Off the Record
By Austin Powell, Fri., May 16, 2008
Licensed to Ill
Earlier this month, OTR was contacted on behalf of Experience Music Group, the California-based music licensing and publishing company responsible for placing Southern California's Latch Key Kid in Coca-Cola's 2008 Super Bowl ad. The group was looking for a local collegiate band "getting a lot of attention" and another indie act that "sounds like Death Cab for Cutie or the Postal Service." A similar enterprise, San Francisco's Optic Noise, placed local songwriter Matt the Electrician's "Valedictorian" in an episode of ABC's Eli Stone.
"Basically these companies push the music and then split the licensing fees," explains electrician Matt Sever. "It works well for both sides, as licensing an indie artist is a lot cheaper for the programs. Everyone wants to get in on it now. It's become the new hope."
The concept is nothing new, per se. In fact, former Austinite Rob Thomas routinely helped local musicians land their efforts on his series Veronica Mars (see From Austin to Neptune, Jan. 13, 2006). As CD sales continue to dwindle, artists are increasingly looking at alternative revenue streams like commercial music licensing, which is roughly a $3 billion market according to 2006 Enders Analysis data. One grammatically challenged local electro-pop duo, who remains anonymous due to label conflicts, allegedly licensed a song to Nokia to the tune of $75K. "I don't think that licensing your songs is selling out in any way," says Josh Lambert of the Octopus Project, which licensed "Music Is Happiness" to the show CSI: NY, Tony Hawk's Proving Ground, and the film 21. "It enables bands to keep doing what they're doing."
The most growth in music licensing is occurring with video games. The groundbreaking, recently released Grand Theft Auto IV (see In Play) packs a 214-song soundtrack that allows players to tag their favorite songs and purchase them through a custom Amazon.com playlist. "It's like a huge ad for your band," says Trivett Wingo of the Sword, who, like Austin's Lions, has been featured in the Guitar Hero series. "We only agree to do things that are aesthetically appealing, but for many bands, it would be in their best interest to do these things just for the exposure."
Licensing deals vary drastically due to the nature of the placement and the commercial clout of the artist involved, but there is one constant. "Bands should always have a lawyer look over any contracts when licensing songs," Lambert says. "The legal aspect of things is an impossibly deep labyrinth that bands should avoid navigating on their own, if at all possible."
If there's one thing the Chronicle Music staff takes seriously, it's record conventions. Rhythmhound's Spring Music & Media Show, May 17-18, at the Palmer Events Center is already proving a bit controversial. "They're trying to replace me," bemoans Doug Hanners, who had to cancel the annual spring edition of the Austin Record Convention for 2008 due to surgery for liver cancer. "It's not going to be much of a show because they don't know what they're doing." "We're trying to broaden the scope of the typical convention," counters Rhythmhound organizer Kathryn Roszak-Meltzer. To that end, the event is producing live music on the hour and donating a portion of the event's proceeds to the Town Lake Animal Center. See www.rhythmhound.com for a complete list of events. Hanners' convention reconvenes at the Crockett Event Center the first weekend in October.
X Marks the Spot
"Lo-fi is all the rage," MTV's John Norris declared recently in a segment that featured footage of punks Jay Reatard and Tyvek storming Red River staple Beerland during South by Southwest 08. The proclamation came as no surprise to Denton's Marked Men, who sealed their garage punk aesthetic with debut 7-inch "I Can't Be Good" on local imprint Mortville Records in 2003. "I hate the way a lot of modern music sounds," riffs guitarist/vocalist Mark Ryan, who moonlights in High Tension Wires with Mike Wiebe of the Riverboat Gamblers. "It's real important for us that our recordings have a lot of energy. I don't want it to sound glossed over or clean." The quartet is currently working on a new LP for Portland, Ore.'s Dirtnap Records and hits Emo's on Friday as part of the annual Chaos in Tejas festival (see Music Listings). The Marked Men's days in Austin may be numbered, since guitarist Jeff Burke is migrating to Japan in July. "The last time we played the festival, a friend of ours from Toronto stage-dived and ended up cracking his head open and having to go to the hospital," Ryan recalls. "This show has a lot to live up to."
The Great Gig in the Sky
Every band gets asked what its dream lineup would be. Few get to make it happen. This weekend, local instrumentalists Explosions in the Sky curate and headline an All Tomorrow's Parties festival at the Butlins Holiday Resort in Minehead, England. "None of the bands were difficult to get a hold of, but there were some dream bands that we couldn't quite convince to get back together, including Neutral Milk Hotel, Jawbreaker, and Bedhead," relays drummer Christopher Hrasky from Berlin. Among those scheduled to perform are the reunited Polvo, Ghostface Killah, and nearly the entire roster of Explosions' label Temporary Residence, along with locals Trail of Dead and Okkervil River. "I have yet to see Jens Lekman and the National, but for nostalgic reasons, I'm probably most excited for Dinosaur Jr.," Hrasky confides. "I'm not sure if I would be playing music if it weren't for that band. It's sort of a dream come true."
• The Steps, whose eponymous debut comes courtesy of Japan's Kurofune Records, departed on Tuesday for a weeklong promotional tour in the Land of the Rising Sun. The local teens' Strokes-inspired single "Cold Floors" is currently in rotation on MTV Japan.
• The newly minted Live Music Task Force (see "Off the Record," April 18) is hosting its first public subcommittee forum on Monday in Council Chambers at Austin City Hall. The issue at hand is the enforcement of the current Austin sound ordinance.
Going the Distance
The Murdocks have a simple motto for their live shows. "High energy with right notes optional," offers bassist Kyle Robarge. It works. From Ruta Maya's 1967 Hoot Night Happening to a recent opening gig for Cake in Georgetown and last Thursday's meltdown at Antone's, the local trio is causing quite a stir with its Superfuzz Bigmuff slant on Shinsian pop. It doesn't hurt that drummer David Jones usually strips down to a Speedo, either. "All of the songs actually start off slow and acoustic," says guitarist/vocalist Franklin Morris, the only original member from the group's initial incarnation in 2001. "Then I hit the distortion pedal, and it's like we're each trying to match each other's noise." The Murdocks embark this week on a 14-gig tour in as many days behind their lethal EP Roar! (Surprise Truck), before returning to Club de Ville on June 7.