We are big fans of Icelandic post-rock band Sigur rós here at SkiddMark, their music is unique, uplifting yet thought-provoking, melodic but sometimes haunting. The band’s music is recognisable by lead singer Jónsi’s falsetto voice and by the simple melodies that seep into our sub-conscious after a brief listen.

It therefore comes as little surprise to find that so many Advertisers, Film and TV producers are keen to use their music as the perfect backdrop to their programmes and commercials, but you may be surprised to learn that the stock answer from Sigur rós to such a request is a polite but firm ‘No’.

It certainly came as a surprise to us, since we’d swear that we’ve heard their music in plenty of adverts over the years.

The situation has become something of an ‘issue’ for the band which recently led to a blog post entitled ‘homage or fromage?’ as they sought to bring attention to advertisers they believe were mimicking their music in various TV commercials. The post points out that “..despite rumours to the contrary they have never allowed our music to be used to sell anything. And they get asked a lot“. It then goes on to say “Sometimes they get asked, say ‘no’ and then a few months later an ad will suddenly appear that sounds strangely familiar..”

They cite a specific example in 2006 when contacted by an agency acting on behalf of Audi:

[blockquote type=”blockquote_quotes” align=”center”]Hi xxxx, Hope you’re well. I know that Sigur rós aren’t generally up for having tracks used in advertising, but we’re currently working on an ad that I didn’t want to dismiss without first running it past you. It’s a commercial for Audi’s Quattro system (please see the attached script). Audi’s advertising is generally considered to be amongst the best car advertising and the script looks like it could be quite good. Please let me know what you think. If you have any questions please give me a call. thanks, xxxx[/blockquote]

They don’t explictly make the connection between the above correspondence and a specific Audi commercial, however they do point to a forum thread shortly after the exchange of correspondence on the website adtunes.com containing a discussion about an advert that used music which sounded like it was by Sigur rós.

The blog post goes on to say “We’re not suggesting anyone’s ripping anyone off here, or has purposely gone out to plagiarise Sigur rós music, because that might get us sued (which would be ironic). And in any case, you can get all the musicologists’ reports you like and all they will tell you is that the chord sequence is “commonly used” or the structure is a “style-a-like” and not a “pass off”rós. Or – in this case – that despite the fact that the two pieces are “strongly similar in terms of general musical style, instrumentation and structure” and “created with a knowledge of and/or reference to the works of Sigur rós in general and ‘Hoppipolla’ in particular”, there is “insufficient evidence in the music to support a claim for infringement of the copyright”. In other words change a note here, swap things around a bit there and, hey presto, it’s an original composition. Inspiration moves in mysterious ways.”

Exhibit A: Buick’s latest ad

Sigur rós have encouraged fans to send in links of videos which appear to cross this line of plagiarism, and one of the latest to be included is Buick’s new advert launched earlier today:

Buick's new advert uses a sound composition that is claimed to sound like the track 'sæglópur' by Sigur rós.

What do you think, is it Sigur rós-like? Or maybe it’s just a generic ambient soundtrack that takes its inspiration from many sources?

Exhibit B: Audi’s 2008 ad to launch the New A4

Earlier today, a new post was added to the band’s Blog entitled ‘homage or fromage? part deux‘. This time they do single out a specific Audi advert which crosses the line – here’s the brief they received on Friday, July 25, 2008 6:37 PM:

[blockquote type=”blockquote_quotes” align=”center”]Product/Brand: Audi Spot description: We open on an opulent, upscale home with elegant but old-fashioned décor (rich tapestries, leather furniture etc.). As the spot progresses, the old world furnishing transforms into new, sleek, modern design, and the lighting changes from dark to stuffy bright and open. All if this action occurs in time-lapse mode, much like watching a flower grow from a seed. The camera pans over the window that looks out over the driveway, in which a Mercedes C-class us parked. The Mercedes morphs into the new Audi A4, and to complete the transformation, the trash cans turn into recycling bins. Card: Progress is beautiful. The bigger, faster, more efficient Audi A4 is here. The Audi now pulls away and heads off into the upscale neighbourhood.[/blockquote]

As usual the band responded to the brief with a polite ‘No’, however it wasn’t long before the following ad appeared:

Audi's launch advert for the New A4 in 2008 gained accolades for the 'original music' created by composer Nathaniel Morgan.

The finished ‘Living Room’ ad as seen above won the 2009 AICP “Best Music” Award for its original music in this spot. Oops..

Despite the intention of Sigur rós blog post as being an exercise in outing potentially unethical behaviour, and not as a catalyst for future litigious action we suspect the list of producers being inspired to create original music which sounds just like Sigur rós may be a long one.

If you’d like to keep track of the growing list or contribute your own suggestions then head on over to the post on Sigur rós’ website.

What do you think? Have they got a point, or do they just have an over-active imagination?