Originally published on Medium.
You may not be clambering to buy the latest movie or TV soundtrack these days, but soundtracks can still completely change the lives and careers of up-and-coming musicians.
It’s strange to think about how much music consumption has evolved in such a short period of time. A little more than a decade ago, the soundtracks for TV series and especially feature-length movies were popular purchases. Go back a little further (when CDs were still a thing) and soundtracks were hot-ticket items. Even non-musical films like Forrest Gump, Titanic, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy brought in millions of dollars with their soundtracks alone.
For what it’s worth, I have some fond memories of great movie soundtracks, but there’s no denying that they no longer have the revenue-producing power they once had. I’m not saying that they are completely dead. Depending on the genre, some titles still rack up millions of downloads and plays to this day. Just look at popular children’s movies like Frozen, or even musicals and biopics like A Star Is Born, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Rocketman. However, when you get outside of a few specific genres that have popular ballads and songs built into the story, most people just are not going out of their way to buy soundtracks the way they were in the past.
Why? Because most soundtracks are a mixed bag. They feature highly varied songs from artists in different genres, from trap house to classical. The whole idea of downloading an entire soundtrack doesn’t really jive with the new modes of music consumption. Now, at any given moment, we can find the exact song, or even portion of a song, that suits our mood. Thus, buying or even streaming an entire soundtrack doesn’t really fit our needs anymore.
That said, soundtracks have not gone completely out of fashion. Spotify recently revealed its most listened to TV soundtracks, with Stranger Things outpacing the second-place contender, One Tree Hill, by more than 3 billion plays. This goes to show that people are not completely disinterested in listening to movie and TV soundtracks, they are just going about it in a different way. Now, if people like a given soundtrack, they just type the name of the show or film into the music streaming service of their choice and hit play.
However, this means that movie and TV studios (as well as the artists who compose and produce music for them) are bringing in way less cash for their efforts. Consequently, it just doesn’t make fiscal sense to pour millions of dollars into producing a stellar soundtrack, because the direct return just isn’t there anymore. This has created an interesting shift that, oddly enough, gives more power (and money) to independent artists.
Big Studios Are Seeking Out Indie Artists
If you were paying any attention to media in the early and mid-2010s, then you probably got sick of hearing Imagine Dragons. The Las Vegas-based band, which formed in 2008, had a meteoric rise, but it wasn’t just because they offered a new and interesting sound. Literally dozens of movies, TV shows, and commercials featured their songs, from the 2012 American comedy Thanks For Sharing to 2014’s record-breaking blockbuster, Transformers: Age of Extinction. And the list goes on. Imagine Dragons became one of the most popular alternative rock bands of the decade, thanks in large part to massive exposure in film and television.
While this story doesn’t apply to the vast majority of musicians featured in popular shows and movies, it does speak to the power visual mediums have to boost sales for previously unknown or niche artists. Take Richard Macklin, for example. While still a relatively unknown artist, his song “Unleash the Beast” was featured in a trailer for Netflix’s popular TV series, Never Have I Ever. This prompted thousands of viewers to scour the Internet to find it, helping boost sales for his song, as well as subscribers and listeners on his channels, to say nothing of the royalties paid by Netflix. This exact same thing is happening for thousands of artists who are lucky enough to get featured in TV and movies.
The advent of streaming platforms has only increased content production, creating more and more opportunities for small artists to get their best songs in front of new audiences. Platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime are pumping out new movies and series as fast as they can, which often means that they don’t have the time or financial incentive to hire composers to write original scores. Instead, they turn to the mountain of talented indie artists with existing music who could use both the money and the exposure.
My Advice to Indie Artists
If you’re an independent artist, you already know that diversifying your income streams is a must. You can’t just rely on one avenue anymore. You have to build revenue wherever you can. For musicians, this means producing high-quality music that gets people’s attention and then putting it wherever people can find it.
When it comes to exposure, use every resource at your disposal. This means putting music up on various streaming platforms, ensuring that they get their songs in front of as many people as possible. As long as movie and TV producers need music, they will continue hunting down talent through these very same avenues.
While you shouldn’t bet your entire career on getting your song into a blockbuster, you also shouldn’t assume it’s impossible. The demand is there. All you have to do is continue doing what you do best.