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Journey’s Happy Ending

Sopranos fans may not be thrilled with the series’ ending, but Journey sure is. When 11.9 million HBO fans held their collective breath Sunday night, they did it to the aging rockers’ 1981 chestnut “Don’t Stop Believin.'”

Talk about desirable product placement. Late Wednesday afternoon, the song was the 19th most downloaded song on Apple‘s iTunes Store, where the Top 100 downloads are composed almost entirely of new releases. And during the past two days, “Don’t Stop Believin'” saw a 153% spike in U.S. radio play compared with Monday and Tuesday of last week, according to Nielsen BDS.

“When you can get that kind of exposure, that’s fantastic,” says Justin Shukat, partner and general manager of Primary Wave Music Publishing of New York, which is one of the players trolling for opportunities in the music licensing arena.

Based on what other TV shows have previously paid for music licensing, Sopranos producers likely paid anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 for the right to use the song, netting a nice pay day for Sony BMG Music Entertainment, which owns the master recording of the song, and Journey’s then-lead singer Steve Perry, guitarist Neal Schon and keyboardist Jonathan Cain, who teamed up to write the song. Also among the beneficiaries will be Perry’s own Lacey Boulevard Music and Schon and Cain’s Weed High Nightmare Music, administered by Wixen Music Publishing.

Every time Time Warner-owned HBO airs a rerun of the series finale, it will also have to pay a performance royalty to the songwriters and their respective publishing companies, much like terrestrial radio stations have to pay publishing royalties whenever they play a song on the air.

What’s particularly gratifying about such licensing deals is that they provide the kind of publicity that marketers are often willing to pay for in the form of product placements. Most importantly, for Journey and Sony BMG, the Sopranos‘ use of “Don’t Stop Believin” provided great exposure for a song that probably hadn’t been on the radar of many viewers for quite some time.

It’s just the latest high-profile example of the growing use of music licensing by TV networks, Hollywood studios and advertising agencies. Colorado rock band the Fray received a big boost from Disney’s ABC drama Grey’s Anatomy when the show prominently featured the title track to its 2005 debut album How To Save A Life. Australian songbird Sia gained fans in the U.S. when HBO’s Six Feet Under featured her song “Breathe Me” in its 2005 series finale. And, of course, there’s British band A3 whose song “Woke Up This Morning” was used as the Sopranos theme song.

For the recording industry and performers, licensing songs provides a welcome source of additional revenue and publicity at a time when sales of recorded music continue to fall. And with so many other options available for consumers to access music and other entertainment options, recording artists recognize that licensing deals provide a valuable way of getting their music heard above the din.

Primary Wave, for instance, acquired a 25% stake in the song catalog of late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain last year and more recently acquired a financial interest in the publishing rights of Earth, Wind & Fire frontman and principal songwriter Maurice White, and Darryl Hall and John Oates of Hall & Oates fame.

The company licensed the Hall & Oates song “One On One” for an episode of the NBC Universal drama Medium. And the company is well versed in the advantages of getting a song on the finale of a hit show, having licensed the Nirvana song “Scentless Apprentice” for use in the season finale of the ABC hit series Lost.

The Sopranos wasn’t the first time “Don’t Stop Believin'” generated additional income for its record label and its songwriters. The song appeared on Viacom‘s MTV reality show Laguna Beach, News Corp.‘s Fox animated comedy The Family Guy, and numerous other shows and movies, and was adopted by the Chicago White Sox baseball team as an unofficial theme song for the team’s successful 2005 run for a World Series championship.

The aging rockers’ anthem pops on iTunes and the radio, thanks to the Sopranos finale.

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