Selling Out Before You’re Even a Hit

The popularity cycle is the shortest it has ever been.

Because you're not sure who he is, either.
Because you’re not sure who he is, either.

Pop culture used to live according to The Five Stages of Life As An Actor, credited to Hugh O’Brian. 

(1) “Who is Hugh O’Brian?”
(2) “Get me Hugh O’Brian!”
(3) “Get me a Hugh O’Brian type.”
(4) “Get me a young Hugh O’Brian.”
(5) “Who is Hugh O’Brian?”

And whether it was an actor, a TV show, movie franchise, book, or pop star, you could pretty much count on that progression playing out over a number of years.

But the kind of rapid rise and fall that we used to associate just with One-Hit-Wonders or Flavor-Of-The-Month teen idols is now the rule for everything in entertainment.

The handicapping of a movie’s performance takes place the Monday after its release, and woe to the turkey that doesn’t debut at Number 1.

An author blogged to his fans that the most important thing they could do to help his new book was to buy it on Amazon the day of release. “First week sales,” he said, “are the only ones that count.”

And don’t even get me started on technology, where it is perfectly OK for an Apple or Google to quit supporting a phone or computer that is less than two years old.

It’s also happening in in pop music.

I’m not talking about chart life. I haven’t researched average life span of a pop hit, although I bet it’s a good deal shorter than in the past.

No, it’s the licensing of current songs for commercials.

Remember when letting a song be used in advertising was the worst kind of selling out, or the final refuge of a artist at the end of his or career, who needed the money?

Today, songs pop up in ads while they’re still on the radio as a current hit.

And even stranger, it’s now not uncommon to sell commercial rights to more than one company at the same time, so you can hear the same song a two or three times during a commercial break.

Sometimes you hear the verse, other times just the “hook,” that twenty or thirty second chunk that defines the melody.

Do you suppose it’s cheaper to just buy the instrumental part?

I started thinking about this because Good Morning America has pretty much co-oped Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” as their new theme song. It’s on all their promos and pops up three or four times in every show. It first popped up in “Despicable Me 2,” but Williams hasn’t even released it on an album yet.

Other recent offenders:

  • Phillip Phillips’ “Home.” I swear EVERY TV commercial for months used this as its backing track.
  • Ditto for Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister” two or three years ago.

But on the up side, it used to take me months to get well and truly sick of a song.

Now I can do it in about twenty days.

#mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; }
/* Add your own MailChimp form style overrides in your site stylesheet or in this style block.
We recommend moving this block and the preceding CSS link to the HEAD of your HTML file. */

Subscribe to my mailing list

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *