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Soundtracks: time to make a song and dance

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Global smashes such as High School Musical suggest film and television soundtracks remain a going concern in the digital age, especially during the awards season, says Ash Dosanjh

When Dame Helen Mirren picked up the best actress gong for her performance in The Queen at this year's Baftas, it was a triumph for British cinema and no doubt put her in good stead for the Academy Awards, where even the film's soundtrack was nominated for best original score.

In a time when all eyes are on Hollywood, now is the prime time for the film industry to cash in on the publicity by pushing DVDs - and for the music sector to bring attention to their soundtrack albums. Certainly, the potential for building incremental business is significant.

Considering soundtracks are an integral part of the movie making process, it would seem that the awards season is a perfect time to ensure the category's potential is being met.

The out-of-the-box success of Walt Disney's High School Musical, which sold around 600,000 units for EMI Music last year, provided evidence that soundtracks are capable of generating huge sales. It is a result that has seen retailers sit up and take notice, with both HMV and Virgin Megastore capitalising on the Oscars to further the category.

"We've got an ongoing promotion for soundtracks," says HMV specialities and classicals buyer Robert Rhodes. "We try and keep it down to 100 titles to keep it manageable for the HMV stores. We tend to find that soundtracks lift around this time of year, regardless of whether the music has actually been recognised by the Academy."

Similarly, Virgin has dedicated soundtrack departments within their larger stores. According to Virgin retail's head of music Rob Campkin, the retailer does very well with soundtrack sales throughout the year.

"We regularly put soundtracks into our campaigns, particularly the more classic films like Apocalypse Now or GoodFellas. We do well with soundtracks all year round," he says. "But just because the Oscars are here doesn't mean that we wouldn't give soundtracks focus any other time of year."

For some, however, giving greater prominence to the soundtrack genre is an unlikely fallout from Oscar-mania. For Woolworths product manager Keith Black, there are only certain types of soundtracks that have enduring appeal on the shop floor.

"We don't tend to stock the lower score-led soundtracks," admits Black, "because the sales just aren't there for us. It's the top blockbusters or female-led romantic comedies like Dirty Dancing or Grease that tend to be the ones that sell for long periods. There are good sales to be had from old soundtracks, but I don't specifically see the Oscars bringing an uplift."

He may have a point. To date, RCA's Dirty Dancing and the Polydor- issued Grease have shifted over 800,000 units each - over decades rather than months, it is true. But, compared to the 8,000-odd sales of Sony BMG's soundtrack to the multi Oscar-nominated Dreamgirls, it is apparent that Oscar acclaim does not guarantee immediate sales.

However, independent retailers such as Quirk Records store partner Paul Quirk believe there are gains to be made from the Oscars, despite soundtracks being a relatively niche genre.

"It's not a massive market," says Quirk, "because there are so many soundtracks out there and only certain ones are a hit. But, having said that, we are hoping to do a promotion around the Oscars this year and we'll do the same with the Grammys."

It is not only the retailers who can see the correlation between a film's acclaim and soundtrack sales. For music publishers such as Bug Music general manger Roberto Neri, placing bands and artists on soundtracks is a key focus.

"It's important for Bug to land a placement on a music soundtrack," says Neri. For example, he suggests, Marie Antoinette allowed iconic songs like Gang Of Four's Natural's Not In It to reach a new audience, as well as gaining exposure for new talent such as Dustin O'Halloran.

"We have direct contact with music supervisors and directors and we regularly meet to discuss new projects. Bug has a fruitful back catalogue and the demand for the use of our compositions is constant," he adds.

Global Talent Publishing managing director Miller Williams is in agreement with Neri, but feels that publishers will always play second fiddle to the might of major labels.

"It's a tough time for everyone in the music business because it's never been so available," he says. "The soundtrack business isn't what it was five years ago, but it's still important to get your music onto film. It's another source of income and it raises the profile of the artist.

"One of our artists, Corinne Bailey Rae, is currently on the soundtrack for Venus. We wanted to get her on the soundtrack for Grey's Anatomy, but EMI and the people behind the programme's soundtrack couldn't come to an agreement. It ultimately comes down to the label," says Williams.

Despite a somewhat disturbing downturn in the sales of film soundtracks last year, EMI Publishing promotions manager Melanie Johnson remains optimistic about the genre's future.

"There's been a massive decline in people making soundtracks, but I know that Universal has a new initiative to do more, which is really refreshing," she says. "I think 90% of our songwriters would love to be in film soundtracks - although we do have an ongoing battle with film companies to have good music because often they don't have the budget. We as publishers have to be more creative about how we can fit in tracks, not just artistically but financially."

But while the sales of new movie soundtracks have fallen in recent years, 2006 saw four TV soundtracks in the Top 100 albums of the year. As High School Musical and the Silva Screen-released soundtrack to the BBC's Dr Who have demonstrated, sales of TV soundtracks are burgeoning. But for Silva Screen Records' commercial director David Stoner, the gains made by Dr Who is attributable to successful branding.

"Dr Who is the successful reinvention of a brand by the BBC," says Stoner, "and in effect that's what people are buying into. Although the content of the album is relevant to an extent, it's not what the customer is buying into. With films, I think sales of soundtracks are largely affected by the popularity of the film. If the film does well the album will - providing it's properly representative of the film. If you've got one of those horrible '"music from and inspired by" collections, it can often do more harm than good."

Unlike Stoner, however, EMI CD product manager Hikaru Sasaki believes that the success of soundtracks such as High School Musical and other Disney-owned releases is down to the emergence of a new "tween market" with greater purchasing power and enthusiasm for the genre.

"Soundtracks like High School Musical are targeted towards a teen audience and they react instantly," she says. "They see something they want and it's an instant purchase, most probably a digital one.

"On the whole, I think the sales of big film soundtracks depend on the film. So if it's a chick-flick it will do well, if it's a classical score, like Pirates Of The Caribbean, it will only sell a couple of thousand, maximum."

But while younger music fans are able to cherry-pick and download individual tracks rather than purchase an album as a single entity, it looks likely that soundtracks will succumb to the same fate that has beset the general album market in recent years.

Universal head of film, TV and advertising Marc Robinson agrees with Sasaki's view that a film's success at the box office is inextricably responsible for healthy soundtrack sales. He also thinks that some blame must rest at new innovations in music purchasing - such as downloads - for slowing the growth of the soundtrack genre.

"As far as I'm concerned, the success of a soundtrack depends on the success of a film internationally. I think in this day and age, soundtracks are diminishing in sales due to technology moving on. This makes our job as a label more challenging. We need to start making soundtracks that are a souvenir for people when they leave a film.

"I think with everything being digitally available, we will see soundtracks go through a second life, especially for releases like The Queen, which is very score-heavy. But I definitely think that the profile of soundtracks is going to come back."

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  • APA 6th ed.: Dosanjh, Ash (2007-03-03). Soundtracks: time to make a song and dance. Music Week p. 11.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Dosanjh, Ash. "Soundtracks: time to make a song and dance." Music Week [add city] 2007-03-03, 11. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Dosanjh, Ash. "Soundtracks: time to make a song and dance." Music Week, edition, sec., 2007-03-03
  • Turabian: Dosanjh, Ash. "Soundtracks: time to make a song and dance." Music Week, 2007-03-03, section, 11 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Soundtracks: time to make a song and dance | url= | work=Music Week | pages=11 | date=2007-03-03 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=18 April 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Soundtracks: time to make a song and dance | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=18 April 2024}}</ref>