Licensing music of deceased artists to Advertising; moral or not?

I am not the best at checking on my social media channels, but today as I was working today I checked my YouTube page and found that the Chevy Corvette spot I finished last month and posted to my YouTube page had some serious comments on it. I felt the need to share this. First, take a look at the spot:

This track is unmistakable if you have ever been a fan of folk or bluegrass from the 60′s and 70′s. It’s timeless.

Here is what my commenter had to say:

A trend in the commercial music industry I have become greatly upset with is the using of classic American music, largely from the 60′s, to sell things on TV. After hearing the Stones or Nick Drake or now (sadly) John Fahey, countless times lined up with AT & T or Chevy I can’t help but think of their products when I listen to these artists albums at home. This makes me sad.

I don’t want to think of AT & T when I listen to Nick Drake, and I certainly don’t want to think of Chevy when I listen to John Fahey. It’s one thing for the Stones to sell the rights to their songs as they’re living, but lending deceased artists’ music to products in a manner they probably wouldn’t approve of is a morally dubious endeavor.

The two recent and unfortunate choices ( Nick Drake & John Fahey) of using tragic folk musicians, (Drake suicide, Fahey died alone and penniless) to sell items for large multi-billion dollar corporations smacks of a sad irony that plagues today’s commercial industry.

It is important that we do not treat art as a mere commodity. Most certainly John Fahey’s music has nothing to do with selling Chevy’s and I hope in the future you consider the importance and seriousness of the artists and their music whom you align with advertisements on TV. I ask you to think twice before lending deceased artists music to TV ads, ( especially people like John Fahey)


I think it is an extreme view to say that using their music is a “morally dubious endeavor.” When a piece of music is used, the rights holders are paid quite well. The music is used legally and the rights are given by the “owners” of that music.

As a matter of fact, one of the gentlemen who helmed this project is the son of one of the former members of The Kingston Trio, whom many consider to be as important a touchstone to folk music as Mr. Fahey was. I think he would agree, if the estate needs the money and the music is reflected in a positive light, it is a great thing for all parties.

So, let me repeat – the rights holders AGREED and they were paid well for the use of music in this commercial. I hope that Mr. Fahey was smart enough to see to it that his estate was set up in a way that his loved ones will get to see that money.

Music Licensing is one of the only consistent and reliable sources of revenue and marketing for artists today, and as the music business does, licensing in advertising follows the trends, and dare I say, sometimes we help set them. There are hundreds of artists who will see this spot and be inspired by the music. There are thousands of people who will see this spot and go buy John Fahey’s record, or even pull their old record back out.

You see this as a tragedy, but we see it as an homage that is one way to keep his spirit alive and back into the collective conscious of the music lovers everywhere. For the record, due to the resurgence in popularity of Nike Drake’s music after the Volkswagen commercial “Pink Moon” (which is arguable one of the best commercials ever made) the record label re-released his music with great success.


You seem to miss my point. My point was not that the estates of Nick Drake and John Fahey may or may not being compensated nicely, it is that these artists, especially John Fahey, would not have wanted his music used to help sell Chevy cars. His music has nothing to do with Chevy cars. Fahey was an avidly independent and non-commercial artist by principle. It is simply inappropriate to use his serious and important music for a car commercial without his permission.

You repeatedly point out that , “everyone is paid nicely” . This however misses the principle of my point : John Fahey certainly would not have approved of his music being used to help Chevy boost its image.


Your point is taken, but how do you know that Fahey and Drake would say no if they were alive today? There is simply no way to know. I staunchly (as said here) support artists right to say no to music licensing in ads or any other medium. I personally have worked with bands that have turned down hundreds of thousands of dollars based on principle.  But I, again choose to see this as a positive broadcast of John Fahey’s music. Albiet that I am slightly biased, being a music supervisor in commercials.

This brings me to a larger point that you have helped me make sir:

ARTISTS AND MUSICIANS, be clear in your contracts and in your will what you ARE willing to have your music used for. If you have sold your publishing, then you may have lost creative control. The only REAL way we are to know your wishes is if you clearly leave them behind.

Who is to be held responsible for an artist or musicians wishes once he is gone? If the use of your music is important to you, then think about it, write it down and place it into the hands of people you trust. Music is immortal, and there is no way to tell what is coming in the future and in what crazy ways your music might be heard, but give it some serious thought. Don’t let others decide for you.

In the case of John Fahey, the executors of his estate (or if they no longer own the rights to the music, then the label and the publisher) are responsible for making the decision to lend use of a song on behalf of the Artist, not the Agency or the Brand.

To those of you out there who have additional opinions, lets here them.

Music Licensing 101 – For Politicians

Today David Byrne posted on his blog that he is filing suit against Florida Governor Charlie Crist for the illegal use of “Road to Nowhere.”  Crist reportedly began using the song in January, during the Republican primary contestant Marco Rubio. (Crist has since dropped out of the Republican race, and will run as an independent candidate.)” The Guardian reports.

The news seems to be spreading across the internet like another bad Republican joke.

David Byrne’s BLOG POST is very concise and to the point about the matter. I applaud him for his candor and for speaking directly to the public about it.

Lets talk about the meat and bones of this issue. ITS ILLEGAL to use a piece of music without permission, but the issue that strikes the heart of the matter is this……If we cannot trust our political leaders to know the law, and cope to any wrongdoings…..then #$%?

My official political statement on the issue: This goes to show you how insanely out of touch our leaders and future leaders are. So sad. Every employee in the media industry, from a Sr. VP all the way down to a Production Manager knows you have to license a piece of music to use it in a a VIDEO ONLINE or in a TV COMMERCIAL, so how is it that an entire staff of well paid campaign employees and strategists don’t know? Impossible.

My official music licensing statement: David Byrne has a really good point in his article about the fact that, “I still believe songs occasionally mean something to people — they obviously mean something personal to the writer, and often to the listener as well. A personal and social meaning is diluted when that same song is used to sell a product (or a politician).”

Just this week I am being asked to clear a major Billboard hit for a global beauty brand. The artist might well say no to 7 figures based on principle, on the meaning of his song. I support that 100%. It is a personal choice.

The statement given by the Campaign is nothing short of HILARIOUS, as per David Byrne’s BLOG POST. He claims they have used two arguments to defend their wrongdoings:

Fair Use and Free Speech

FAIR USE is defined as limited use of copyrighted material for news reporting, teaching, or research. For the record….Political messages paid for by donations are NOT FAIR USE.

FREE SPEECH, I refuse to define, because anyone who reads this should know the definition. For the record, free speech is not even in the neighborhood with musical copyright.  You can “say” the name of a song, but you cannot PLAY it in your video and call it free speech.

So, to those of your out there that make your living by running political campaigns, you are going to have to play by the rules if you want to use music.

My favorite part about this little debacle, is not even that the warning siren has not already gone off on this issue several times (the most recent being Jackson Brown’s suit against John McCain for misuse of “Running on Empty)……. but  that fact that the generous donors of the Charlie Crist campaign will be helping to fund the settlement if Bryne is to win his $1MM case.

Lastly, and as a final pot shot to old school political methodology in this country, STOP USING GREAT SONGS TO GET YOUR SLOGANS ACROSS.

You might actually have to come up with some original material. Something inspiring….on your own….NOT the words of someone else like David Byrne or Jackson Brown.

Ok…one more point. Artists deserve to be paid. Old or young, rich or poor.

SXSW Wrap up – Sarah's picks!

Okay Okay, I know most serious bloggers are posting their Coachella picks right now, but I am a teensy bit late getting my SXSW picks up, but hang with me people.

I wrapped up my last class at UCLA last month and have turned 100% of my attention to GET YOUR MUSIC LICENSED. Deep into writing mode.

Before I give my play by play let me just say a few things as a six year vet of SXSW. It’s overwhelming – every year, but this year even more. It felt as if there were more bands then ever, and as a music lover and music supervisor, it is REALLY HARD to go see new bands instead of going to the see the bands you already love and are dying to see live. BUT I was diligent this year and stuck to  a tight regime of new music, and let me tell you. IT PAID OFF. I left SXSW this year with more new musical obsessions then in six years combined. So to the young bands who fought tooth and nail to be there. KUDOS.

And for those of you who might be in a band, and will someday look at each other and ask yourself if it’s worth it to hawk your fixie and get your band to Austin, the answer is YES! You can buy another bike. Go to SXSW!

This event has not lost it’s luster – it serves it’s purpose for me; to discover new music.

So here is my SXSW day by day….highlights only.


I started off with the IODA party at EMO’s. It ain’t SouthBy until you have donned the doorstep of Emo’s. Bright sun to dark interior, belly up to the bar and Ahhhhhh Lone Star. I digress…..

Tom Brosseau and the lovely Angela Correa. I have loved Tom’s music for years, but as simple as Les Shelley’s was  – it was a new side of Tom. The vocal/acoustic guitar set was dripping with the vibe of a speakeasy in what you might imagine a bar in the goldrush era would have felt like. This was their only performance at SXSW this year – and it was lovely. It was apparently an early glimpse of a forthcoming record on Fat Cat Records. I will be staying tuned for that one.

Next came A Sunny Day in Glasglow. Overall I am not much of a Shoegazer fan, but something about this young troupe got my toes tapping. They are almost undefinable, like so many bands today, but I really like it. I am keeping my eye on this group.  Glimmers of The Shins, and, well anything that sounds like The Shins, I’m in.

Next I headed over to the Canadian Blast party, cause those Canadians are so damn nice and they keep putting out such amazing music. There was a french rap band on called Radio Radio. Sumthin’ about these guys got me. Maybe cause I was a hhhhuuugggeee MC Solar fan. I could barely even see them – but it caught my ear. Catch this track KENNY G. NON-STOP. They gave me that HELL YEAH feeling like the first time I heard FannyPack. Fun.

Then I met them and had a beer with them. This is why we love SXSW. Check out their widget as well.

Then I got to see You Say Party We Say Die. AWESOME!!! The lead singer is rocking a Pat Benatar vibe, it just, well it works. The song LAURA PALMERS PROM sounded undeniably synchable to me. Give this band some extra love, they need it this week, their drummer passed away during a performance this past weekend. So so sad. He was 30. RIP

The last band I saw was truly just an indulgence – Fanfarlo. Lovely, and PACKED at the KCRW showcase.


I didn’t get out until late afternoon as my GET YOUR MUSIC LICENSED workshop was at 3:30.

One of my SXSW rituals is the “Close your eyes and point to a band” technique. This year it was THE GIVERS. I knew nothing about this band. So I raced back to my room after the workshop, dropped my bags, grabbed a snack and headed out the door to see this band I knew nothing about. Ok, let me just say this. The BEST SXSW performance I have ever seen in 6 years. No lie. And at 5pm in the afternoon. When the set was over, my friend and I looked at each other and just said, “Ok, well I guess we can leave SXSW now – not gonna get much better then that!”

These kids put every cell of their bodies into this show and it was just so apparent. Listen to the EP, but it does only a fraction of justice to what I heard live. A band of 5, with a duo, male/female vocals. They are cute. They are killer. They are fun. They are deep. They f-in crushed it. This is one of those shows where everyone is looking around at each other going….”Is this really happening?” “Is it possible this band exists and no one knows about them?” Not for long people, not for long. I Saw You First is the song that I fell for the hardest. Incredibly synchable.

The rest of the day and night …..even though I caught some great shows, didn’t hold a candle. My cherry had been popped.


My day ended with a quick check up on my picks from last year – to see how they had progressed.

BEAR HANDS was a band that I found last year and wanted to see how they sounded after a year on the road. The answer to that was REALLY GOOD. A record everyone should check out.

Next I headed over to see my #1 pick from SXSW ’09 ANGRY VS. THE BEAR. This band has grown leaps and bounds in one year. If you have not heard their record, do yourself a little favor. LISTEN.

And lastly I wanted to see if THE GIVERS could do it again……I kept my ass up till 1am like a little groupie and it it was well worth it.

The music (I was able to get)  is available here to listen as a streaming playlist. Until next year!  Thanks!

Sarah’s SXSW Picks by sarahgavigan

BLOG REQUEST: Top 10 things I hear in Conversation with Ad Folks

I got a request on my twitter the other day by @ShordSweetMusic to blog about what I hear the most in conversation with the good people of Advertising.


After 10 years of conference calls, I can tell you, the answers to this question have not changed too much; maybe a little trend swerve, but all in all, the same. I will list them by rank of frequency.

Disclaimer: keep in mind the good majority of people I find and place music for are not music experts, and have a difficult time describing what they are looking for, which is where a Music Supervisor comes in real handy, but that being said, there are man many people in the Ad world who are music carnivores.

#10 – Find us something cool.

#9 – What are you looking for, can you give me a little bit more to go on? (me) ….We will know it when we hear it (them).

#8 – I need a track that builds (them).

#7 – I can’t tell you why we like this song, it just works, can you find another song just like it (them)?

#6 – We would like a track that feels organic, but has alot of energy (them).

#5 -We want a track just like this, but we are open to something else (them).

#4 – I like it, but it just doesn’t go anywhere (them).

#3 – Can I get this track in an instrumental (them)?

#2 – Can we get this track for the budget? Can you just get a ballpark quote from them and see (them)?

#1 – Has anyone else ever used that track? Who (them)?

I look forward to everyone’s comments on this one!!!!!!

GYML Workshop at SXSW Music on Thursday, March 18th at 3:30PM

It’s coming up quick! Another crazy week at SXSW. This year I am honored to be teaching a GYML for Commericals Workshop during the MUSIC conference.

Info can be found here:

If any of you are coing to SXSW – give me a shout out on the GYML Facebook Page and let me know if you have any special questions you want me to cover.

See you in Austin!

GET YOUR MUSIC LICENSED (GYML) Facebook Page and Info series announced!

I am really excited to announce that I will be releasing an online info series in the late spring called GET YOUR MUSIC LICENSED (nickname GYML).


I created series in response to the unbelievable outpouring of questions and inquiry’s I have received from Artists, Bands and Managers all over the country looking for information on how to get their music to the right people and how to make the right impression.

The GYML FACEBOOK PAGE is up and running and for now is ground zero for GYML.

The FB page is the place for you to post your questions to me, chat with fellow musicians and get my latest free tips and advice. Join the conversation!

Pharrell Williams says"Go chase Ad Agencies before geting a deal" to his audience at Midem

Not a shocking statement to hear coming from one half of the Neptunes. After 10 years working in Music in Advertising, I can tell you just about every creative out there would give their batting arm to work with The Neptunes, and many have.

I could not agree with him more. Checkout the quick article HERE.

It’s great to hear an Artist as well respected as Pharrell talking about the inherent value that Advertisers can bring a budding artist. For The Neptunes, Ad Agencies might as well be Clear Channel radio. They have helped him break records world wide and sell millions of records, for his own music and the music he has produced for others (remember the Producer gets paid mechanical royalties before anyone else gets paid).

Pharrell is giving good advice to up and coming artists – “Chase Ad  Agencies and Brands, ” but remember he has had a team of people there to help him, all he has has to do is make much and show up. But he shows up well.

I remember working on a Cadillac pitch about 8 years ago for Escalade, where the Agency creatives and myself had created a project starring Pharell for the brand. Cadillac was showcasing the new car at at gallery on Rodeo drive and he showed up with his entourage. He was very approachable, very easy to talk to, and VERY willing to work with the brand. The project was a fantastic match for him, but alas it never saw the light of day. His willingness to listen to brands needs, and not just his own is most certainly one of the reasons he has done so well in this space and some may argue as an artist altogether.

A few points I want to make to artists in regards to this fantastic article.

1.) Build your community – I cannot stress it enough – the Agencies and Brands know who he is and go to him, but once he (and his team) learned the power of the brand to broadcast a new single, he came to them.

2.) No matter who you are, your track just may not be right for the Ad and Branding world. Pharrell sent out the first single to his IN MIND record, and it never clicked for him in a major spot. It just wasn’t right. So if Licensing is a major part of your plan. PLAN AHEAD and write songs that make sense for brands.

3.) Build your rolodex. You need to have the contacts to be able to push your music through the channels to even give it a chance. Reps do it, so can you, if you are not ready for a rep or don’t want one. It comes down to time and perseverance. I can tell you this after over 15 years of being an Agent – The client LOVES to hear from an artist directly. Just make sure you know how to represent yourself, both upfront and in the throws of a deal.

The tip of the iceberg, nonetheless. Stay tuned for more……

Should I license my song to a Commerical?

I have been speaking and teaching so much lately on how to GET YOUR MUSIC LICENSED; how to get that first call and begin to make money, that I wanted to take a very timely opportunity to blog about about what can happen to even the most accomplished band when you GET YOUR MUSIC LICENSED; Franz Ferdinand.

It was just reported yesterday is this Stereogum post that Sony US, via record Label Epic approved the MASTER rights to use the Franz Ferdinand song “Bite Hard” for a McDonald’s advertisement (it was unclear in the article if this was a TV and internet or soley an internet license). Alex Kapranos (@alkapranos), an accomplished foodie himself, was more than bitter about the match as you can see on his Twitter page.

Picture 18

I could not agree more with Alex, or with the writer of the Stereogum blog. I would be upset to see my music placed somewhere that I did not think represented my music, and yes it is a great way to fall out with your record label.

So let’s stop here and take count of the real issue at hand. The band’s rights. In a standard record contract or music publishing contract, a band signs away their rights to say yes or no to any potential license when they sign a contract. The Label owns the masters. The Music Publisher owns the music. Now, as a Music Supervisor I speak to many labels and music publishers that need to check with the artist before approving a synchronization license, and I have had many licenses refused by the band for artistic reasons.

The message here is, if you choose to sign with a label (and may I say there are still MANY great record labels out there) make sure that you maintain the right to refuse any synchronization use that you do not feel is in line with your band or your image.

Licensing your music is not selling out, but licensing it to the wrong company, for the wrong message, could damage you in the long run.

A good label will care about such matters and want to help you protect your image. But it is up to you  make sure that you have that right. Don’t give it up, or you could very well end up on Twitter having to air your anger and irritation, because you have no legal rights to the claim whatsoever.

When you become an artist the size of Franz Ferdinand and you can actually sell a good amount of records, you can make a stink and they will likely listen to your wishes, just make damn sure you don’t put yourself in that position. NO Record contract is worth giving up your rights as an artist to say no.

Welcome 2010! My Class at UCLA begins this Tuesday!

Happy New Year to everyone!

My second semester of the HOW TO GET YOUR MUSIC LICENSED IN A COMMERCIAL class begins this Tuesday. There is still time to register. Our guest speakers have been announced, and so far they are fantastic.

Landis Smither – Director, former Creative Director at Old Navy, and Ogilvy Mather

David Taylor, Music Producer at Media Arts Labs (Agency for Apple)

Dan Wilcox, KCRW DJ and Music Supervisor

Marisa Wasser, Senior Producer at Deutsch Advertising

We will cover alot of new ground this semester, so don’t miss it! The syllabus is posted on the Facebook Fan Page. Feel free to email me if you have specific questions about the class.

Hope to see you all there!


It's the Season

For SUPER BOWL spots .

So, my dear Artists, Bands and Musicians, why are you sending me Christmas Carols on December 9th?

We work on Back to School commercials in June and July. We work on Black Friday spots in August. And finally – we work on Christmas spots in October.

Right now we are working on Super Bowl spots.

That’s the Advertising Season.

Make a note of it.

Best, Sarah

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