widely played on BBC TV’s EastEnders and was used in a 2009 campaign for the Mazda 2. These commercial tie-ins helped to give the band their first breakthrough and fuelled sales of their album Wild Young Hearts.
The song entered the UK chart at number 2, reached the number 1 slot in the iTunes downloads chart and made number 4 in Billboard and Music & Media magazine’s European Hot 100 Singles chart.
WATCH: Mazda TV advertisement
Iggy Pop - Lust For Life (1977)
Whereas the appearance of some sync’d tracks in films is laughably brief, this unbridled, visceral title track from Iggy Pop’s 1977 album is in at the very start of the film and, in many ways, has come to define its spirit.
The stylish and witty adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel about heroin use through the darkest recesses of Edinburgh life was a critical and box office success, and Lust For Life - co-written by Pop and David Bowie - benefited from the reflected glory.
WATCH: Iggy Pop - Lust For Life
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