It’s the age-old dilemma that every successful musician must grapple with at some stage in their careers. How to maintain their credibility whilst at the same time whore their songwriting genius out to corporations around the world for a quick and easy buck.
To understand the choices artists make you have to first understand where nearly all of them came from. Preceeding the time that you have known an artist and their success is usually months if not years of hard work for almost no money. So when somebody actually wants to pay them for their work it is of little surprise that most jump at the chance.
That is until they’re labelled a sell-out. But a recent trend is for musicians to reassert their credibility by instead insisting they are simply ‘buying-in’. Steve Kilbey, immortal Australian singer and enigmatic front man for The Church subscribes to that way of thinking.
“There is almost nothing, except for maybe a cigarette ad, I’d say no to Under the Milky Way being used for,” Kilbey said recently in an interview with News Limited. Under The Milky Way was a surprise hit for the band charting in the top 30 in Australia and top 40 in the United States. The song also won best single of the year at the ARIAs in 1989 and is regularly featured somewhere near the top of almost every ‘Best Australian Songs’ lists.
“It was used for a car advertisement in America, very lucratively for me,” he continued. “You’d think people would think it’s been overused, but the more it’s used the more people seem to want to use it. I’m signing off all the time for TV shows or chocolate bars using it.”
“Sure, have it, it’s just a song, do whatever you like with it. You can hear it wasn’t written for profit. It’s an accidental song I accidentally wrote and accidentally became a single and accidentally became a hit.”
“I’ve written 2000 songs. Thank God one of them came through!” he said. “The others aren’t pulling their weight. They sit and grumble about Under the Milky Way and I say, ‘Well, boys, go out and earn the same dough as that one’. I never see Under the Milky Way – it’s so busy out there working … ”
“People are so surprised an ambiguous song with loads of mystery and integrity can become a hit single. Every now and again one of them gets through. Like when Creep by Radiohead became a hit. I believe that happened with Gotye (Somebody That I Used to Know) – a song that wasn’t made for money and profit and avarice and greed becomes a big hit.”
The Church have been busy celebrating their 30th anniversary this year, kicking it off in style with a huge performance at the Sydney Opera House with backing from the Symphony Orchestra of the University of Sydney. They were also inducted into the ARIA Hall Of Fame last year.
Watch the video below of one of the advertisements using a cover of the song sung by fellow Australian artist Sia.Write a Letter to the Editor