TV Builds the Radio Star

Bands bust out on network programs

Strange as it may seem, it’s CBS, not MTV, that’s breaking hip, young musical acts. Building on what Fox’s The O.C. has done in recent years, CBS’ Love Monkey, which debuts this week, follows the life of a record exec (Tom Cavanagh from Ed) who regularly checks out up-and-coming bands like Eugene and She Wants Revenge at industry showcases and bars.

Monkey’s music supervisor and co-producer, Nic Harcourt, boasts a rich rock pedigree. He’s music director at Los Angeles public radio station KCRW and hosts its celebrated Morning Becomes Eclectic program.

Harcourt finessed his relationships to bring new acts to Monkey. While The O.C. frequently uses new bands for background music (and sometimes has them perform on the show), Monkey will show different bands every week.

“We’re using live performances in a very different way and taking the opportunity to highlight artists that wouldn’t be heard otherwise,” says Harcourt. “The audience for this show is going be a very reactive one who’s going to go out and buy CDs.”

Emerging bands are turning to TV at a time when consolidation in radio and cutbacks in music-industry advertising have made it exceedingly difficult to break through. Furthermore, Internet and satellite radio mean listeners’ attention is split among a wider array of obscure artists.

As a result, say music execs, bands view TV differently than before. “Ten years ago, if a major network approached [a hip band] about being on a television show starring the guy who was in Ed and an aged Jason Priestley, they probably would’ve balked at it,” says Geoff Sherr, of Management Music Division. “If they want to have long, self-sustaining careers, they have to do things that, in the past, may have brought into question their credibility.”

Sherr, who helped progressive New York band Robbers on High Street get on Monkey, says it’s often about more than exposure: While some bands will appear on the program or offer a song for free, networks generally pay artists and labels $5,000-$12,000 apiece for a song, plus a day rate for a show appearance.

Networks have long cut deals with record labels and publishers to license tracks for theme songs, scores and in-program performances. The O.C., for example, packs episode scores with up to 15 songs, promoted singer Beck’s latest album with five tracks on one episode, and has sold more than 700,000 copies of its soundtracks.

The deals are getting more innovative. The WB produced a magazine insert for fall show Supernatural that combined LED technology and a song by the Dave Matthews Band. Showtime recently licensed Fatboy Slim’s “Wonderful Night” as the exclusive music on a promotion for its Sunday-night programming, well before the record was released—and for a nominal fee, says Joel Beckerman, principal/executive producer, Man Made Music, who engineered the deal for Slim.

“When the song is the hero of the spot and there’s going to be dozens of plays on Showtime, the value of that is just huge,” Beckerman says. “[Fatboy Slim] was more interested in the media schedule than the license fee.”

Man Made is also music consultant for cable network Current TV. The company helps Current achieve its goal of “music-permeated programming” by suggesting musicians to introduce programming and perform. The network licensed the late Joey Ramone’s cover of “What a Wonderful World,” for example, to appear every half-hour.

“[Ramone’s] management was really interested in getting this music out in front of this younger demo Current caters to,” says Beckerman. “In an odd way, it’s kind of like TV’s the new radio.”