Becoming a jingle doesn’t destroy a great song
I can hear it now.
“I wanna eat a big Cinnabon roll / I could be happy the rest of my life with a Cinnabon roll …”
“Hey hey, my my / Buy a Big Mac, get a free large fry …”
“Old man, look at your life, don’t you need Viagra …”
The Hipgnosis Songs Fund, a British investment company, announced Wednesday that it acquired half of the copyright and income interests in 1,180 songs written by Neil Young.
The news follows other recent catalog sales. Bob Dylan reportedly received at least $300 billion for selling publishing rights to more than 600 songs to Universal Music Publishing Group, and Stevie Nicks sold 80 percent of her songs to Primary Wave.
Still, it seems a bit odd for a control freak and anti-commercialism advocate like Neil Young to make this move.
Young is the guy who tried to create his own digital music delivery system (Pono) because he didn’t like the sound quality of iPods and streaming services.
And if the average music fan remembers any song from Young’s eclectic ’80s output, it’s “This Note’s for You,” Young’s diatribe directed at performers who turn their art into ads and allow themselves to be turned into commercial shills.
In an Associated Press story, Hipgnosis founder Merck Mercuriadis said that his company and Young “have a common integrity, ethos and passion born out of a belief in music and these important songs. There will never be a ‘Burger of Gold’ but we will work together to make sure everyone gets to hear them on Neil’s terms.”
Still, I suspect Young’s music is going to get used in ways similar to what he criticized his contemporaries for doing.
Maybe Young’s attitude has mellowed.
I know mine has.
It still frustrates me that songwriters who don’t own their publishing rights — either because they signed a bad contract when they were young or signed them away due to financial hardship — have to hear their creations mangled without any recourse.
John Fogerty fought many legal battles over the years trying to regain the rights to his Creedence Clearwater Revival songs. When a home improvement company used his anti-war anthem “Who’ll Stop the Rain” to hawk deck sealant in a commercial that ran all the time on ESPN, I imagined the rock icon and baseball fan having to listen to it every time he watched Sportscenter.
However, for a younger generation of performers, commercial placement is one of the few paths available to achieving mainstream success.
Commercial radio playlists continue to shrink and get more homogenized. A song in an iPhone or Target ad will reach more listeners the 99.9 percent of the music released in any given year.
Young artists who hope to achieve anything approaching the commercial reach of their influences can’t afford to ignore those avenues.
And who am I to complain if Young and other performers of his generation want to get paid now for their work rather than let their heirs fight over how to best monetize those assets?
I’ve got many of those Neil Young songs on vinyl up to the mid-’80s and on CD after that. So go ahead and sell “Needle and the Damage Done” to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations. The needle on my 40-year-old Technics turntable will make sure I keep enjoying them the way they were intended.
Andy Gray is the entertainment editor of Ticket. Write to him at email@example.com.