We’ve all heard a song in a commercial that’s so catchy that we immediately look it up to add to our playlist. These songs are so infectious that we almost hate to love them.
But what is commercial music? Here, we will explore the definition of commercial music, its history, and some top examples.
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What Is Commercial Music? Definition
Commercial music is music that’s made mainly for profit, and less so for the artist’s love of a song. An example of this is when a musician has a signature sound that their diehard fans love. But then to reach a wider audience, they change up their sound to appeal to a wider mainstream audience. This is called ‘going commercial’.
While the above is the main definition, there are some other meanings for commercial music. Some say that it’s music made specifically for a commercial, while others say it’s music that has been featured in a commercial.
Commercial Music Characteristics
Some common characteristics of commercial music include:
It’s Made Mainly For Profit
When a musician makes commercial music, the aim is to be more financially successful than they are now. This music is to be monetized in some way.
It’s Catchy and Upbeat
Marketing professionals want a song that’s catchy so that it sticks in the minds of potential customers. Not only will the song be stuck in their heads, but the commercial and the product will also be in their heads.
The songs are also often happy and upbeat, so the potential customer is put in a good mood while watching the commercial. This increases the likelihood of making a sale.
On the other hand, sometimes marketing professionals want the song to be melancholy to evoke sad or empathic emotions—think about music for charities highlighting abhorrent living conditions for people or animals. This type of commercial music is less common.
Lyrics Are Easy To Digest
Commercial music’s lyrics are typically simplistic, or at least seem that way upon first hearing them. Their melodies don’t stray too far away from mainstream music, attempting to appeal to the masses.
It Conveys a Message or Emotion
Commercial music usually has a message or emotion that it wants to pass on to the listener. As mentioned above, commercial music usually intends to convey a happy message or feeling. Though, there are some instances where marketers want to evoke another emotion from listeners.
7 Examples of Commercial Music
Here are some examples of commercial music used within the last two decades.
“1234” by Feist
This song was featured in Apple’s iPod Nano commercial. Feist got their time in the pop culture spotlight after the airing of this commercial.
The lyrics are simple, often counting from one to four or ten, and the melody is uncomplicated and soothing, fitting in perfectly with the characteristics of a commercial song.
However, when listening carefully to the lyrics in light of why the song was written—because of a friend’s divorce—it becomes a rather mournful song.
This song wasn’t only used for an Apple commercial, as previously it has been used in Australia for an eBay commercial. It also gained a fair amount of critical acclaim, winning the 2007 Shortlist Award and the 2008 Single of the Year award at the Canadian Junos. It was also nominated for four Grammy awards.
Looking for more numerical music? Read our list of songs with numbers in the title.
“Our House” by Madness
This song was used in a Maxwell House commercial, though they only used the tune and the lyrics “our house.” They came up with an admittedly cheesy set of lyrics about coffee to accompany their commercial.
The original song's lyrics are full of happy nostalgia, with the singer remembering what it was like growing up in his house.
Nevertheless, Maxwell House saw the potential in its joyful melody, sure to perk up anyone’s mood, much like a cup of coffee. Paired with the fact that the song focuses a lot on the word “house,” it was a no-brainer for the marketing team at Maxwell House.
“Runaway” by Yeah Yeah Yeah
“Runaway” was featured in a Calvin Klein fragrance commercial. Commercials for perfume and cologne are known for their film noir style, and this one is no different. The song features lead singer Karen O’s expressive voice paired with simple piano chords.
This song is an excellent example of marketers wanting to evoke an emotion other than happiness. The melody is relatively avant-garde and, when paired with the commercial’s imagery, makes the listener imagine a high-class lifestyle.
Clearly, the marketing team at Calvin Klein wanted watchers to feel they could lead such a lifestyle if they bought Calvin Klein’s fragrance.
“Ride” by The Vines
This is another song that was featured in an Apple commercial. It was also featured in Nissan and NASCAR commercials—with its hard rock, pump-up qualities, and focus on the word “ride,” we can see why.
The Apple commercial features a man in a busy city listening to his iPod. On a construction site’s barrier are posters with Apple’s famous silhouette iPod listeners against a brightly colored backdrop dancing along to the song.
The message marketers wanted to convey here seems to be that no matter where you are, with an iPod, you can drown out the busyness of the outside world and groove to your own beat.
“First Day Of My Life” by Bright Eyes
Zillow used this song for one of its advertisements. It’s a wistful song about love at first sight, though Zillow repurposes some lyrics to be about starting a new life in a new home.
This song strikes an emotional chord with viewers, as images of families sharing happy memories are paired with lead singer Conor Oberst’s achingly sincere voice. It’s enough to bring anyone to tears—albeit happy tears.
“Don’t You Want Me” by The Human League
In this song, a man sings to his ex-lover after their romance goes sour. Swiffer used the song in one of its commercials for comedic effect.
In the commercial, a woman uses her Swiffer to clean the floors when she hears a song dedicated to her on the radio from “Mr. Broom.” The commercial cuts to a radio booth showing a radio DJ and a broom dancing to “Don’t You Want Me.”
It’s entertaining enough and sends the message that if you’ve had it with the relationship with your broom, it’s time to move on to something better, like the Swiffer.
“1901” by Phoenix
Phoenix's “1901” was featured in a Cadillac commercial. The song's melody is the main focus, with only a few lyrics heard near the commercial’s end.
The melody is cool and sleek—just like the Cadillac SRX. Watching the commercial, which features a man driving in his SRX, just makes you want to drive, even if you don’t have anywhere to go.
Marketers have used its trendy and smooth sound to appeal to younger audiences in a PlayStation commercial, on the soundtrack of NHL 2K10, NBA 2K13, and other video games, and in young adult TV shows like Gossip Girl and The Vampire Diaries.
The History of Commercial Music
Advertisements using music to capture an audience’s attention goes back to the 1920s. In the beginning, it was typically short jingles composed solely for the commercial, often incorporating the brand or product name into the lyrics.
By the 1980s, children were the primary targets of advertisements, and so jingles took on a more cartoony sound. But, by 1895, jingles slowly faded from commercials and shifted to using songs not written for the express purpose of marketing.
While jingles have made a slight comeback in the 21st century, using existing songs still dominates, as made clear by the list above.
What Is Commercial Music? Final Thoughts
Answering the question, “What is commercial music?” is tricky, since there are varying opinions. However, no matter its exact definition, all can agree that it’s catchy and puts listeners in a specific mindset.
Did you enjoy this article? Then, check out more songs used in mainstream media.