Don't be surprised when you hear songs from Lou Reed's drag-queen-and-heroin phase used in holiday commercials for department stores and discount jewelry chains. In the days since the iconic rock pioneer's death this weekend, advertising firms and marketing departments have inundated Reed's publisher with requests for permission to use his work as theme music in television advertisements and marketing campaigns.
This doesn't happen every time a well-known musician passes away. You didn't hear a glut of Whitney Houston or Beastie Boys songs in TV commercials after Ms. Houston or Adam Yauch's deaths last year – yet those two sold way more records than Lou Reed ever did. Reed's posthumous revival in TV commercials is the result of two combined factors: the songs' publishing rights availability for commercial use and the humongous, notable spike in Lou Reed downloads on iTunes and Spotify in recent days.
The New York Post reports that music publisher SONY/ATV is overwhelmed with requests to use Lou Reed's songs in commercials since Reed died. "Sony/ATV holds the publishing rights to all of Reed’s work, which has been shooting up the iTunes charts and dominating Spotify streams in the days since his death at 71 on Sunday," the Post reports.
The master rights to Reed's entire solo music library are owned by SONY/ATV, plus a significant portion (but not all) of the rights to Reed's previous band The Velvet Underground.
Lou Reed's 1972 single "Perfect Day" was recently used in a PlayStation 4 commercial and the trailer for "You're Next," a summer 2013 horror film release from Lionsgate. But you'll soon hear a perfect storm of Lou Reed music in a lot more commercials.
Fans who are outraged to hear Lou Reed's songs in advertisements should know that Reed himself consented to the deal and profited handsomely from this arrangement in his final years. When Lou Reed and SONY/ATV re-upped their rights deal last month, Reed's manager Tom Sarig said, "I look forward to working closely with the Sony/ATV Music Publishing team in taking Lou Reed's publishing catalog to never-before-reached heights and exposure around the world."
The old knock on Lou Reed is that he never sold any records. That's not entirely true. His 1989 release "New York" did go gold (500,000 copies sold) and so did his 1972 release "Transformer" – which only took 38 years and three reissues to hit that mark.
Reed's collaborator Brian Eno once supposedly joked that "the first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band." The quote is technically inaccurate and the "The Velvet Underground and Nico" actually sold more like 50,000 copies before its early 1990s CD reissue.
That's still not a lot of records sold. But when you hear those songs 50,000 times in commercials this holiday season, it's going to seem like a lot.
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