Imitations of popular songs on TV shows-why?

On alot of older TV shows when they played a popular song, it was not the real song, it was the same music but had a different singer. Why did they not use the actual recording by the band? Was it to save royalties somehow?

They still had to pay royalties to the songwriter, but not to the record company or original artist. However, they’d have to pay whoever did sing the song, so that’s pretty much a wash.

It depends on what you mean by “older.” In the 50s, the song was what people liked, and the artist was not as much a concern; many artists would record the same song. It wasn’t until rock 'n roll became big that the original artist was especially in demand. So, the most likely reason is simply scheduling: the original artist just wasn’t available to sing the song, so they used someone else.

I’ll echo RealityChuck and support the notion that songs were more important than singers until the 50’s. Exactly whose version of a song became the definitive one was more or less a matter of taste until the highly personalized renditions associated with Rock ‘n’ Roll (Elvis, Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, Roy Orbison, dozens more) made the performer and his/her arrangement something others either couldn’t replicate or wouldn’t try to out of concern that their cover might bomb.

This remains a pattern today. Think of songs that are covered by other performers and groups and evaluate whether the song’s merits or the power of the original performance is more the issue. If it’s the song’s lyrics or melody that grab you, then covers are more likely. If it’s the performer, most other performers will leave it alone.

Even in the Big Band era there were tunes (and to some degree songs) that were almost the property of a specific band and other bands would leave those alone. Then there were other tunes (and songs) that pretty much any band would do. Performers tend to recognize when another’s stamp is too indelible to try to copy. Or they know an attempt to cover the song will just get them laughed at.

The old show Your Hit Parade died soon after RnR came in because the audience didn’t care to hear their lame attempts to emulate Elvis and the other stars of Rock. Couple that with the fact the new songs that suited the Hit Parade singers just weren’t very popular and you can see how (to paraphrase Don McLean) “the music died.” That is, if you were a fan of the old stuff.

I read that on certain shows, such as the Brady Bunch, when the actors heard a song on the radio, when it was filmed there was NO song playing at all, it was put in later. That would account for the lame song that always seemed to be playing when Jan or someone would walk in and say “Listen to this great new group.” And the kids never seemed to be snapping to the correct beat.

I know the royalties is one of the reasons that “WKRP In Cincinnati” isn’t rerun, because it is very difficult to get the clearence to all the bits of songs they played so they often would have to replace music, and now even the replacement songs need to be cleared again.

They have to get permission again? Wasen’t permiision the first time enough?

IIRC, in this scenario, the musicians would be paid for “work for hire.” So they wouldn’t get a royalty per se. And the contract for their work would probably be structured to avoid having to pay residuals to the musicians for repeat airing of the episode.

It isn’t so much that they have to get permission again, as they have to pay again. And every time the song is played on-air. This makes music-heavy shows like WKRP much more expensive, which is why you don’t see it in syndication reruns as often as others.

Here’s the court judgement for Bette Midler’s lawsuit against Ford. In this case, Midler simply didn’t want her voice to be used in a commercial. The advertising agency hired a soundalike (unfortunately, the imitation was a little TOO close.) So reason #1 may be that the performer doesn’t want their song to be used in that context.

Feces of Death the WKRP scenario is a classic example of how licensing works. The producers might have licensed the work for the network run only, or for a limited post-network syndication. They may not have licensed the work for a compilation album, for release on videotape, for release on DVD, the Internet or a half-dozen other uses. Every new medium requires another contract.

Somewhere in the house I have a copy of Dave Barry’s compilation of bad songs. At the end of the book there are literally pages of credits for songs where the right to publish lyrics was negotiated, where the right wasn’t negotiated, where the copyright holder couldn’t be found, etc. And that’s just for the lyrics. Imagine having to negotiate all that for the lyricist, composer, and every member of the group.

Yeah but what about Miami Vice? It had TONS of real songs, and gets rerun, plus it is out on DVD.

WKRP was filmed in 1977, and first broadcast in 1978. Typical licensing deals of that time did not include the rights to rebroadcast the show in syndication, nor to sell copies (VCR or DVD) of the show. To do so would require additional licensing negotiations.

[Probably the owners of the songs would agree to such licensing, most likely even at reasonable rates – it would be additional revenue for them, and they are aware that the publicity generated might result in new sales for these old songs. The biggest problem is that there are so many songs on WKRP, owned by so many different people, that it would be a major task to identify, contact, negotiate, & sign deals with all of them. So far, the owners of WKRP haven’t thought it worthwhile to go thru that effort.]

Miami Vice came about 6-7 years later, first shown in 1984. By that time, the value of syndication, VCR releases, etc. was apparent in the industry, so licensing contracts commonly included such rights in the contract. Especially for shows like Miami Vice, where the music was an important part of the show.

So most likely the Miami Vice contracts already included licensing for additional uses, while the earlier WKRP contracts did not.