I just finished watching my 100th "Here's how we're moving forward from Covid-19" spot for a major brand. This one featured Sam & Dave's "Hold On, I'm Comin'," one of my favorite songs in the world. It's got a strong groove and simple, direct lyrics that communicate just the right message to lift my spirit every time I hear it. But I wish I hadn't heard it this time.
You see, a multibillion-dollar company controls the publishing for Sam & Dave's songs. And during this pandemic, they don't need the money the brand spent to get the rights to that song or the royalties from playing it. Independent musicians do.
Right now, clients, creative directors, producers and music supervisors are all looking at evolving the advertising industry to meet a rapidly shifting reality. Everyone's eager to support small businesses, and we're desperate to prove the value of creativity. We're also trying to promote messages of hope and show the world that the things we love most will still be here when all of this is over. Few actions give us a chance to do all of this simultaneously like the approach we take to using and licensing music. Most importantly, we need to choose to license content from independent musicians and record labels.
As with so many communities, Covid-19 has devastated independent musicians. Gone is the chance to gather in a small recording studio for hours at a time, way less than six feet from another person, and work out songs collaboratively. Zoom, Teams, Meetups—whatever you use, there's lag that can make any song almost unlistenable (which I'm sure you've noticed if you've tried getting together virtually to sing "Happy Birthday" any time over the past two months). And live gigs? Well, that's a 2021 pipe dream.
Yes, there are platforms springing up to help people perform via livestream or promoters staging the ol' drive-in concert. But if you're in a band that relies on anything more than just a person with a guitar, there are considerable challenges to getting to the same safe space and performing for the camera. And if athletes are raising a stink about playing in empty stadiums, think of the loneliness and "Is there anybody actually listening to this?" feeling of performing music for an audience of a single iPhone.
I've seen firsthand the impact the pandemic is having on independent musicians, record labels and music itself. But while I've had to endure canceled festival gigs and postponed recording sessions, I'm lucky. My career in advertising allows me some financial freedom. My bandmates and the majority of musicians in cities across the U.S., however, have devoted their entire lives to hustling for opportunities to create art for the rest of the world. They live frugally and humbly so they can put all of their energy into making people feel something.
The only real salvation for independent musicians right now are brands and networks. (The government tried to help the Kennedy Center with the CARES Act, and the outrage was ... deafening.) Rather than going to one of the giant music publishers, or thinking only of the most popular artists from the past 50 years, or—heaven forbid—using a stock house's library of listless, generic piano tinkling, brands and networks need to find independent musicians and small record labels to be the soundtracks for their content.
Discovering this music is not the issue. You don't have to dig through crates or catch a snippet of a tune on the radio. Right now, record labels have put together countless online playlists and Instagram posts to help the industry keep their artists top of mind. Spotify has Independent Music Monday. It's out there.
True, the music from a relatively obscure artist won't elicit the same automatic endorphin rush as hearing Taylor Swift's newest success or an Aretha Franklin song you've heard every month of your life. But consider what Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson have done for musicians (as well as actors), making creative choices that bring them into a spotlight they either never would have had or that abandoned them years ago. Brands can easily play that role for countless musicians who would otherwise be silenced.
Musicians are not on the front lines. But music can have an incredibly positive impact on our immune systems. And society needs all the new solutions we can get. So, think of making a creative choice of music as taking a stand for science and public health. Think of it as taking a stand for small businesses. Most importantly, think of it as taking a stand for keeping the greater creative community alive.