April 29, 2008 / 1:07 AM / 11 years ago

"Chipmunks" help revive movie soundtracks

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - For years, the soundtrack business was a sleepy corner of the industry.

Apart from the occasional standout hit — think “Titanic” — most compilation soundtracks seemed irrelevant. But of late, a reawakening has occurred, and Robert Kraft, as president of Fox Music, has been on the front lines. Three of Fox’s soundtracks reside in the top 10 of Billboard’s Top Soundtracks chart: “Alvin and the Chipmunks” at No. 1, “Juno” at No. 2 and “Once” at No. 7.

Kraft, who released two albums as a solo artist and two as part of a band, Robert Kraft & the Ivory Coast, was nominated for the 1993 Academy Award for best song alongside Arne Glimcher for “Beautiful Maria of My Soul” from “The Mambo Kings.”

He has been an executive on the Fox lot for almost 15 years, supervising the music for all of the studio’s projects on the film and TV side, including “Moulin Rouge!” “Walk the Line” and “Titanic”; for TV, he oversees the music for “24,” “Family Guy” and “The Simpsons,” among others.

It’s a career that has survived the ups and downs of the music industry, but the recent resurgence in his soundtracks has even taken him by surprise. What does he suspect is the secret to soundtrack success? Two words: Singing chipmunks.

YOU’VE SEEN THE SOUNDTRACKS TO “ONCE,” “JUNO” AND “ALVIN &

THE CHIPMUNKS” TAKE OFF IN RECENT WEEKS. IS THERE SOME COMMON

THREAD THAT LINKS THESE MOVIES THAT HAS MADE THEM SUCCESSFUL?

This is a world where if I told you six months ago we’d have three gold records for soundtracks or that “Juno” would be a No. 1 soundtrack — every aspect of it is sort of startling and surprising, considering that soundtracks have been an incredibly moribund product for a couple of years. I think “Once” is the most obvious in many ways, in that it’s a musical film, there are songs performed, it won the Academy Award for best song — even though it’s a tiny film, made for $160,000 and (with) no real obvious record company kind of play.

“Juno?” Unless there’s an enormous Moldy Peaches audience lurking — a scarily huge audience that no one’s realized — that one is mind-blowing on every level to me. This is the most eclectic mix of music. I don’t know if there are people out there just desperate for a Sonic Youth cover of a Carpenters song. I would have been thrilled if “Juno” had sold 35,000 units and people said, “What a cool soundtrack!” The fact that it outsold Alicia Keys and Mary J. Blige one week and went to No. 1 and is currently on its way to 700,000 records sold? It was No. 1 at iTunes for five weeks? When I’m asked why “Juno” went to No. 1 — my answer is unprintable.

Nothing is obvious anymore. I can tell you that a year ago I thought (about “Alvin”), “Oh, maybe we’ll get a sweet kids’ record out of it.” Although (the film’s producer) Ross Bagdasarian Jr., to his credit, kept saying, “You realize that we’ve sold — whatever it is — 60 million Alvin records worldwide since 1958?” And I’d say, “Well, it’s a different market, it’s a different universe.” And yet, it keeps going. This is the first time Alvin has been in the top five since 1958. Maybe “Alvin” is somewhere between all those obvious soundtrack reasons — songs on camera, groovy music that people dig, and maybe “Alvin” also could be taking a page out of the Miley Cyrus/Jonas Brothers (fan base), playing to that audience.

STREAK?

Yes. I’m not going to belittle it! If I was going to do a seminar on film music in 2008, I would say that if you have a compilation soundtrack album, of which there are too many, you run the risk of the audience cherrypicking their favorite song. We found that out with “The Devil Wears Prada,” a beautiful movie, great music throughout — U2, Madonna — and it turns out people would go to iTunes and pick out the KT Tunstall song that they liked or the Madonna cover that they liked. I think if there’s any kind of meta theory it’s to make fresh, original music that’s unique to the movie and plays well in the movie and people will want to go listen to it again and have a souvenir. It’s kind of like the first rule of soundtracks, and it’s been forgotten.

SO IF YOU’RE ON A ROLL, WHAT OTHER PROJECT DO YOU HAVE

COMING UP THAT COULD ATTRACT SOME SOUNDTRACK BUZZ?

I get calls from record executives asking me something I haven’t been asked for probably five years: “What do you have coming?” That is a call I used to get, I think, the year after we made “Titanic.” Within an hour of any Fox title being announced it felt like the heads of every major label said, “We’ll take it!” I’d say, “It’s not really a soundtrack movie ...,” and that’s where the trouble would begin. “We’ll make it one! Maybe we can find a place for Velvet Revolver there in the love scene!” But now I got all those guys — the few that are left — (again) saying, “What do you have?”

We’re already at work on “Jennifer’s Body,” which is the next movie written by Diablo Cody, produced by Jason Reitman, who directed “Juno.” We’re already trying to structure an interesting soundtrack. “The X-Files” movie there’s already interest in. It’s being scored by Mark Snow, the guy who did all the “X-Files” music (for the TV show) . . . We have a picture coming up called “The Secret Life of Bees.” It stars three amazing musical artists as the three actresses: It’s Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah and Alicia Keys. That one, in some ways, could be another one where I start to think, “Huh!”

WHAT DO YOU TELL DIRECTORS WHO COME IN WITH THE

ANTICIPATION OF MAKING A MOVIE THAT CLEANS UP AT THE BOX OFFICE

AND A SOUNDTRACK THAT CLEANS UP ON THE CHARTS?

I don’t know how many meetings I’ve had with directors, where they bring up, “And it’ll make such a cool soundtrack!” And I’ve just said, “It just won’t happen. Now it’s much harder.” The great news is it means that everyone in my shop can be as creative as possible. There’s no following the old rules — we see what we can find that is unique that hasn’t been released a thousand times.

HOW HARD IS THAT?

This is my new hex in life — songs in a television commercial. There are very few songs that I can find anymore that somebody doesn’t say, “Oh, isn’t that in the Geico commercial?” or “I think Kentucky Fried Chicken is using that Rolling Stones song.” I mean, there’s nothing left. In fact, certain songs we put in the movies now, people say, “Is there a TV on in the room (in that scene)?” Instead of (believing that it’s on) the radio that’s playing. The song is so associated with the Jaguar commercial or the Apple commercial. It’s terrible.

Reuters/Billboard

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