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Drinking Songs

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All across TV land, network execs are (discreetly) licking their lips following NBC's decision to reverse its nearly 50-year ban on hard-liquor advertising. But in the music business, people are popping corks -- even if it's still too early to tell if other networks will follow suit (or if Joe Lieberman & Co. will swoop down).

"Musicians stand to make a fortune from this," says one music-biz flack. Spots for car companies have provided huge paydays for artists; one source estimates that Jaguar paid Sting nearly $10 million for the use of "Desert Rose." This summer, Universal Music even released a compilation called As Seen on TV: Songs From Commercials.

As lucrative as cars have been, music insiders are betting that booze will work even better. "This could be great for us," says David Steel, head of special projects at V2 Records, home of Moby, whose music has been used to plug everything from Nordstrom to Microsoft. "We attract the sort of young, cooler audience the liquor companies are after." Steel notes that Moby's "Honey" has been featured in a commercial for Labatt beer in Canada.

Still, there's one sobering thought amid all the giddy expectation: the Joe Camel trap. "Let's say Absolut decides to go with an Eminem song," says the flack. "You could reasonably argue that his audience is composed of 12-to-18-year-olds. Parents' groups and the Senate would be after you in a heartbeat." Indeed, hip-hop, despite its many odes to "gin and juice," would probably be a particularly unwise choice for liquor ads, agrees Liz Hausle, senior director of marketing at Loud Records, the Wu-Tang Clan's label. "Rappers get so much negative press already," she says.

But Jon Kamen, chairman of Radical Media, which produces commercials and feature films, advises that everyone should proceed with caution: "This is promising," he says, "but we're all parents here, and it needs to be done responsibly." One talent scout, however, voices a slightly different concern. "Are we going to hear a slew of new, interesting artists?" he asks, "or are we just gonna get a lot more Moby?"


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