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Local bands break in by sneaking through your TV set
In 2005, “Breathe Me” by Sia played during the series finale of HBO’s Six Feet Under. Despite being nearly two years old at the time, the song was exposed to a whole new audience, prompting widespread commercial radio airplay and a U.S. rerelease of Sia’s album. The O.C. became so well-known for breaking indie bands it spawned five Music From the O.C. albums.
So it’s not surprising that a lot of local bands try to get their music on TV, but what is surprising—or, at least, impressive—is the number of unsigned Orange County acts that have successfully gotten “placement” (to use the somewhat-icky industry term for it) in the past couple of months. Newport Beach’s the Jakes saw their songs played on the background of The Real World and A&E’s The Beast earlier this spring. Just this past week, Huntington Beach’s Honeypie, relative newcomers on the local scene, got a good minute of “Never Get Enough” on the CW’s bizarre soap opera One Tree Hill. (On a recent episode, a doctor carrying a donor heart tripped and dropped the heart, and then a dog ate it.)
The Brit-pop-inspired Venus Infers (also from H.B.) have had plenty of their songs end up on the tube and are proof that even if MTV doesn’t play many videos anymore (you may have heard), they still support music, albeit in a subtler way—the band’s music has been on the network’s Making the Band, The Real World, Road Rules, The Hills and The City over the years, as well as those especially inane Real World/Road Rules challenges. Earlier this year, their music appeared on critically lauded FX drama Damages.
“Sometimes it’s hard to keep track,” says Venus Infers singer/guitarist Davis Fetter, “because I don’t have cable, and a lot of times when people use the placements, they don’t tell me until it’s done.”
Fetter explains that bands not part of the major-label machine get these placements a couple of different ways: through third-party groups whose job it is to get music on TV, film and commercials, or simply through making connections. For Orange County bands, being so close to LA doesn’t hurt.
“On MTV, for The Hills, The City and Making the Band, we had done a couple of shows [in LA], and I had met one of the girls who does music supervision out there,” Fetter says. “I just kind of facilitated that: ‘Hey, we’d love to be on the shows sometime.’”
Even though many of these shows don’t credit the music that gets used in the background, causing interested parties to hunt online for pertinent information, Fetter has seen clear results that the spots have increased the band’s exposure. They played a show in February at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano with Tamarama, a band fronted by Jay Lyon, the boyfriend of Whitney Port, main “character” on The Hills-spinoff The City. (The Hills itself, of course, is a spinoff of Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County, so the OC connection runs deep.)
“We played with him, and a lot of girls came to see him,” Fetter says. When they realized that Venus Infers also had a connection to the show, “they kind of freaked out. ‘Oh, that’s so cool. We heard you; we didn’t know who you were.’”
Sure, there are some who will argue that putting your music in teen dramas, cheeseball reality shows or basic-cable Patrick Swayze vehicles is crass commercialism, and that’s not lost on Fetter.
“You swallow your pride a little bit,” he says. “It’s kind of funny. My parents TiVo’d one of them. It was The Real World, with two guys arguing, ‘You left the fuckin’ toilet seat up, man,’ and then in came my song, ‘You Can’t Scare Me at All.’”
Despite whatever cognitive dissonance this may cause, Fetter still thinks it’s worth it, even if his idols might disagree.
“In the ’90s, bands like Oasis or Radiohead were very picky about what TV shows used their art,” he says. “Now, in the digital age, and with radio where it is, it’s just another outlet for bands to get exposure, even if it’s a show you might not watch or endorse.”
It makes financial sense, too. When you toil to make any type of money with your art, who can realistically say no to someone wanting to pay you for something that you’ve already done?
“At the very least,” Fetter says, “it’s not a bad way for an unsigned band to get a couple of extra bucks.”