Apple’s marketing has changed the career trajectories of musicians around the world. A 30-second music clip in an Apple commercial often heralds instant fame and heaps of MP3 downloads for artists.
How did Steve Jobs and Apple do this? Apple has managed to tie its products into our personal culture. The company designed its products with our songs, films and ideas in mind. Apple’s soundtrack is our soundtrack.
After a decade of using music to promote its gadgets, Apple has more than achieved its goal of creating a culture via the following songs. So much so, in fact, that even Apple accessories (like the iPad Smart Cover) have become cultural touchstones complete with their own soundtrack.
1. iPod 1G: The Propellerheads — “Take California”
In October 2001, Apple debuted its first commercial for a portable MP3 player called the iPod. The ad predated the dark silhouettes featured in their later campaigns. The Propellerheads did not latch onto Apple’s increasing popularity, however, as they never released an album after the ad aired.
2. iPod 3G: Jet — “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?”
Australian rock group Jet was one of the first bands to enormously benefit from Apple ad placement. The band, whose hit single “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” was prominently featured in a 2003 iPod 3G commercial, went on to have its music featured in numerous other ads, movies and video games — including Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
3. iPod Shuffle: Caesars — “Jerk It Out”
Jet’s success with the iPod campaign spawned a string of ads with catchy rock songs. Caesars’ “Jerk It Out” earned the band critical acclaim after being featured in an iPod Shuffle spot a couple years later.
4. iPod 4G (U2 Special Edition): U2 — “Vertigo”
If the iPod wasn’t already considered a cultural necessity, U2’s Apple commercial spot solidified the product’s reputation. One of the world’s biggest bands allowed its lead single to become the anthem for an Apple nation.
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5. iPod Nano: Feist — “1, 2, 3, 4”
While Feist wasn’t entirely unknown when “1, 2, 3, 4” exploded, she exemplifies Apple’s ability to launch a career. When this commercial aired, the former Broken Social Scene member had one solo album to her name, with her second freshly in stores. Apple’s use of her single for promoting the iPod Nano transformed her from a respected indie rocker into an internationally-known, Grammy-nominated star.
6. iPod touch: Cansei de Ser Sexy (CSS) — “Music is my Hot Hot Sex”
It wasn’t until the iPod touch came out that functionality truly matched design. CSS’s single “Music is my Hot Hot Sex” may have been one of Apple’s most fitting song placements; it alluded to the product’s versatility as more than just an MP3 player. As for CSS, the ad placement put the Brazilian dance-pop act on the map in the U.S.
“The ad for the iPod touch kind of turned our song into a single,” explains Luiza Sa of CSS. “The whole thing felt so new and modern, the consumer making the ad. Up until today when we play “Music Is My Hot Hot Sex,” people instantly recognize and love it, especially in America.”
7. Apple iPod Touch 4G: Chappo — “Come Home”
Apple’s effect has grown so effectively that it now seems able to sustain entire careers. Chappo, whose early single “Come Home” was used by Apple for an iPod touch 4G advertisement, was able to properly launch the band’s career after the ad produced financial and fan backing.
“As a band without (at the time) a label, a lawyer, a manager or any representation whatsoever, getting an email from Apple inquiring about using “Come Home” in an iPod touch commercial felt kind of like entering a warp level on a video game,” Chris Olson of Chappo says. “We had self-released the Plastique Universe EP earlier in the year, and within a month, when the commercial started airing, we were hearing from friends that they were hearing our song during Monday Night Football and primetime television. Folks as far away as Iceland and Japan had started to download it. It was pretty ridiculous and amazing for us at the same time.”
8. iPhone 1G: Orba Squara — “Perfect Timing”
Whereas the shift from iPod to iPod touch was super “sexy,” Apple took the opposite approach with the launch of the iPhone. As Apple’s initial campaign demonstrated, the iPhone’s beauty came from its minimal simplicity and design. Orba Squara’s “Perfect Timing” embodied that sentiment.
9. iPhone 3GS: Matt Costa — “Mr. Pitiful”
The iPhone campaigns also helped artists achieve unforeseen levels of professional success. Singer/songwriter Matt Costa benefited greatly from commercial use of his songs, which were used on print, billboard and television placements.
“It’s pretty crazy, Apple is everywhere,” Matt Costa observes. “I’m lucky and I’ve been able to travel all over the world playing music, and no matter how far I am from home, it seems there’s always someone who is familiar with those ads. It’s pretty amazing when you stop and think how Steve Jobs influenced our world.”
10. iPhone 3GS: Erik Friedlander — “Yakima”
While Apple’s impact on musical careers was often transformative, that wasn’t always the case. Apple placed cellist Erik Friedlander’s music in several iPhone 3GS commercials; however, he did not experience the impact as clearly as other artists had.
“Having my music appear in an iPhone ad was a kick,” Erik Friedlander remembers. “I remember there was a cloak-and-dagger secrecy about the whole process. I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement in order to even talk with Errol Morris about the project, and I was warned more than once not to get my hopes up because Steve Jobs had to approve the music himself. Errol told me there was a chance it might make it, as Jobs in the past had liked tracks with plucking guitar and perky piano — so, why not cello? All through the negotiations there was never a commitment (‘Your track is one of the options,’ I was told.), until the last moment when the agreement was signed and the ads were released to television.
“I had heard stories about Apple ads triggering skyrocketing sales numbers, and I told my wife the placement with Apple could be a ‘game-changer.’ She was dubious, and in the end correct: my sales didn’t budge. However, revenue from the ad more than paid for the expenses of the record, and I did get a good laugh at the goofy cello sample performance that SNL used in their satire of the ad campaign.”
11. Apple iPhone 3GS: The Boy Least Likely To — “String Up Conkers”
In recent years, fewer superstars have emerged from Apple advertising. Instead the ads give artists a moderate, but sizable boost forward. Perhaps that’s because the campaigns now emphasize simplicity over style, substance over star power. Jof Owen of The Boy Least Likely To is just happy to be a part of the Apple culture.
“For an indie pop band like us, Apple [ads] are often the only way we’re ever going to share the same cultural space as all the mainstream music,” Owen explains. “Weirdly, the song of ours that Apple used in their iPhone 3GS [ad] wasn’t even a big song of ours…and then it ended up being a song that completely changed our lives. It’s funny how things turn out. I’d probably still be working in a shop if it wasn’t for that advert.”
12. MacBook Air: Yael Naim
Over the years it wasn’t just iPods or iPhones that heavily integrated music into marketing campaigns. Yael Naim’s “New Soul” became the soundtrack behind the streamlined MacBook Air. In doing so, the widely unheard-of Israeli songwriter’s tune became one of the most recognizable songs in the Apple commercial catalog. “New Soul,” with its infectious lighthearted melodies, echoed the lightweight laptop’s design.
13. Apple iPad: Chilly Gonzales — “Never Stop”
When the iPad initially launched to market concerns regarding its appeal, Apple’s response was to promote its identity as “delicious, current, learning, playful, literary, artful, productive, scientific and wonderful.” Canadian musician Chilly Gonzalez’s “Never Stop” managed to convey a sense of direct clarity and imaginative wonder; this led views away from the conclusion that the iPad lacked vision.
14. iPad 2: Florence and the Machine — “The Dog Days Are Over”
If any hesitation still existed about the iPad’s place in consumer technology, the marketing around the iPad 2 seemed to quell those concerns. Over the past year, Florence Welch’s career made a jump similar to that which Feist experienced in 2007. Apple, which used her hit single “The Dog Days Are Over” in early 2011, continued to organically promote music while maintain a vision for its products. The iPad parallels Welch’s exponential rise as a budding star over the past year.
15. iPad 2 Smart Cover: Fiona Apple — “Extraordinary Machine”
Despite those initial iPad doubts, not only did the iPad 2 itself convince users of its rightful place as an Apple staple, but even its accessories appeared ingenious. This commercial, featuring Fiona Apple’s “Extraordinary Machine,” cleverly alludes to the product’s sleek, functional design.