n their low-slung Denver living room last fall, Robert Schneider and Hilarie
Sidney were talking about what it means for musicians to sell out. Robert sat on the carpet, jittery and
animated under a wisp of sandy hair; his wife, Hilarie, who was eight months pregnant with their first child,
offered cookies. The day the Beach Boys sold "Good Vibrations" for a soft-drink ad, they agreed, was one of
betrayal and ruin. "That was the Beach Boys at their wildest and most psychedelic," Robert says. "For a long
time after that, it was hard for me to take the song out of the Sunkist commercial."
For the past eight years, the couple, both 30, have been playing in a five-member band called the
Apples in Stereo. Robert sings and plays guitar; Hilarie plays drums. The Apples consider themselves "a
cross between the Beach Boys and the Velvet Underground," Robert says, breezy but, by ethos and tribe,
"totally punk rock, indie rock." Their three albums for the independent label SpinART have gotten good
reviews and sold about 20,000 copies apiece.
In late summer 1999, the band got a call from their friend Tim Barnes, who lives in New York. Tim plays
drums in a couple of underground bands and lets the Apples stay with him whenever they play in New York
or Hoboken. But mostly, Tim designs sound and suggests music for commercials. At the time, he was working
on an ad for Sony being done by Young & Rubicam and thought the Apples in Stereo's song
"Strawberryfire" would be perfect. The agency was offering about $18,000. Was the band interested?
Here was a critical moment. Hilarie could still remember the breathless thrill of discovering her favorite
band, Pavement, and the loss she felt when they became popular, available to just anyone. She thought of
the indie-rock purists who felt betrayed when the Apples released an album instead of just cult-friendly singles.
Didn't the band owe something to these believers? At the same time, even after the record company took its cut,
it was more money than the band cleared in a year of recording and touring -- all work occasional jobs to eke
out a living. When Robert put the question to the rest of the band, he says, "Everyone's reaction was, right away,
'It's cool."' They took the offer. So began their odyssey in the new economy of pop music, where radio, MTV,
touring and even record sales are no longer the only means of getting over.
Fourteen years after Nike outraged Beatles fans, and the surviving Beatles, by using "Revolution" in a
sneaker ad -- Michael Jackson controlled the publishing rights to the song -- the revolution is over, and the
advertisers have largely won. Bruce Springsteen famously refused a reported $12 million to license his
song "Born in the U.S.A." to Chrysler in 1986 and remains one of the handful of high-profile holdouts.
(Others include Neil Young and Tom Petty.) But such opposition appears to be in retreat. "Artists no
longer feel stigmatized about being used by corporations," says Cyndi Goretski, artists-and-repertoire
manager in the licensing division of Warner Music. Counterculture anthems by the Who or Jimi Hendrix now
sell cars. When Sting couldn't get airplay for his recent song "Desert Rose" or for the video, which featured him
riding in a Jaguar, he licensed the video to the company to turn it into an ad. The exposure helped "Brand New
Day" become his top-selling solo album.
But increasingly, agencies are looking beyond middle-of-the-road pop like Sting's and building brand
identity for their clients with hip curios like the Apples. If you want to hear interesting, ambitious, challenging
pop music these days, the place to turn is not mainstream radio but television -- and not MTV but commercials
for establishment products like banks, phone companies and painkillers. As pop radio has constricted around
a handful of slick teen acts, commercials screech and thump with underground dance music and alternative
rock, selling products whose reach extends way beyond that of the musicians.
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