It's a rockers' field day in hit-crazed Hollywood

By Tom Sinclair
Updated March 13, 1998 at 05:00 AM EST

David Was, music supervisor for the forthcoming X-Files movie, is pondering the implications of the phrase ”Music Inspired by the Film,” which is popping up on soundtrack album covers with increasing regularity. ”They ought to just say, ‘Music Inspired by the Deal,”’ he jokes, alluding to the often Byzantine politics involved in soundtrack assembly. ”In most cases, [these musicians] haven’t seen one frame of the film.”

Not that it matters much. Soundtrack albums — the bastard offspring of music and movies, progeny of a relationship that’s grown increasingly symbiotic and dysfunctional — continue to proliferate, and yield revenue, at a head-spinning rate. ”Soundtracks have become a mainstay of the record business,” says music supervisor Jolene Cherry (Batman Forever, The Crow). ”Every record company is focused on them, as opposed to 10 years ago when only a handful were.”

How did soundtracks — particularly the pop-and-rock-song-driven variety — grow from a cottage industry to a monster moneymaking machine? Blame it on Saturday Night Fever, the 1977 soundtrack of which sold a staggering 25 million copies worldwide and alerted legions of bean counters to the possibilities of the medium. The ’80s saw big sellers like Top Gun and Footloose top the charts as the trend blossomed; now you can’t swing a dead cat in a record store without knocking over a pile of movie-music CDs.

The compilation-soundtrack boom has given rise to a plethora of headaches for the music supervisors who assemble them. Since there’s tremendous competition among artists to snag a spot on even a marginal soundtrack, imagine the scores of applicants a high-profile project like The X-Files draws. ”My desk is littered with B sides from B artists,” moans Was, adding that he’s had to rethink his wish list because many of the big names he sought had already committed to the rival Godzilla soundtrack now being assembled by Sony. Says Cherry: ”There aren’t as many hit artists as there are soundtracks, so everyone’s after the same talent pool. It’s exhausted.”

”The Godzilla people are raising the stakes enormously by throwing monster money at acts who aren’t used to it,” gripes Was. Indeed, according to one source, Beck was offered — and turned down — $750,000 to contribute an original song to Godzilla. Though a Sony spokesperson says that’s ”absolutely untrue,” Hollywood Records exec Mitchell Leib insists offers of such sums are not uncommon: ”I paid Bonnie Raitt a half million dollars for one song for Boys on the Side, and Bush close to that for their track on An American Werewolf in Paris.”

With A-list artists commanding such huge paychecks, it’s little wonder so many soundtracks are padded with mediocrities from second-string acts whose managers hawk songs willy-nilly. It’s common for bands going into the studio to be encouraged to record extra songs to, as Was sardonically puts it, ”peddle to those morons in Hollywood.”

With soundtrack albums becoming de rigueur for all but the lowest-budget stinkers, we can only pray the straight-to-video folks don’t get any bright ideas.