Subzero

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Mexican rockers Kinky are the latest musical collaborators to infuse a TV ad campaign with their signature sound, thanks in no small part to musical mastermind Tricia Halloran of Santa Monica's SubZero. Kinky, whose eclectic sound incorporates influences including norte -- o (Mexican country music) and electronic music layered over a rock foundation, created original music for a recent three-spot campaign for the Honda Element. Halloran, a leading DJ and programmer with KCRW in Santa Monica, National Public Radio's flagship station, is also creative director of SubZero, a subsidiary of Hum Music. "When I first saw Kinky perform last August, I met the band and their manager and told them what we do," recalls Halloran. "I said, 'I'm gonna get you a car commercial.' I thought they had such an amazing crossover sound. They have broad appeal but with an edge that is artistic and different."

So, when Ruben Postaer & Associates was searching for authentic music to score the launch of a new vehicle targeted at a Gen-Y demographic, Kinky topped the list of bands suggested by Halloran. It was a fit, and soon, the Mexican group was in the studio composing original tracks for "Mountain Bike" and "Ocean." In January, Kinky's eponymous debut record picked up a Grammy nomination for Best Latin/Alternative Album, more than validating the agency and Halloran's pick. Soon enough, a third track was laid down for a follow-up spot, "Snow Trip."

Obviously, a commissioned piece of music is less costly for clients than licensing existing and well-known tracks, but Halloran says there are other considerations. "A lot of times artists are more willing to create a new song for an ad rather than have one of their songs attached with the visual of a commercial. And, as opposed to the needle in the haystack search, you can give the client the particular thing they had in mind, especially since they often need a specific lyrical reference. A lot of licensing is kind of random. There is so much music out there written for a different purpose, and it's hard to mix and match. This a more efficient way." Plus, agencies are afforded more control over a specially written track, making edit changes and necessary tweaks less of a headache. "Lastly, and inconsequentially, it's more fun for us and the agency to bring in the band and record something specific," adds Halloran. "There's just more interaction with the artists."

Last year's Mitsubishi-Dirty Vegas marriage proved, to bands, music publishers and record labels the capacity of commercials as marketing vehicles. The Kinky deal was put together with the band and its music publishers, not their label, Nettwork Records. "We hooked Nettwork up with the agency media plan so they could link it with their marketing plan," Halloran explains. "Involving the label is important; they can sticker the record and say 'As heard in the Honda Element campaign.' Being in commercials is good alternative exposure."

And the artists, often the last ones in the music business to get their cut, do get a healthy paycheck out of the deal. When Halloran linked New York rockers Les Sans Culottes with Hewlett-Packard and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, the independent band could finally afford to tour. "It's a way to make bands less dependent on major label money," Halloran notes. "Labels finance tours and recordings, but this is an income stream that gives you a lot more freedom. Artists are used to writing about their lives and whatever they are going through. This is process is outside of that."

Halloran's KCRW gig keeps her in constant contact with the latest music; she deals with hundreds of labels on a weekly basis for her show Brave New World and she listens to upwards of 60 new records a week. Yet, contrary to the Kinky example, she maintains she doesn't catalog most artists for use in her second gig at SubZero, Regardless, her proven tastemaker status means Halloran's hunches go a long way toward letting both starving artists and cool-hungry creatives have their proverbial cake and eat it, too.

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