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Is it worth it for Mad Men to pay $250K for the rights to use a Beatles song?

Jon Hamm as Don Draper and John Slattery as Roger Sterling in a publicity shot for the AMC hit show
Jon Hamm as Don Draper and John Slattery as Roger Sterling in a publicity shot for the AMC hit show "Mad Men."

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The most recent episode of AMC’s period drama Mad Men featured an excerpt from The Beatles’ 1966 psychedelic soundscape “Tomorrow Never Knows” as an essential plot element. The example is unique – both for the rarity of the biggest band in the world granting permission to use the song as well as for the hefty fee.

Recorded music from both popular and unknown artists has been an integral part of movies and television for decades, but what makes a 46-year old song so unique that a television show with a relatively small budget would spend as much as $250,000 dollars for 128 seconds of it to be used onscreen?

In the advertising world, musicians used to shy away from being perceived as “selling out” and using their songs to sell diapers… but things have changed. Whereas avant-garde crooner Tom Waits once successfully sued Frito Lay for using a song eerily similar to a song they’d tried to license to sell snack chips, now artists actively court advertisers because they can get their big break by getting their songs into a TV commercial.


Film, advertising and TV licensing can be important sources of revenue for musicians in the new millennium - especially in the face of plummeting CD sales. How much is a song worth? And how does the use of music fit into a film… or a TV commercial?


Barry Coffing, CEO of musicsupervisor.com, a music licensing company that places music in film and television programs

Jess Penner, singer-songwriter and the face of Days Inn’s new advertising campaign