Bands vs. Brands

'Voices in their Heads' panel peeked at playlists of creatives—and off-screen tension with bands

Music-driven tension has enhanced countless commercials and trailers on-screen. But off-screen? Far too often, when artists, advertisers, and creative executives all get in the same room together, no one wants to relinquish any control. 

Call it bands versus brands.

"There's an inherent lack of cooperation and real equality," Marc Schiller, CEO of Electric Artists and co-founder of the Wooster Collective, said at the "Voices in Their Heads" panel Monday. "The best projects are a win-win for both. So often music can be the hook to the visuals." 

Any music fan at some point has fantasized about being a music supervisor—pairing the perfect song with a piece of video content like some kind of audio sommelier. But James Cooper, chief creative innovation officer at JWT, told the audience Monday that it's still an evolving space.

"I can see that growing if people give up control a little bit," he said.

Also on the panel were Ben Malbon, director of strategy for Google Creative Labs, and Michelle Alexander, a senior music analyst at Pandora, who delved into the playlists of her fellow panelists in search of patterns and shared DNA of their musical preferences. The men, all caucasians in early middle age, had a shared shoe-gazey, post-punk thing going on in their playlists. 

With the recording industry still suffering through its long, steady decline, even fairly popular artists struggle these days to make a living off of record sales. Schiller stressed the potential a spot could have for a group. "You have to respect the business of the artist," he said. Meaning: it's all about licensing.

Schiller played a trailer his team cut for the forthcoming Ellen Barkin dramedy Another Happy Day directed by Sam Levinson. The movie the trailer describes travels some pretty familiar dysfunctional-family-at-a-wedding turf, but the music Schiller's group cut to the video—by an Icelandic band the director discovered—makes for a compelling, nerve-jangly fit. 

Not all creatives are so lucky. Trailers are almost always cut to fit with the director's first-choice song. But far too often clearing the rights to the song after the fact becomes impossible for any number of reasons. The next time you see a trailer where the edits don't perfectly coincide with the dramatic musical beats, said Schiller, you can bet that the directors failed to get the licensing rights for the song they really wanted.

In that case, off-screen tension can dilute the tension on-screen. And nobody wins.