Why This Reality TV Song Sounds Familiar (But Isn’t) – The Hollywood Reporter

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Jone on a hit reality show these days and you’ll probably hear a trend: songs touting the self-help girlboss lifestyle, from artists you’ve probably never heard of. While the reality landscape was once punctuated by the top 40 hits of shows like The hills, today’s content takes a different approach, relying heavily on music libraries with unnamed artists and custom scores to fill the silence. The reason? Complicated and expensive music licensing fees and a growing industry of reality TV leads.

sell sunset was among the first to gain attention for her music when she debuted on Netflix three years ago with songs that creator Adam DiVello knows the internet joked about “work, work, work and sales and high heels and dollar bills and earn that-money.” DiVello, also behind The hills and Laguna Beachsays ‘it was a whole different world’ marking these shows, which aired on MTV – a network that had licensing deals for artists’ music videos, which meant programs could use songs without having to pay extra .

Cut to 15 years later — when reality shows are now TV staples due to their low production costs and large audiences — and DiVello embraced the library and custom tunes, saying, “Music what we get, it’s not very expensive. There are more lesser known artists and people trying to break in.

Music companies like Vanacore and Atrium work with shows to provide these songs, offering both an extensive collection of their own music for every genre, style and mood and personalized offers if you have specific ideas in mind. While hit song licensing can run in the five to six figure range, music companies can do entire episodes for a fraction of that cost – sometimes in the low thousands or even hundreds per episode, depending on the job. . The trend is to throw in a few sprawling big songs per season and fill the rest of the show with less expensive material.

“Hit songs have the potential to connect in a really cool, personal way and can make things really intimate,” says Lee Vanacore, Vanacore’s VP of Creative Services, “but having a custom score, sometimes it could be a much better price to get the same emotion. I’m sure Beyoncé’s license costs quite a lot of money, so we could write a lot of music for that.

The Kardashians’ new Hulu show is following that mixed path, having licensed a Bruno Mars track and a handful of other hit songs in its first season while relying on indie artists and Vanacore’s library to the rest. The show was looking for “pop, hip-hop and indie, with a very strong emphasis on the voice of female empowerment,” said The Kardashians Executive producer Elizabeth Jones, adding: “Music from the library, there’s so much we could choose from, whereas music licensing, the downsides would be price and having to get artists signed and signed on. And sometimes that just doesn’t happen.

While some cooking, competition, and dating shows have historically relied on music libraries, the expanding world of reality television has increased the need for and emphasis on soundtrack – and improved Technology has opened up new opportunities for up-and-coming musicians to get their songs on screen.

Ben Hochstein, music supervisor on The Kardashians, says he used to get all his show music from touring artists and bands; now it’s often through musicians who create specifically for TV and film and sell songs to record companies. “Sometimes you can’t even tell,” Hochstein says. “I’m gonna play this one from Universal Records, I’m gonna play you a song these people made in their home studio, tell me the difference; often you can’t. It even works better sometimes, he says, with the faster tempo and more generic lyrics needed for reality TV.

“When the showrunners or the directors can’t afford a song or maybe the song refuses placement, I’m like, there’s a lot of music out there, we can definitely find more,” he adds. -he. This research is extensive; companion The Kardashians Music supervisor Greg Danylyshyn says out of 100 to 200 songs he searches, he finds one to two winners – and each episode can contain 10 to 20 song snippets.

Using smaller original songs also provides an advantage when it comes to long-term rights, which now that live broadcasts to streamers for the foreseeable future is a big part of the equation. DiVello notes that however The hills was able to acquire some top tracks when it aired on MTV, all of that music has been turned off now that the show is airing on Hulu.

“We didn’t have the music in perpetuity, we just had it for a while, so it had to be changed,” he explains, as it was released long before the streaming wars and the networks to at the time were unaware of the second life their hit series would have. DiVello recalled a key moment in the show when Rihanna’s “Umbrella” played, saying, “The song sums up that moment so perfectly, and was so poignant for that scene and it was so emotional for me. When you look at it now, it’s a completely different song.

It’s much cheaper to license hit songs short-term than to pay in perpetuity, confirms Hochstein, so some shows that only care about airplay and less about the long-term streaming experience are ready to enter into this agreement.

“If I decided, ‘Hey, I’m only going to license for three years, or if the networks do like a year or 18 months, I could probably get five, six times as many songs for the same budget,” adds- he. The Kardashians is committed to long-term rights, however, and with original music, shows can secure songs in perpetuity while maintaining that low cost.

Atrium CEO Josh Young, who works with 700 artists around the world to fill his company’s library for shows such as temptation island and Love is blindis also quick to note that sometimes small-scale music isn’t valued enough, especially when compared to the rates top artists receive.

“[Networks] will have a budget of $100,000, but don’t want to pay more than $2,000 for a music library. So they’ll go pay $80,000 for a Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga song, and meanwhile the rest of the music on the show will be on a very strict budget,” Young says, noting that at this rate, Library artists can make less than $100 per song. Some companies even ask to use its library for free. “I think more shows are moving towards the music library because it’s easier to clear. And I’m seeing a lot more artists moving to music libraries because the quality of music libraries is improving — [but] production companies don’t want music that sounds like a music library. They want high quality music, but they don’t want to pay for it.

This story appeared in the July 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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