Can The “Musical Middle Class” Be Saved?

There’s no such thing as selling out when you’re living hand-to-mouth. Jingle Punks brings money back to music through TV, film, and advertising deals.

Can The “Musical Middle Class” Be Saved?

Jared Gutstadt is the founder and CEO of Jingle Punks, which facilitates the placing of music in TV, movies, ad campaigns, video games, and the like. Jingle Punks recently paid out its millionth dollar to musical artists using the site. In an era where even a hit band struggles to pay its health insurance, we caught up with Gutstadt to learn more about his mission to rebuild a “musical middle class.”


FAST COMPANY: What is Jingle Punks?

JARED GUTSTADT: Jingle Punks is a bridge between the world of music and content makers. We allow content makers through our proprietary technology to type in whatever mood or music into a Pandora-like search, and choose music from a pre-cleared library.

What motivates a musician to upload music through Jingle Punks?

The bottom fell out of the music industry. Years ago, there was a huge stigma against putting music in films or on TV shows. Now even The Beatles are licensing music on Mad Men. You see Jack White doing commercials for Coca-Cola.

So it used to be seen as selling out, but now with piracy rampant, selling work to Hollywood or ad agencies is cool now?

Look at hot-shit music supervisors, people like Scott Vener, the music supervisor on Entourage and 90210. If he drops your music at the end of an episode, it ends up in the blogs the next day. Or someone like Quentin Tarantino: Any time some music lands in his films, people ask, “Who was that? Where can I buy that?”

Do artists make their name after licensing music through Jingle Punks?

There was a rebrand of the History Channel a year ago, using a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Everyday” by Mike Del Rio. It was very successful, and Del Rio ended up getting a major record deal. It was enough to propel him to the next level. Right now we’re launching a traditional publishing division, the way Tin Pan Alley used to operate, where we get artists in a room, and we’re pitching to brands and ad campaigns.

You’re making a big push into film, with director Brett Ratner recently coming on your board.

I got a meeting with Brett almost by accident. He said, “This is great. I may not use this for a $100 million film, but there’s a huge slate of sub-$10-million films. This is the perfect tool for those.” Those sub-$10-million films actually make up the majority of all films created worldwide every year.


What do content creators–the TV, film, and media people–get out of your site?

My big eureka moment was when I was working for Howard Stern on a special, and there’s a scene where everyone walks out, and they wanted it to be like Reservoir Dogs. I was like, “Why can’t I just type in ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and find a bunch of music that sounds like that?” I explained this process to my friend Dan, and he said this is easy, it’s relationship tagging. Obviously it wasn’t that easy, since it took us over two years to build, with patents pending, and an advanced algorithm, but what it did was it created a way for all clients to become music supervisors, in a way.

When Quentin Tarantino first put down that iconic music for Reservoir Dogs, it was an artistic choice. Do you worry that Jingle Punks causes a loss of creativity, if people just imitate the sounds of other movies or shows?

Everything in the culture industry is a copy of something else. There’s very few Quentin Tarantinos in the world. Certain films create tentpole sounds, and the industry chases that for years to come. Juno created a distinct sound that informed the sound of TV and media for years to come, with ukuleles and whistles. There’s only so much room for brand-new ideas.

How is the business doing?

We recently announced that we paid out our millionth dollar to artists. For us to be one of the few people building a musical middle class is something our company’s proud of.

“Musical middle class” is a phrase I hadn’t heard before.

It used to exist. It doesn’t anymore. The musical middle class would refer to people who would back in touring bands, or would play in studios on sessions in Nashville, or people who used to get work as jingle writers. That went away for the last 10 years.

When I was an artist, it was harder and harder for me every year to make a living. We’d break our backs filling up our van going from town to town in the hopes of sparking a fan base or having the right manager see you. But the musical middle class, for me, are the people who make a living off their music, who pay their bills, are able to get benefits, and continue to grow as an artist. And if we can contribute to that in any way at all, I’m happy.


This interview has been condensed and edited. For more from the Fast Talk interview series, click here. Know someone who’d be a good Fast Talk subject? Mention it to David Zax.

About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal