H'wood tunes out original songs

By Robert Marich

      July 3, 2009 – In an overlooked trend, movie producers no longer commission original songs that captivate audiences, but instead license already-familiar hits, leaving today’s films less weighty argues columnist Eric Felten.
   “There were years when the Oscars considered songs so brilliant that even the losers became standards,” Felton writes in the Wall Street Journal. “Take 1936, when ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ and ‘Pennies From Heaven’ were defeated by ‘The Way You Look Tonight.’ In the decades to come, the Academy would give awards to songs such as ‘Over the Rainbow,’ ‘Mona Lisa,’ ‘All the Way’ and ‘The Shadow of Your Smile.’ Compare them with the deathless melody honored for best movie song of 2005: ‘It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp.’ All together now, let’s all hum a few bars . . . anybody?”
   Felten said that the decision last month by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science not to award an Oscar for best original song in some years – depending on voting – simply recognizes today’s reality. He says that orchestral scoring for movies is top notch—the mood instrumentals—but original traditional songs are increasingly scarce.
   Original music is a way to expand the brand of a movie into another medium--CDs, digital downloads and radio--so this is a creative content decision that also impacts marketing. "Though music merchandising is not as lucrative as it once was, soundtracks are still revenue generators and promotional tools," notes Marketing to Moviegoers: Second Edition. Of the top 10 selling movie soundtracks, eight were films released in the 1990s. Marketing to Moviegoers notes that video games are a bigger merchandising vehicle these days.
   “The occasional blockbuster still produces a hit, as when Celine Dion sang ‘My Heart Will Go On’ over the credits of 1997’s Titanic,” Felton writes. “But the closest thing to the old studio song machine in the past 20 years has been the string of Oscar-winning tunes for Disney cartoons. Some have been catchy enough.”


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