By Elizabeth Barfoot Christian
As the record industry has gone digital over the last decade, troubles have been brewing in the movie soundtrack business, as well.
Until the turn of the 21st century, a hit film almost guaranteed a blockbuster soundtrack, too. That’s why rockers were all-too-happy to jump on the bandwagon—pun intended—to record a record or two or an entire soundtrack for even a marginally profitable flick.
The late 1970s and 1980s saw a string of chart-topping groups write and record music for movie soundtracks. Saturday Night Fever in 1977 included seven Bee Gees songs and remains the No. 2 best-selling soundtrack. Prince starred in and recorded the soundtrack for Purple Rain (No. 3) in 1984, the same year Kenny Loggins sealed his position as king of the soundtrack song with two hits for the film Footloose (No. 7). Loggins then recorded three hit songs for 1986’s blockbuster Top Gun (No. 8).
Bon Jovi followed in 1990 recording several songs released as his first solo album Blaze of Glory, subtitled Young Guns 2. And Whitney Houston did it like nobody’s business by starring in and singing the soundtrack for The Bodyguard (1992). It remains the No. 1 selling soundtrack of all time.
More recently, Aerosmith (Armageddon, 1998), Eminem (8 Mile, 2002), Miley Cyrus (The Hannah Montana Movie, 2008), AC/DC (Iron Man 2, 2010), and Cher and Christina Aguilera (Burlesque, 2010) have taken turns at staying in the spotlight (or returning to it) by recording motion picture soundtracks and in some cases starring in the picture themselves.
Currently, Grammy winning French duo Daft Punk is racking up sales for holiday movie Tron: Legacy, debuting at No. 10 on the Billboard 200 with sales of 70,000 the first week of the film’s release.
Since the near demise of the music video (the main marketing engine for soundtracks outside of the actual film itself) and the slow death of album-length offerings, record companies must be more creative in marketing soundtracks lest they lose money on the deal. What better way than to have a rock star play a starring role—whether that be in film scenes or in local family-friendly retailer’s shelves?
Twenty-first century media speed requires this kind of branding to make some artists relevant for more than 15 minutes. (High School Musical, anyone?) For others, it is proving to be a good business strategy. If your brand image is everywhere from the soundtrack to the movie screen, to a line of clothing at Walmart or an inspired video game or toy, you probably won’t have to worry about digital downloads and CD sales anymore.
Elizabeth Barfoot Christian is assistant professor of journalism at Louisiana Tech University and the editor of Rock Brands: Selling Sound in a Media Saturated Culture.
Next blog: “Everything Old is New Again: The Marketing Magic of TV’s Glee”