The Rest Is Just Noise: Commercializing indie music

Molly Schreiber

While mix tapes, compilation CDs and iPod playlists have provided music fans with the commercial-less flow of our favorite songs for years, there’s something to be said about hearing a great song on the radio. 

It might be the kinship you feel with the DJ who gets you or the realization that, despite what your best friend says, your taste isn’t that weird.  

For me, though, it’s the element of surprise. It’s like your favorite band is interfering with fate, just for you. But, recently, I’ve been getting an altered version of this feeling from an unlikely source: TV ads.

For me, the trend started in 2007 when I heard Of Montreal’s “Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games” in an Outback Steakhouse commercial. Not only were the lyrics changed, but the artistic integrity of the song was compromised. 

How heartbreaking. How could these innovators sacrifice their work just to make a buck? 

This feeling was replicated when I heard the Flaming Lips’ “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” in a Kraft salad dressing commercial. The ad was using an unbelievably cool song for a completely uncool product. 

I felt protective of the Lips and their music, but I couldn’t disguise my disappointment in their decision to license their song to market such an artless product. 

Another instance was the use of a Wilco song in an ad for Volkswagen.  First and foremost, I must admit to my readers that I have an irrepressible bias when it comes to Wilco. But, unlike my first experience with indie music on TV, I was genuinely happy to hear “That’s the Thanks I Get” in a relatively heartwarming ad.  

The commercial offered a sense of artistry with which I could reconcile. I would be lying, though, if I didn’t admit to harboring a bit of jealousy; a part of me felt that my elitist music club was being infiltrated by undeserving viewers.

 Despite the fact that I liked the commercial, my excitement was infused with an untraceable feeling: were all of my favorite bands beginning to sell out? 

While the trend has continued, it has been especially noticeable in the past few weeks. Even this year’s airing of the Super Bowl included a few more indie favorites of 2009. Arcade Fire licensed “Wake Up” to the NFL, donating all the proceeds to the relief effort in Haiti. 

Amid appearances by Tracy Morgan and Stevie Wonder in Volkswagen’s Super Bowl ad, the distinct piano rift of Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks” threaded through. 

It was through these advertisements that I began to realize that, as long as the product and the commercial were solid, I could justify the use of these songs. 

Perhaps these bands aren’t selling out, per se; instead, they might be exploring a new artistic medium. 

These indie ads are not unique to Super Bowl XLIV, though. 

With the constant rotation of Cadillac advertisements blasting Phoenix’s “1901” and Matt & Kim’s “Daylight” keeping time for the new Bacardi Mojito commercial, I’ve learned to let go of my initial protective inclination.

Everybody — famous musicians included — has to eat, right? Even though I occasionally feel the urge to call out the name of the song and identify the band, I’m beginning to feel a little bit better about hearing my favorite songs on TV. 

Writers have to write, singers have to sing and advertisers have to advertise. What better way to reach people than with some pretty phenomenal music?