How to get ahead in music: Make an ad!

Artists whose tracks are used in television adverts often find instant fame and riches after years of obscurity, while having to face accusations of selling out. By Ciar Byrne

Wednesday 23 November 2005 01:00 GMT

Dandy Warhols, VODAFONE

The indie band vanished from view following the success of their debut single, "Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth", containing the killer line "Heroin is so passé". Then in 2000, the track "Bohemian Like You" was featured on a Vodafone advert. The commercial deal gave the band the break they had been waiting for and sales of their album Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia went through the roof.

In 1995, the Warhols had released their psychedelic debut album Dandys Rule OK, followed in 1997 by Come Down, which sealed their rock'n'roll reputation, although it received little radio airtime. A third album, Black, was canned the same year "because we had reached a point where we weren't progressing", according to the guitarist Peter Holstrom.

For the next three years, little was heard of the band from Portland, Oregon, which also comprises the singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor, the bassist and keyboard player Zia McCabe and the drummer Brent DeBoer. When they initially released "Bohemian Like You", the song charted at number 41 and could not even be revived by a year-long tour. Then the ad agency WCRS chose the song as the backing track to Vodafone's marketing campaign, propelling it to number five in the charts.

The band has vehemently denied selling out. Taylor-Taylor said that "grumpy little indie Nazis are good people to piss off", while DeBoer modestly insisted: "As far as I'm concerned, Vodafone saved rock'n'roll. The most guitar-oriented music on British TV at that time was Robbie Williams."

Whatever the rights or wrongs, the deal bought the Warhols the financial freedom to carry on experimenting. One of the band's latest projects was the film DiG! The movie, about their rivalry with San Francisco rockers the Brian Jonestown Massacre, was a box-office success, winning a Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.


It may be difficult to remember a time when Coldplay were not one of the biggest bands in the world. But in 2000, Chris Martin and his band mates were still relative unknowns in America. Then the US television network ABC decided to adopt the track "Yellow" from their debut album, Parachutes, as its signature tune. For months, viewers were exposed to the ditty at every possible opportunity and hence a global success story was born.

Following the extensive advertising campaign, Coldplay featured in Billboard magazine's list of the best-selling British acts in the US in the first quarter of 2001 and in the list of top-grossing performers from the UK. In the three months following the ABC promotion, the band sold 333,000 copies of their first album in the US - compared 97,000 copies in the first quarter of 2000.

Thanks to this early exposure, Coldplay has enjoyed phenomenal success in the US with third album X&Y. The album made the top 10 in the Billboard chart and has sold 7.5m copies worldwide, helping EMI to record its first sales increase since 2000. With the release of the first song from the album, "Speed of Sound", Coldplay became the first British band since the Beatles to go straight into the US top 10.

Lead singer Martin's profile in the US has also been helped by the fact that he is married to Hollywood star Gwyneth Paltrow.

Coldplay's 2003 North American tour grossed £4.3m - a far cry from the band's early days when Martin, Jonny Buckland, Guy Berryman and Will Champion met at University College, London in 1996.

Looper, XEROX

Formed by one of the founding members of the much more successful Glasgow art school rockers Belle and Sebastian, Looper do not even have a record deal. But the Scottish band has netted itself around £500,000 in royalties after the US photocopying giant Xerox selected one of its tracks as its signature tune.

Three years ago, executives from the company discovered the electronic instrumental "Mondo 77" and it has been used as a soundtrack to Xerox advertising campaigns ever since.

A spokeswoman for the company said: "The song's simplicity, energy, modern style and sense of humour made it an important element that worked well with the communications objectives of the commercials."

Stuart David, the bass player with Belle and Sebastian, whose hits include "Dear Catastrophe Waitress", formed Looper in 1997 with his wife, Kam. It was originally intended as a side project, and they initially signed to the British record company Jeepster. When that closed five years ago, they struck a five-album deal with Mute, the label behind Goldfrapp and Depeche Mode. But they subsequently parted company with Mute and are currently working on an album that will only be available as a download.

David said: "It brings in enough for us to have been able to treat it as being our job."


When the late singer-songwriter Nick Drake's song "Pink Moon" was featured in a Volkswagen advert, it stirred up a controversy over whether the cult musician's music had been cheapened by being placed in such a commercial context. Others argued that the advert brought Drake some long overdue attention.

When the singer died from an overdose of prescription drugs in 1974, aged 26, he had sold just a few thousand records. The artist who was depressed during his lifetime over his lack of fame has gone on to become an inspiration for musicians and film stars ranging from Brad Pitt to Norah Jones, who recorded a cover of his track "Day is Done". This year he posthumously enjoyed his first Top 40 hit when the single "Magic" went into the charts at number 32.

The cult surrounding Drake did not begin until five years after his death with the release of Fruit Tree, a box set of his three albums, Pink Moon, Bryter Later and Five Leaves Left.

In 2000, the singer was exposed to a mainstream audience when Volkswagen chose to use the single "Pink Moon". The car commercial showed teenagers driving around listening to the track in a scenario reminiscent of the hit drama Dawson's Creek. Within weeks, the song was sitting high in the US charts, and his albums sold 150,000 copies in the year after the ad.


The Glasgow indie rockers scooped £250,000 in 2003 when the jean manufacturer Levi's used their single "Summer" in an advert during American football's Super Bowl clash. The band's lead singer, Stuart Braithwaite, accused critics of musical snobbery and denied the group had sold out.

The high-profile commercial, which launched Levi's new "No 1" jeans, exposed the 1995 single to a global audience. Braithwaite said the rock group had viewed the advert as an opportunity to raise funds for their record label.

"Unless it had been from an incredibly evil, grotesque corporation, there was not a problem, and the research we did on Levi's suggested they were certainly not in that category," he told Scotland on Sunday.

"We saw it purely as a way of financing our label, and being able to put out more records by other artists," he added.

The Scottish five-piece band formed in 1995 and debuted a year later with the single "Tuner/Lower" released on their own Rock Action label. They have since produced five albums, including the latest release, Mr Beast. A favourite of head-banging teenagers for the last decade, until the Levi's advert Mogwai would have been the last band anyone accused of being overly commercial.

The Levi's brand famously propelled a series of tracks and artists into the Top 10 throughout the 1980s and 1990s, from Nick Kamen onwards. The Scottish post-grunge band Stiltskin topped the charts in 1994 after their single was used. In 1992, Levi's used the blues singer John Lee Hooker's track "Boom Boom", making him a rich rock star for the last five years of his life.

Badly Drawn Boy, GAP

The Manchester-based singer-songwriter Badly Drawn Boy, aka Damon Gough, broke the notoriously difficult to crack US music scene after his track "The Shining" featured in a Gap advert in 2001.

Gough's debut album The Hour of Bewilderbeest won the Mercury Music Prize in 2000. But widespread exposure in the US did not come until his name was linked with a brand whose ambassadors have included Madonna, Missy Elliott, Sarah Jessica Parker and Joss Stone. He went on to feature in the American music bible Billboard's list of British artists making it big in the States.

Lars Jensen, creative director of the Boston-based advertising agency Modernista which matched Badly Drawn Boy with Gap, said at the time he believed it was just the start of US brands using British music. "People aren't looking at it as a sell-out, but as a way to get their music heard," he said.

Gough's breakthrough album was followed by another distinctly commercial venture, when he wrote the soundtrack to the film adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel About A Boy, starring Hugh Grant.

Pink Martini, CITROEN

Remember the catchy little tune that accompanies the advert for the Citroën Xsara Picasso - the one where a machine production line paints modernist symbols all over a car? Thanks to that commercial, a retro band from Portland, Oregon sold 650,000 copies of their debut album "Sympathique".

Pink Martini may be American, but they incorporate influences from a multiplicity of other countries into their lounge-style music, from Portuguese to Japanese and Croatian to French. Hence the song "Sympathique" including the line "Je ne veux pas travailler" which has achieved Europe-wide fame as the theme tune for a French motor. The track has turned the group into cult figures in Europe and in particular in France, where "Sympathique" was a best-seller.

Pink Martini met at Harvard, when visual arts student and singer-songwriter China Forbes met Thomas Lauderdale, a classically trained pianist. Three years later, she moved to Portland to join his fledgling band. Their influences are Latin music and the films of Pedro Almodovar. The musical collective has since expanded, sometimes numbering up to 12 members.

The group's second album Hang On Little Tomato went straight in at number one on Amazon's best-seller list and made the top 10 in France, where their popularity persists.

In 1997, the year that "Sympathique" was released, Pink Martini played at the Cannes Film Festival at a fund-raiser for the American Foundation for Aids Research, where Elton John joined them on stage. So widespread is their appeal that last year the FBI asked them to play at its Christmas party.

In Britain, Pink Martini has filled the Festival Hall and the band has played as far afield as Beirut and Taiwan. Combining influences from classical chamber music to Cuban rumbas, the group's music has also featured in "The Sopranos" and "The West Wing".

Crazy Frog, JAMSTER

What began life as a Swedish teenager mimicking the sound of a moped engine on a computer in his bedroom, ended up as one of the soar-away chart successes of Summer 2005 - much to the chagrin of parents every where. Crazy Frog was the first example of a mobile ringtone entering the UK charts, where it remained in the number one slot for four weeks.

Created by Daniel Malmedahl from Gothenberg, the annoying ringtone was initially promoted by viral marketing on the internet by Jamster, a subsidiary of £4bn US corporation VeriSign. Jamster then licensed the small German dance label, Gut Records, to mix the sound with Axel F's soundtrack to the film Beverley Hills Cop.

The tune hit the big time following an intensive TV advertising campaign - commercials for the ringtone were shown on British TV on 40,000 occasions in one month. There was relief all round when the High Court upheld a ruling by the Advertising Standards Agency that the adverts could not be shown before the 9pm watershed after 300 people complained that the German company behind the ringtone, Jamba!, had not made clear that its services were on a weekly subscription basis rather than a one-off payment.


While some artists have reluctantly accepted that fees from commercials can offer them a degree of security that is often hard to find in the music industry, as a struggling young dance artist Moby deliberately pursued a strategy of getting his tracks played in adverts. Every song from his first dance album, Play, has been used in at least one commercials.

Moby's first musical foray, the 1996 thrash-metal album Animal Rights, was not the natural precursor to a successful career in the dance music industry. Despite brief success with the track "Go!" in the mid-Nineties, Moby quickly disappeared from the mainstream music scene. With 1999's Play, he pursued a more commercial tack. The tracks from the album, which had a much more feel-good vibe than its predecessor, were lifted to promote everything from cars to drinks and domestic appliances. Advertisers loved the combination of old gospel and blues sounds with electronic dance beats. "My Heart" was used to promote Nokia, while "Buy Signs of Love" featured in a commercial for the Jaguar XJ.

The album went on to sell 12 million copies.

Nor did Moby, born Richard Melville Hall, feel that using adverts to gain recognition for his music was at odds with his outlook on the world - he is a green, Christian, socialist, peace-loving vegan. Paul Scaife, of the music industry newsletter Record of the Day, said: "He said he wanted people at the label to have some money as well. He was quite clear about it. It was a one-off, his new album hasn't gone down the same route."

Imogen Heap, THE OC

The Essex singer-songwriter was virtually unknown until her a capella track "Hide and Seek" was used in the last episode of US teen drama The OC.

Within hours the song had topped the iTunes electronic download chart, and the Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe described it as "the hottest track in the world today". Airtime on Jo Whiley's Radio 1 show pushed the song into the British iTunes Top 10.

It was a considerable triumph for an artist who had written, recorded, produced and more importantly stumped up the cash for her own album.

Heap, 27, is the latest in a string of artists to have benefited from association with the glossy series about the lives and loves of improbably good-looking Californian teenagers and their parents. Thanks to its exposure on the television show, Heap's second solo album, Speak For Yourself, is destined to be a hit.

A classically trained pianist, Heap had previously sung in the band Frou Frou, an electro-pop collaboration with Madonna's former producer Guy Sigsworth.

When she went solo, she decided to release albums through her self-funded label Megaphonic, following disappointing experiences with record labels.

Her efforts appear to have paid off when the first pressing of 4,000 copies of "Hide and Seek" sold out within three weeks.

Encouraged by The OC, a major record label has now approached her offering her a deal to sign other artists to the Megaphonic label.

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