Music Industry

Why Big Acts Are Willing to Sell Their Music to Big Brands (Yes, It’s About the Money, But…)

The headline in Adweek sums everything up: easy money and a way to appeal to new audiences.

Back when people still acquired music by purchasing pieces of plastic, artists–even older retired ones–could expect to see healthy royalty cheques in the mail every few months. A hit album or even a hit song was like an annuity that paid out big dividends year after year.  Hell, for a while, The Doors sold almost 2 million copies of each of their albums ever year. And think about how much money a song like “Wild Thing” (the Troggs song) or “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen must have earned over the decades.

Since 2001, those royalty cheques have gotten smaller and smaller as fewer and fewer people buy CDs. Doesn’t that explain all those senior artists who come out against iTunes and music streaming services? And it also explains why so many older acts are still on the road. They gotta make some money, even if it makes playing the casino circuit.

This also explains why we’re seeing even the biggest stars of the past license their material for use in commercials. Advertisers are willing to pay big, big dollars to have a famous song in one of their commercials. Even AC/DC–a band that was a long-time holdout in this arena–took money (and a LOT of it) from Telus for giving “Thunderstruck” to one of their phone commercials.

Led Zeppelin allowed “Rock and Roll” to be used to sell

But there’s more to this than just the money. With fewer under-25s listening to terrestrial radio and with video channels not playing music anymore, commercials like these–TV and increasingly, YouTube pre-rolls–help the acts reach new, younger audiences.

So is this really “selling out” or just adapting to the new realities of the music business?  I go with the latter.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38553 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “Why Big Acts Are Willing to Sell Their Music to Big Brands (Yes, It’s About the Money, But…)

  • I’ve always thought the term “sell out” was unfair when applied to someone who at the end of the day is simply making a living.


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