Train, Your Fifteen Minutes May Already Be Over
Consider the case of Train (original post December 13, 2010)
It’s a nice hook. It’s just the word “hey” sung in two descending notes, and then again in a five note sequence, up two notes and then back down again. The commercial is for Samsung 3D TV. A family goes to the aquarium, they go home with a three dimensional block of water with fish in it, they insert it in their TV, and presto! - 3D fish all over the room, including a very impressive giant stingray. It’s a classic use of music in a commercial; there is no overt relationship between the music and the message, no “on the nose” connection between the lyrics and the story, but somehow the music and the message are inextricably linked. Tonally, the story and the song are perfectly balanced; each adds something to the other, but there is nothing obvious about it. When music really works in advertising, this is what it’s like. Any time you hear this piece of music, you will think of the family, the TV, and the fish – one evokes the other.
Cut to the American Music Awards, and consider the band “Train”, toiling, one assumes, in relative obscurity in San Francisco since the 90’s, finally hitting it big with “Hey Soul Sister”. Coming out of commercial, here are three guys, in appropriate “alternative” wardrobe - skinny jeans, bed head hair, miscellaneous chains, and big shoes. They launch into their act, the monster hit that took them to the awards, the hit that will presumably kick-start their rise to stardom. Or not.
And, of course, “it’s the song from the Samsung commercial”, melodic, reggae-influenced, with a nice use of ukulele that brings a whimsical touch of charm to the whole enterprise.
But, it’s the song from the Samsung commercial.
Someone made a great choice when they found this song, bought it (or licensed it) and put it in this Samsung spot – an artful, prescient, or at least exceptionally lucky choice. The agency and the client were smart to go along with it.
So here’s the $64,000 question:
What about the band?
What about their choice?
It must have felt like a score, probably a no-brainer. Are you kidding? Take the money.
No point in launching into a discussion of selling out, of observing that the great rock bands of the sixties didn’t sell out until this decade, when they were old and fat and grey and thinking about retiring, that a lot of them drugged and drank themselves to death rather than see the day. Consider Elvis. Consider the Stones, they’re a brand, not a band. It’s okay, more power to them.
But back to Train.
At the moment they hit, they were already a cliché. Their fifteen minutes of fame happened before their limo even pulled up at the party.
Someone hit the sweet spot, but it wasn’t them. It was Samsung.
Such is life when you are an artist in today’s consumer society. Forget it at your peril.
You’re not the Doors, you’re Herman’s Hermits.