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Taking Music in Ads Beyond Jingles

Mophonics mentors new acts—then profits on ad rights to their songs
Mark Foster of Foster the People was mentored at Mophonics
Mark Foster of Foster the People was mentored at MophonicsPhotograph by Steven De Wall/Redferns/Getty Images

Before Pumped Up Kicks became a top-selling single last year, Mark Foster’s greatest hit was the music in a TV commercial for Muscle Milk, a protein drink. But this year the singer-songwriter and his band, Foster the People, were nominated for two Grammys and performed live during the Feb. 12 awards telecast. For another artist, that would mean a speedy exit from the jingle-writing day job. Not Foster. He wrote most of the album’s songs while working at Mophonics, a Los Angeles company that scores TV commercials and, in a unique partnership, encouraged him to develop his outside recording career. Now that Foster has made it, Mophonics is benefiting, too, selling compositions he wrote earlier to advertisers including Cadillac. Foster says he’ll return to Mophonics to write the next album once his current tour finishes. “Foster the People wouldn’t exist without Mophonics,” says Foster. “Mophonics is kind of a creative home for me.”

Foster’s journey illustrates an evolution in the way songs are used in TV ads. Before 2000, most songs placed in ads were Top 40 hits. Then electronica musician Moby, born Richard Melville Hall, changed that by successfully licensing his dance album, Play, for TV commercials at the time of its initial release. That strategy not only sparked CD sales for Moby (Play has sold 2.7 million copies in the U.S.), it got more advertisers interested in lesser-known acts whose contemporary sound could resonate with consumers.