Companies & Industries

Behind the scenes of Tim Hortons’ hit Sidney Crosby ad

Music for TV is big business

Patriotic advertisements are all the rage again as the country ramps up for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. But one in particular is drawing a lot of attention from viewers before the games even begin.

By now you’ve probably seen the Tim Hortons ad in question—Sidney Crosby, in a letter C jersey, swings his legs over the bench to start playing what is ostensibly an international hockey game. The surreal sets in when droves of eager Canadians, young and old, start hopping onto the ice as well, joining together to play a good old hockey game as an anthemic song plays in the background. “The northern lights are calling/The siren screams our name,” goes the soundtrack:

It’s an ad that’s calculated to tug at your Canadian heartstrings, but according to Tim Hortons the spot has elicited an even stronger response than they anticipated. “Right from the very first day our…spot aired, our guests have been tweeting us and posting messages on Facebook and YouTube asking for the song,” Rob Fordes, Tim Hortons’ senior director of marketing and national programs, said in a press release.

Ask and you shall receive. On Wednesday Tim Hortons released a full version of the song, entitled “Let’s Run,” and made it available to download for free on SoundCloud.

But “Let’s Run” isn’t the first time that Grayson Matthews, the Toronto sound design and music collective that created the track, have received requests to extend their advertising soundtracks into a full-length song. The company actually has a whole album of music originally created for ads available on iTunes. A year ago you likely saw Molson’s “The Canadians” ad, which also featured a Grayson Matthews single, titled “Where I’m From.”

The past decade has seen a rising demand for “music supervision” of the type Grayson Matthews provides—companies and individuals dedicated to creating or finding the right song for the right moment in a piece of film. Record labels used to rely on radio play and music videos to ensure sales, but in today’s music industry (one heavily influenced by the Internet, of course), advertising and television are the “new radio,” says David Hayman, creative director and music supervisor at Toronto’s Supersonic Creative. Like Grayson Matthews, Supersonic specializes in both writing and licensing music for ads, films, and TV shows.

“Television is really what moves numbers these days,” Hayman says. “Now if you flip on the television you definitely see about 50% of the spots [using] licensed music from bands you either know or bands that are emerging,” as opposed to original compositions. And when people hear music they like in ads or shows, “it’s just a visceral thing—they want to know what it is right away,” Hayman added. The need to know the title of that mystery song can be a very good thing for an artist.

Canadian artist Serena Ryder, for example, licensed her music to be used for commercial purposes around the time her latest album was released in late 2012, which helped with her exposure. Ryder’s single “Stompa” even made its way into a Cadillac spot last summer:

BlackBerry also got on the licensing bandwagon when it decided to roll out its Z10 ad campaign featuring the single “Elephant” by Australian band Tame Impala:

There’s also been a shift in thinking, from both artists and consumers, on the concept of being a “sell-out.” Now that album sales account for a much smaller portion of an artist’s income, licensing has become a new way to find fans and make a living. For example, licensing can provide the cash a band or individual might need to sponsor their next tour or go back into the studio, says Heather Gardner, head of music supervision and licensing at Toronto’s Vapor Music.

“It’s a great money-making opportunity, great exposure, and these brands aren’t biting. The idea of selling out seems very ancient now,” Gardner says. “Bands are so open to it as long as the relationship is right and as long as the brand is right,” adds Hayman.

For evidence of artists who’ve been able to maintain their credibility while licensing their music for commercials, you might look no further than a certain Canadian songstress who got a “big break” when her song was featured in an iPod commercial in 2007:

And it’s not just new songs that are getting their time in the licensing spotlight. Hayman and Supersonic recently worked with Telus to add a bit of Run DMC nostalgia to their Christmas 2013 ad campaign:

While some artists will continue to have reservations about having their work featured in ads, Gardner and Hayman say there is still a greater likelihood of people finding a new band or their favourite new song in a television show these days than there was a decade ago. And given the right pairing of image and sound, a commercial with a soundtrack that gets a strong emotional response from viewers can be a winning situation for all involved, says Hayman.

If the music is on point, adds Flynn, “that, at the end of the day, is what matters. It’s good music. Not being picky about where it’s coming from.”