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Opportunities for Indie Filmmakers, Pop Composers

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For years it was common for studios to cross-market a film with a well known performer, but today niche artists are landing more tracks in films and reaping the spoils, especially around award season.

Glancing at recent best song nominees, offbeat names like “Bird" York ("In the Deep" from “Crash"), A.R. Rahman ("Jai Ho" from “Slumdog Millionaire") and Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard ("Falling Slowly") have slipped into the category, elbowing out bigger artists contributions and often winning.

Most studio music execs share the same agenda: Serve the film. Don't crowbar Bob Dylan into a soundtrack.

However, the studios' embrace of cult acts points to an abandonment of the hit single as movie-marketing tie-in. When it comes to profiting off a song, purism prevails.

“What looks like an agenda to program alternative music in film is more often a combination of dumb luck and reduced budgets," says Fox film music topper Robert Kraft. “Necessity is the mother of invention when you don't have $750,000 for a Velvet Revolver song."

Lofty costs for a major recording artist aren't worth the gamble for most producers, especially if the film flops. The reasoning is: Hit singles don't spur admissions; rather, the pic's emotional moments trigger music sales.

Case in point: “Juno." Jason Reitman used tunes by underground singer-songwriter Kimya Dawson and her Moldy Peaches band in pivotal scenes, resulting in “Juno" becoming one of 2008's top soundtracks with more than 1 million units sold.

Dealing with artists who aren't signed to a major label also spells more control. When a studio hires a Paul Simon or No Doubt, the music label owns the master in the end.

“I've lived through the era of paying $1 million for a song, now it's more like, 'Will you take $25,000?'" Kraft says. “If a genuine superstar flinches and wants more money, there's a line of singer-songwriters from Century City to Santa Monica who want to write music for motion pictures."

But songwriting at bargain-basement prices only accounts for part of the trend.

“There's a new wave of filmmakers who are from the indie music world," says Warner Bros. senior music veep Darren Higman, who oversaw the album for Spike Jonze's “Where the Wild Things Are."

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