Mamma Mia, This Article On “The Decline Of The Soundtrack” Has Some Major Problems

Today the fancypants Hollywood site The Wrap ran a lengthy piece on what author Dominic Patten saw as the demise of the soundtrack, using as evidence the weak performance of the Linkin Park-led tie-in album for Transformers 2; lousy sales for the 500 Days Of Summer soundtrack compared to Zach Braff’s Garden State juggernaut; the lack of soundtracks Bruno and Obsessed (the latter of which starred Beyoncé); and the generally crummy atmosphere for album sales this year. But despite having a bit of reportage and a few statistics sprinkled into its stew of bad news, the whole article felt kind of off to me. I asked Courtney Smith, a sometime music supervisor and writer for the music-in-movies blog The Playlist, what she thought of the piece. Our back-and-forth, after the jump.

My query:

Seems odd that none of the Disney soundtracks (Hannah Montana, Camp Rock, etc.) were mostly glossed over in this roundup. And there have always been sorta-crappy tie-in soundtracks that haven’t sold very well—the cutout bins at the Princeton Record Exchange would seem to bear that out!

More specifically… the Linkin Park song from Transformers 2 wasn’t as big of an event this time as it was last year, because a) that was their first song in a while and b) the new song sounded a lot like it was conceived as a single to the first one. And isn’t making the Twilight soundtrack album-only, which one of the sources said was not a great idea, a savvy way of capitalizing on a rabid fanbase? There’s a reason Paramore’s “Decode” keeps winning every voted-by-fans award, and it certainly isn’t the quality of the music relative to other pieces of Paramore’s catalog. I suspect the Diablo Cody movie’s soundtrack will do well, too, because it’s pretty focused to people who are into the whole Fueled by Ramen thing.

Anyway, any thoughts you might have would be great! This article just smelled like a heap of “reported” bullshit to me, especially since last year we had the Mamma Mia! soundtrack, High School Musical, and Camp Rock all finishing the year relatively strong.

Courtney replied:

This article is incorrect—the main reason soundtracks are not sold as a la carte downloads on download services is because publishers and the labels who own the master rights don’t want them sold that way or demand a high premium for that licensing usage. They’d rather the movie drive to album sales for the artist than the soundtrack, especially if they aren’t the label releasing the soundtrack. It’s very typical.

A lot of this article strikes me as looking at it the wrong way. A lot of the movies they’re talking about are not music-driven films. In fact, most of the past examples they site as releasing seminal, best-selling soundtracks—Titanic, The Bodyguard, Hannah Montana movie, Twilight—these are chick flicks, and the latter two are heavily invested with a music element. The proper comparison is Mamma Mia!, whose soundtrack did gangbusters. To compare them to Watchmen or Bruno is silly.

Also why would I or anyone buy a Bruno soundtrack? That movie failed to meet monetary expectations at the box office to start with and it has a soundtrack full of things everyone owns already. It would have been flatly dumb for a studio to bother releasing a soundtrack to that film. I’d ask the same thing about a Transformers 2 soundtrack—why would anyone buy that? The target market, young men, are less inclined than any other audience to rebuy (or buy in the first place) stuff they already own (or can get for free). Also, that Linkin Park are leading the soundtrack is folly—it’s playing it safe. The Pew Internet Study of 2008 said people’s No. 1 place to discover new music was in movie and TV soundtracks. That is, not to discover artists they’ve known about for 10 years. New music. Honestly, how can your soundtrack not fail if your lead marketing tool is a band who have been fizzling for the last five years.

The 500 Days of Summer vs. Garden State argument is more interesting, although the piece could have swapped in Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Juno—why does one do better and the other flop when they should essentially be the same thing in terms of how and to whom they were marketed? Because the first one to the market wins. An idea is only original once, so to remarket basically the same concept and expect it to have the same social impact the second time is a faulty plan. Plus, maybe in both those cases the originals were just better and had a more lasting impact.

Indeed, comparing Transformers 2 to something like Titanic seems like something of a stretch, and if anything the Linkin Park song is not doing that badly on the Hot 100 (it’s currently No. 19) for being a fairly lackluster song by an older-than-most band that doesn’t really slot in well to the increasingly rhythmic direction of current chart-pop. And the success of Garden State and its attendant album, if I remember correctly, was a much slower burn than that afforded to 500 Days at this point—the Zooey Deschanel vehicle may seem like it’s been out for months because it’s been marketed from here to next week, but it only went into limited release in mid-July, as did its very oldies-heavy soundtrack, which has scanned 12,000 copies through last week’s charts. It kind of makes sense—after all, who wants to buy another copy of Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams (Come True)” when there are Michael Jackson retrospectives to get, am I right?

Slumping CD Sales, iTunes Policies Take Their Toll [The Wrap]

  • neonvampyre

    The record labels should make physical albums available for purchase at the movie theaters where the films are being played. This is a long overdue concept and I think that its just one example of how labels need to be more proactive with their marketing.

  • revmatty

    Courtney’s response isn’t entirely fair. L.B. have been flailing a lot longer than 5 years.

  • Maura

    @neonvampyre: well, this idea could backfire. witness this bit of lore about the 1980 sci-fi musical ‘the apple’:

    “When this awful film played at the Paramount Theater (now the El Capitan) in Hollywood for one week in November 1980, the film’s distributor, Cannon Films, offered souvenir soundtrack records to moviegoers on their way in (record albums to the first 100 and 45 RPM singles to the next 1,000). After the first showing ushers had to stop giving the records out because the few customers that paid to see this disaster started throwing their 12″ vinyl LPs at the movie screen and around the theater like Frisbees during the film. For the next showings, ushers tried to hand the records out as people left, but most people refused to take them. I actually witnessed this happen. The leftover singles and albums were picked up by a Cannon employee a few months later and were shipped to Israel where the film was opening.”

  • NedRaggett

    @Maura: Of course the massive irony of LA being ground zero for The Apple screening revivals in recent years is all the more funny. I think nearly everyone in the crowd for those would loved to have gone back in time and kicked the original audience’s ass.

  • neonvampyre

    @Maura: I find it interesting that you mention the apple as it is one of my favorite movies and imo contains some relevant themes that pertain to the current state of the music business. But to clarify, I don’t recommend including soundtracks with ticket purchases and handing them out to moviegoers, but rather have them available for purchase at the theater. The arclight theater in hollywood has a gift shop in the lobby where they sell entertainment/fashion magazines, t-shirts, movie memorabilia ect. why not albums?

  • theSamhainKid

    I think neonvampyre’s suggestion of a gift shop in movie theatre lobbies is a pretty cool idea. Especially for blockbuster films that have cool merch.
    What makes us all nostalgic for John Hughes movie soundtracks? Great music that fit the film well and was played during key scenes throughout the movie. And as discussed on the Sandbox this morning, at the time all those bands were relatively unknown and new. Only a handful of people knew who The Smiths were when they heard them on the Pretty In Pink soundtrack. Anyone know who Lick the Tins are? No? That’s okay, cue up the end credits to Some Kind of Wonderful. NOW you know who they are. I don’t know how well those soundtracks sold back then, but they did introduce a lot of bands to the mainstream. The same can be said of the Garden State soundtrack. We were overdue for a cool, hip soundtrack of new bands. Like Courtney said, “an idea is only original once”. Or more accurately, once every generation. But hanging hopes for good soundtrack sales on a Linkin Park song is just plain dumb. People need more than that, even if they don’t always deserve it. A little imagination and care goes a long way.