Feature: Good music, cheap

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter  |  June 24, 2004 at 6:36 PM
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LOS ANGELES, June 24 (UPI) -- Take the high cost of movie production, toss in the disintegration of the recording industry's traditional business model, add a dash of opportune timing, and you come up with Luke Hits -- a Hollywood specialty company that hooks up movie and TV producers with unsigned recording artists.

Luke Hits is the brainchild of Luke Eddins, a former garage-band player who was attending the University of Virginia when he decided to pursue something more entrepreneurial. He and a friend started up an outdoor-clothing company, and Eddins worked for a time in marketing for Tiffany & Co.

He came to Los Angeles a few years ago for a dot-com opportunity, before the dot-com bust, and even played some music as part of a duo in Hollywood. In 2002 Eddins combined his affinity for music with his background in business to form Luke Hits, which more or less does for unsigned recording acts what casting agencies do for actors.

At a time when producers are looking for ways to fight ever-higher production costs, Eddins' service promises first-rate music at cut-rate prices. As increasingly affordable technology has democratized the process of recording music, the number of unsigned bands has grown exponentially -- resulting in a large number of recording artists who have learned to prosper without the support system that record companies traditionally provided.

The Motion Picture Association of America recently reported that the average cost of producing and marketing a movie in 2003 was $102.8 million.

"Budget discretion has to be a fervid priority at every studio," said outgoing MPAA president Jack Valenti.

At Disney, DreamWorks, Fox, MGM, Sony and Warner Bros., the search for a solution to the cost problem has included a heavier reliance on using music by untested recording artists. In some cases they may sound like established acts; in others their sound is wholly original. But they all have one thing in common: Their tunes come relatively cheaply.

In order to find this talent so he can pitch it to Hollywood music supervisors, Eddins works seven days a week in his Hollywood apartment, listening to tapes and CDs submitted to him through his Web site, lukehits.com.

"I subject my eardrums to around 500 songs a day, which equals around 50-ish albums," Eddins told United Press International. "Admittedly, it can get torturous at times, especially certain vocals, but that rush of discovering a Norah Jones in the haystack is what I live for."

Eddins has placed recordings in such big-budget features as "The Ring," "Cheaper by the Dozen" and the new Wayans brothers comedy, "White Chicks." He has also placed songs in trailers for "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" and "Barbershop 2," as well as commercials for Miller Beer and Sears.

His first big break came in early 2002 when composer Hans Zimmer's production company contacted him looking for a song with a "Smashing Pumpkins vibe" for "The Ring." Eddins went through his catalogue, burned three songs on a CD, took it to Zimmer's office -- and scored. "The Ring" had the sound it wanted at a fraction of the price it would have had to pay to license a Smashing Pumpkins track.

Eddins prefers not to discuss his financial arrangements in detail, but unsigned bands that he gets placements for reportedly can make up to $15,000 a song and customarily pay Eddins one-third.

The fee is certainly not an incidental consideration for recording artists; the opportunity to have their work showcased in high-profile productions can have a positive effect on their careers. A band might make a living playing on the road and selling its own CDs and merchandise, but having its music heard on the soundtrack of a $100 million movie can provide powerful thrust to a band's brand awareness.

At the same time, Ryko Records president George Howard -- a musician and producer who recently wrote the book "Getting Signed! An Insider's Guide to the Record Industry" -- told UPI that bands should not expect too much from the exposure that comes with play on a movie soundtrack.

"That's a very viable way for bands to get exposure these days," he said, "but I have serious concerns about the long-term effects of that. It does not build careers. It ties the band to the fate of the movie or the career. When the commercial stops running, where's the band?"

Howard said there have been cases where a successful commercial campaign led to a significant spike in record sales.

Ryko owns the catalogue for Nick Drake, the singer-songwriter who died in 1975 after releasing just three albums, including "Pink Moon." Howard said when Volkswagen used the title track in an ad, the song became a hit.

"We started selling 300,000 copies a year for years," he said.

But Howard said it would be a mistake for bands to think they might sell hundreds of thousands of records if they could just get their music in a movie or a commercial.

"That's just not the case," he said. "It's like everything else in entertainment, there's just too much coming at you."

Howard said media gatekeepers limit the range of music that reaches the public through large delivery systems such as Clear Channel and Infinity broadcasting groups, but technology might be transforming that model too.

"Maybe there will be musical blogs, little communities," he said. "A lot of people are going to make a lot of money including artists. Music is going to be used in ways it has never been used before."


(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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