''Someday" was a song about dark days and friends' deaths, penned years ago by struggling musicians in Oakland. Its mix of rock, hip-hop, and Latin guitar helped to get the band, Flipsyde, a record contract and European tours. But album sales were scant; fame was elusive.
Then NBC's Olympic advertising machine turned ''Someday" into a song about perseverance on ice skates. The network filmed the band in a slick music video that doubles as an ad for the Torino games. Suddenly, CD sales -- though still small -- are rising, and Flipsyde seems to be everywhere. They've been on late-night TV, performed at the Winter X Games, and got a plug in ''Fortune," where an essayist marveled that he'd found new music in an NBC house ad.
Flipsyde's Olympic break is a telling example of how the music industry has changed. It used to be that a song became a hit, time passed, and an ad agency used it to sell a product. (And purists grumbled that the band was selling out.)
These days, a TV ad is just as likely to sell a song. And a band is more than happy to take part.
''Things change, and that's how it is," says Piper, Flipsyde's rapper. ''This is the music business. And if it wasn't a business, people wouldn't be trying to sell records. . . . It's like, are you willing to rely on one source to get your music out?"
The man who signed Flipsyde wasn't thinking Olympics -- or skating sports -- when he first heard the band in the spring of 2004. Martin Kierszenbaum, a veteran talent scout for record giant Interscope, had recently started his own boutique label, Cherrytree. He happened to talk to Flipsyde's manager on the day the band was auditioning for rival Warner Bros.
Kierszenbaum asked for a CD, and says that when he heard it, ''I flipped out." The next day, he was in Oakland, listening to the band play in a garage. The day after that, Flipsyde had a contract.
But Flipsyde's subsequent album, ''We the People" -- featuring a retelling of American history as a gangsta story -- was not an instant US hit. Cherrytree released it on a limited basis last summer, as the band toured Europe with Snoop Dogg and Black Eyed Peas. Other than a glowing mention in The
Then NBC came calling.
The network wasn't calling specifically for Flipsyde. It was looking for a song -- something that would speak both ''Olympics" and ''youth." It stood to reason: NBC has rights to air the Olympics through 2008, and an incentive to hook younger viewers. It has an in-house advertising agency with tens of millions of dollars to spend on Olympic promotions.
NBC marketers were planning a spot that featured female snowboarders and a song by the pop-metal girl group the Donnas, says Barbara Blangiardi, the NBC Agency's vice president of marketing and special projects. They also hoped to make a music video about Olympic skaters, she says, with a song that was ''a little bit edgier."
And the apparatus was in place to find it. These days, networks frequently hunt for new music, which is introduced and promoted on shows such as ''The OC" and ''CSI: Miami." ''You're trying to establish yourself as being in touch and innovative and groundbreaking," Blangiardi says.
And labels are quick to offer potential hits. So Tony Seyler, Interscope's vice president for film and television marketing, sent NBC a few songs last June, including ''Someday."
''We instantly loved it," Blangiardi says. ''We literally ran upstairs to the president of the agency."
Later that month, Flipsyde was in Artesia, Calif., playing ''Someday" in front of a film crew in an ice rink owned by figure skater Michelle Kwan. Kwan and speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno skated as Piper rapped in a T-shirt; the network had nixed his sweatshirt, which was emblazoned with two revolvers.
Still, Piper says the band never worried about creative control. The opportunity was too big for quibbling.
''We're no-names," Piper says. ''We're new. Nobody knows who we are, especially in America. I'm sure every band out there -- and everyone is bigger than us -- wanted this opportunity. It felt like we were in the Olympics."
NBC filmed a full-length music video, featuring both the athletes and the band. A ''director's cut" is available online. A 30-second cut will double as an ad on MTV, MTV2, Comedy Central, and Fuse. Another version is playing in
And in December, timed to the video's TV debut, Cherrytree rereleased ''We the People." Sales are growing, though still small: In the last four weeks, they've risen from 500 albums per week to 2,100. Seyler says the label's PR forces are back at work.
''Opportunities like this are so important for this company and so important for this industry, " Seyler says. ''We've basically readdressed this album all over again as if it were a brand new project for us."
Joanna Weiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.