Underground Musicians Capitalize on Mainstream Marketplace

By Kelsie Testa The edgy stoner from your high school math class is no longer the only one listening to indie music. In fact, alternative rock's cousin has completed the journey from your skeevy local venue to the commercial realm—literally.

For many indie musicians, licensing songs and commercials has become trendy. But in doing so, the bands have labeled themselves with the Scarlet Letter of the music industry—"S" for sell-out. Musicians are as much capitalistic as they are artistic, and businesses need money to grow. However, with many "customers" consuming music for free through illegal downloading, artists must seek other channels for profit.

Indie musicians should be aware of the product the ad promotes, but licensing music exposes up-and-coming bands without forcing image alterations. After all, one sit-down with an advertising exec is much less painful than throwing demo after demo at producers only interested in crafting a Top-40 hit.

I'm sure Jónsi of Sigur Rós didn't write "Go Do" for the 2011 Ford Explorer. Still, just because his track was in that commercial doesn't mean he'll make songs to promote mid-sized SUVs for the rest of his career. When The Shins licensed "New Slang" to McDonalds, longtime fans lamented and criticized their decision. Turns out the band used that money to build a home studio. That's called business strategy, not selling out.

Advertisers and musicians have similar goals when it comes to impacting their audiences. Whether you're selling sneakers or selling emotions, the ultimate goal is creating a visceral response in under two minutes. Previously unheard quality tracks accomplish that while benefitting the artist.

Animal Collective shouldn't camp outside of Saatchi & Saatchi begging for company licensing, but we should relax on the name-calling, especially if we're guilty of an illegal download or two ourselves. We're all trying to follow our passions, and if we make money off of them, that's just an added bonus.

So the next time you hear Yael Naim, Foster the People, or Matt White juxtaposed with an iPod, Nissan Versa Sedan, or Big Mac, don't be so quick to judge. Because with each "Who sings that song in that one commercial?" text you send, these artists have succeeded.