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Exposure to new music as simple as ‘1234’

“Grey’s Anatomy” is depleting my PayPal account. Not because I’m buying up episodes, but because every week there’s a new episode, there’s at least one song that sticks with me, which I then look up so handily on the show’s Web site and then download off iTunes.
Image: Patrick Dempsey.
“Grey’s Anatomy,” with its soft-eyed McDreamy, features plenty of heart-tugging moments accompanied by hot new music. Bryan Bedder / Getty Images file
/ Source: contributor

“Grey’s Anatomy” is depleting my PayPal account.

Not because I’m buying up episodes, but because every week there’s a new episode, there’s at least one song that sticks with me. At least one song that I can look up on the show's Web site and then download on iTunes.

This is the way I build my music library now.

Ingrid Michaelson’s “The Way I Am” and Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” I heard during pivotal moments from “Grey’s Anatomy.” I was inspired to buy the Dresden Dolls’ “Coin Operated Boy”  after seeing it at a "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" sing-along and later on YouTube. CSS’s “Music is My Hot, Hot Sex” would not leave my head after I saw the iTouch video.

Not too long ago, it was the radio that clued us into the next hot thing. That’s not to say there weren’t/aren’t other influences: DJ parties, clubs and being in the live music scene helped. Now, you’ve also got MySpace and other sites introducing new music. But there’s something about the spot-on pairing of visuals and music that is irresistible.

“Songs in ads are becoming a useful channel for people to hear new music, because ad agencies tend to be more adventurous with their choices,” said Charlie Moran, writer for Ad Age and a blogger on their site for Songs for Soap, which covers music branding. He came up with the list that gave top billing to Feist’s “1234” Nano commercial as the top ad song of 2007. “For differentiation and brand messaging, originality is important; for stations struggling to keep listeners, it's risky."

Commercials definitely have that effect on me. I know we live in a DVR age where it's easy to blitz past ads, but sometimes I let them run when a song has caught my ear.

Before I had a DVR, I would just watch shows as a kind of white noise because that’s the way I’ve always been. That’s how I discovered J. Ralph’s “One Million Miles Away,” which I found out about after being mesmerized by the “Graduate” homage VW commercial. I had to look it up and, of course, there’s a Web site for everything, including one to find the songs that run with commercials.

Sometimes, there is definite reason for deja-vu. Like when I fell in love with Ingrid Michaelson’s “The Way I Am” on “Grey’s Anatomy” only to find friends entranced by it later when it ran as part of an Old Navy sweater ad.

Music has the capacity to move people, to make the association stronger between product/movie/TV show and the song chosen for it. Maybe that’s why music supervisors and music production companies are doing some brisk business now. Think of any gadget out there and you’ve probably got some kind of tune that snaps in your head. It goes back to the days of the Madison Avenue jingles, but now ad agencies and video directors are borrowing from indie artists and popular songs. Why re-invent the wheel when there’s a song out there that’s perfect for your product? Or perfect once the pairing comes to life.

Just one example: Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” gave Cadbury a delectable new way to interpret its chocolate appeal (and distance itself from the “Miami Vice” association it had to a previous generation). Another: Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin” making a new impression with the last scene from “The Sopranos.”

Soundtracks have always been important for cementing the cinematic experience, but it’s never been easier to find out what that song is that's stuck in your head. Google is amazing, but so is Amazon for a quick hit of listings — and now TV shows’ Web sites make it even easier. Besides “Grey’s Anatomy,” other shows like “Smallville” and “Cold Case” have long understood the power of music on the viewer’s psyche. They’ve just made it easier to drop a buck on the download afterward.

“As mainstream media’s fragmented it makes it more difficult for bands to get exposure,” said Mike Tunnicliffe, who runs Tuna Music, based in New York and London.

With 25 years in the advertising business, Tunnicliffe is now an advisor to brands and artists, taking clients to companies who want to get into this space. “These days acts can come from almost from nowhere without major label involvement, via Myspace and those sorts of places,” Tunnicliffe said. “All of the models are breaking.”

He brings up some recent breakthroughs, like Death Cab for Cutie’s mainstream intro via “The O.C.” and Snow Patrol’s success with “Chasing Cars” on “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Check and check, I’ve bought those.

Tunnicliffe brought back Adam and the Ants as The Wolfmen, and exercised a strategy that would give them exposure as a new band through ads with Heineken Lite, spots on a Bravo TV show and “Britain’s Next Top Model.”

That’s not to say getting a song in a commercial or TV show is going to work out well for every band.

“It’s not the silver bullet for any band, but they help,” said Mike McGuire, a San Jose, Calif.-based analyst with Gartner Research focused on music. “What really matters is not just getting that, it’s playing tours, making sure you are out and about with your music.”

And since we’re so mobile with our music libraries, thanks to the success of the iPods and Zunes and other MP3 players (like those in cell phones), the easier it becomes to find music as quickly as possible, the more likely music will remain the bedrock of the ad industry. Not coincidentally, those companies that have the most to gain from our business in digital music have put out some of the most memorable ads.

Lately, the music has been more interesting than the storylines and scenes from my beloved medical soap opera.

I have to thank the writer’s strike for giving me a break in my finances, for which I fully support them. Hurry up and come back, though, because you can never have enough new music.