Tom Waits and John Desmore write on allowing their songs to be used in adverts
TOM Waits has view on recording artistes who let marketing wonks use their songs in adverts. In this letter, Waits refers to the 2002 article in The Nation by John Densmore of The Doors (highlights after the letter):
Woodland Hills, Calif.
Thank you for your eloquent “rant” by John Densmore of The Doors on the subject of artists allowing their songs to be used in commercials [“Riders on the Storm,” July 8]. I spoke out whenever possible on the topic even before the Frito Lay case (Waits v. Frito Lay), where they used a sound-alike version of my song “Step Right Up” so convincingly that I thought it was me. Ultimately, after much trial and tribulation, we prevailed and the court determined that my voice is my property.
Songs carry emotional information and some transport us back to a poignant time, place or event in our lives. It’s no wonder a corporation would want to hitch a ride on the spell these songs cast and encourage you to buy soft drinks, underwear or automobiles while you’re in the trance. Artists who take money for ads poison and pervert their songs. It reduces them to the level of a jingle, a word that describes the sound of change in your pocket, which is what your songs become. Remember, when you sell your songs for commercials, you are selling your audience as well.
When I was a kid, if I saw an artist I admired doing a commercial, I’d think, “Too bad, he must really need the money.” But now it’s so pervasive. It’s a virus. Artists are lining up to do ads. The money and exposure are too tantalizing for most artists to decline. Corporations are hoping to hijack a culture’s memories for their product. They want an artist’s audience, credibility, good will and all the energy the songs have gathered as well as given over the years. They suck the life and meaning from the songs and impregnate them with promises of a better life with their product.
Eventually, artists will be going onstage like race-car drivers covered in hundreds of logos. John, stay pure. Your credibility, your integrity and your honor are things no company should be able to buy.
Dread ripples through me as I listen to a phone message from our manager saying that we (The Doors) have another offer of huge amounts of money if we would just allow one of our songs to be used as the background for a commercial. They don’t give up! I guess it’s hard to imagine that everybody doesn’t have a price. Maybe ’cause, as the cement heads try to pave the entire world, they’re paving their inner world as well. No imagination left upstairs…
It all started in 1967, when Buick proffered $75,000 to use “Light My Fire” to hawk its new hot little offering–the Opel. As the story goes–which everyone knows who’s read my autobiography or seen Oliver
Stone’s movie–Ray, Robby and John (that’s me) OK’d it, while Jim was out of town. He came back and went nuts. And it wasn’t even his song (Robby primarily having penned “LMF”)! In retrospect, his calling up Buick and saying that if they aired the ad, he’d smash an Opel on television with a sledgehammer was fantastic! I guess that’s one of the reasons I miss the guy.
It actually all really started back in ’65, when we were a garage band and Jim suggested sharing all the songwriting credits and money. Since he didn’t play an instrument–literally couldn’t play one chord on piano or guitar, but had lyrics and melodies coming out of his ears–the communal pot idea felt like a love-in…
Vaclav Havel had it right when he took over as president of Czechoslovakia, after the fall of Communism. He said, “We’re not going to rush into this too quickly, because I don’t know if there’s that much difference between KGB and IBM.”…
The late, transcendental George Harrison had something to say about this issue. The Beatles “could have made millions of extra dollars [doing commercials], but we thought it would belittle our image or our songs,” he said. “It would be real handy if we could talk to John [Lennon]…because that quarter of us is gone…and yet it isn’t, because Yoko’s there, Beatling more than ever.” Was he talking about the Nike ad, or John and Yoko’s nude album cover shot now selling vodka?…
So, in the spirit of the Bob Dylan line, “Money doesn’t talk, it swears,” we have been manipulated, begged, extorted and bribed to make a pact with the devil. While I was writing this article, Toyota Holland went over the line and did it for us. They took the opening melodic lines of “Light My Fire” to sell their cars. We’ve called up attorneys in the Netherlands to chase them down, but in the meantime, folks in Amsterdam think we sold out. Jim loved Amsterdam.