Soundtracks Wield Clout In Selling Movies, Performers

In the moviemaking business, many soundtracks - especially pop-music compilations - are taking on high-profile supporting roles.

At a time when studios seem to pop out movies as fast as multiplexes pop corn, marketers, moviemakers, and record companies are placing more power in sound to help sell a movie - and vice versa.

"The key demographic is the MTV viewer," says Mitchell Leib, senior vice president of A&R and Soundtracks for Hollywood Records, responsible for "The Crow" and "The Crow: City of Angels" soundtracks, popular alternative-rock compilations.

Some say the most recent surge started five years ago with "The Bodyguard" soundtrack, anchored by Whitney Houston's single "I Will Always Love You," which spent 14 weeks at No. 1. Another notable mark was the Coolio video that promoted "Dangerous Minds," the top-selling soundtrack of 1995.

While moviegoers have always picked up on movie music naturally, there's more of an effort on the part of some marketers to force the visual-audio association (lest we forget some corporations own movie and record companies). Many soundtracks are released weeks before their movie; the successful ones get played long after the movie goes to video.

Such cross-fertilization has huge influence on the record industry. According to Billboard magazine's "Hot 100 Airplay" for the week of Sept. 6, the top two song titles happen to be associated with movies: "Semi-Charmed Life," by Third Eye Blind, is helping to hype Alicia Silverstone's "Excess Baggage," and "Men in Black," with Will Smith, is bolstering the popularity of its celluloid version.

In the past five years, more record companies have formed soundtrack divisions. So it goes that the bigger the project, the better the access to big talent. Tom Cruise wooed U2 for "Mission: Impossible"and Disney got Elton John for "The Lion King."

Many up-and-coming performers consider movie soundtracks good gigs because of exposure. Would Harry Connick Jr. be as popular today without "When Harry Met Sally"? What about Seal and his "Batman Returns" triple Grammy-winner "Kiss From a Rose"?

IN some cases, films have been vehicles to not only introduce new singles from established artists, but also "break" new artists. The "Pulp Fiction" soundtrack helped catapult Urge Overkill. "The Crow" sent Stone Temple Pilots soaring. "Reality Bites" ushered Lisa Loeb into the limelight.

"For an artist, a soundtrack could be a great avenue, but if a film is a flop, it might do more harm than good," notes John Hudson, director of marketing for Milan Entertainment, which released the soundtrack for "Cop Land." Within the industry, he adds, "competition for soundtracks is getting pretty intense."

Then, there are follow-up soundtrack albums, even when a sequel movie doesn't exist. "Dazed and Confused," "The Commitments," and "Sleepless in Seattle" spawned second-volume albums.

In the future, we'll probably see more music artists in movies, Hollywood Records' Mr. Leib predicts (Courtney Love, for example), as well as more creative marketing tie-ins, including the Internet.

Top-selling soundtracks

1996

1. Waiting to Exhale

2. Romeo & Juliet

3. Space Jam

4. Set It Off

5. The Preacher's Wife

6. The Nutty Professor

7. Grease

8. Evita

9. The Crow: City of Angels

10. Phenomenon

1995

1. Dangerous Minds

2. Waiting to Exhale

3. Pocahontas

4. The Lion King

5. Friday

6. Pulp Fiction

7. Batman Forever

8. Forrest Gump

9. The Show

10. Mortal Kombat

- Provided by SoundScan

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