Film and TV placements are a great way for artists to make money these days. We are so inundated with all forms of media on such a constant basis that an artist whose song is used on any of these platforms can be discovered and become a household name. I am not talking about songs used for soundtracks or written expressly for other things, but when a song that was released takes on a life of its own thanks to its use in a commercial, TV show, movie, or anything else.
This video playlist on YouTube featured clips of TV shows and commercials featuring songs that became popular in association with that commercial. Check out the video playlist as well as the accompanying Spotify playlist of songs. Enjoy your media inundation!
Jar of Hearts – Christina Perri
This is probably one of my favorite song placement stories of all time. It plays right out of the movies. Christina Perri is a waitress by day and a struggling singer/songwriter by night, living in Los Angeles with her best friend Keltie Colleen, a former Rockette. Colleen knows Stacey Tookey, a choreographer from So You Think You Can Dance, who proceeds to ask Colleen if she has a song she can use for a piece she is choreographing for the show. Colleen suggests Perri’s song “Jar of Hearts”. It is used for a memorable performance and the song is in the iTunes Store Top 10 Songs chart the next morning. Not only that, Perri would go on to build a career as a reliable hitmaker, writing and singing pop hits like “Arms”, “Human” and “Burning Gold”. She would return at the end of the season to sing “Jar of Hearts” live while Billy & Kathryn repeated their dance that brought Perri to stardom. Everyone’s got to start somewhere, and this was a big start for her.
1234 – Feist
Canadian singer/songwriter Feist was already a bit of an indie darling thanks to the success of her debut album Let It Die, but she transcended that label and became internationally prominent when the song “1234” and its accompanying music video from her second album, The Reminder, was used in a commercial for the iPod Nano. The song was nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and the video for Best Short Form Music Video at that year’s Grammy Awards and won the Juno Award for Single of the Year. This is a fun music video creatively used in this advertisement and, again, was a big breakout moment.
New Soul – Yael Naim
Look at Apple go breaking new artists! French-Israeli artist Yael Naim had her break in the US when her song “New Soul” was used in an ad for the new MacBook Air. It was not a long commercial at all, but even a fraction of that infectious “la la” section was enough to get America hooked on this new soul.
Shut Up and Let Me Go – The Ting Tings
This was one of Apple’s more memorable ads and, again, broke a new artist in the US. The dancing silhouettes promoting the iTunes store and would appear on iTunes gift cards were dancing to this memorable jam from British band the Ting Tings, leading them to a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist and a career in the indie pop world. Their follow-up single, “That’s Not My Name”, also had some success, thanks to the buoyant and endless fun of their style.
I Don’t Want To Wait – Paula Cole
This is perhaps one of the more famous song placements, with Paula Cole becoming a household name and a Grammy winner for Best New Artist thanks to this song’s placement as the theme song for Dawson’s Creek. This song evokes nostalgia and youth at the same time, perhaps what some of you might be feeling looking at James Van Der Beek, Michelle Williams and Katie Holmes from that time. And let’s not forget Joshua Jackson who played Charlie in all of the Mighty Ducks movies! This was a great introduction to an amazing song and singer.
Keep Breathing – Ingrid Michaelson
Grey’s Anatomy brought success to a lot of artists, but none more frequently than Ingrid Michaelson. Her debut album, Girls & Boys, was practically marketed as the soundtrack to Grey’s Anatomy, mostly because it was. This is a video from the finale of the 3rd season of the show, featuring her song “Keep Breathing”. Watching Christina Yang struggling to breathe as Ingrid sings “all we can do is keep breathing” is one of those perfect moments of synergy between song and scene that makes music such a powerful force of storytelling in film and television.
Black Horse and the Cherry Tree – KT Tunstall
It’s the Top 5 of American Idol, and Katharine McPhee is tasked with singing a song from the Billboard Hot 100. Billboard columnist and chart expert Fred Bronson suggests that she sing “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” by KT Tunstall, a song which at the time was at #79 on the chart thanks to her success in her native UK as well as in other European markets. Tunstall had said that she is not fond of shows like Idol because in her view, they tell artists how to sing and what to say. However, since the song was so low on the chart, she licensed the song because she thought there was no way anyone on the show was telling her to sing that song because no one knew it at the time. The song jumped up to #23 on the chart following McPhee’s performance, and McPhee sang the song again a few weeks later in the finale. What a story to say that your career in the US was started by a strong case of McPhever.
Home – Phillip Phillips
Speaking of American Idol, let’s fast-forward to a time when being on American Idol was not enough to be successful anymore. Phillip Phillips won the show’s 11th season, yet remained virtually unknown outside the show’s core fans and his coronation song “Home” was not quite catching with listeners outside of Idol‘s core base. Then, the song was featured on a promotional clip for Team USA’s “Fierce Five” Olympic gymnastics team for the 2012 Olympics in London, which gave the song the bump it needed to hit pop radio and stay there for good. Though Phillips did not write this song, he would go on to co-write future radio hits like “Gone, Gone, Gone” and “Raging Fire”, and he has managed to build quite the career for himself.
This Is the New Year – A Great Big World
The band A Great Big World, before having a huge hit with the song “Say Something” and its subsequent duet version with Christina Aguilera, came to prominence when their song “This Is the New Year” was featured on Glee. A music supervisor from Glee must have been a supporter of A Great Big World’s Kickstarter campaign to fund their EP, heard the song, and recognized its potential as a fun, hopeful, optimistic tune about what’s to come. I had already stopped watching Glee at this point, so I can’t really tell you
I Love It – Icona Pop (feat. Charli XCX)
In a particularly memorable scene from Girls, Lena Dunham’s character Hannah Horvath takes cocaine with her gay ex-boyfriend (played by Andrew Rannells) and they go out dancing screaming at the top of their lungs what the rest of America would be belting out on the radio: “I don’t care! I love it!”. The brash, badass banger from Swedish dance duo Icona Pop written by British then up-and-comer Charli XCX took over the airwaves, making both Icona Pop and Charli XCX international stars in their own right.
This Land Is Your Land – Marc Scibilia
Marc Scibilia was a singer/songwriter in Nashville when his version of the Woody Guthrie classic “This Land Is Your Land” was featured in Jeep’s 2015 “Beautiful Lands” commercial aired during the Super Bowl. The commercial became the most Shazamed moment of the entire broadcast, excluding the Katy Perry halftime show and Missy Elliott’s surprise appearance in the performance. His album is scheduled for release this year, so hopefully we will hear more of Scibilia’s own music. Though he is not a household name yet, new data methods and new reaches for media are creating more and more opportunities for new artists to be discovered. Now we just have to see where the next big star will come from. Let me know in the comments if I missed any big ones.