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When Actors Turn Recording Artist

Publicity stunts, and legitimate crossovers

Do you find it interesting (as I do) how many actors and celebrities try to become recording artists, as well? Do you also find it interesting (as I do) to see how many of these efforts succeed, and how many fail?

The Hollywood Reporter, er, reports that the latest actor to add “recording artist” to his resume will be Ed Helms, actor in the long-running TV series The Office (and the not-as-long-running film franchise The Hangover). Apparently, that singing he occasionally does in The Office is no joke; Helms and some college buddies have been doing a bluegrass band thing for about 20 years, and they’re now planning to take it into the recording studio. Should be interesting to see what comes of it.

Another upcoming record (to be released officially next week) is from character actress Rita Wilson (also known as the wife of Tom Hanks), who is releasing AM/FM, a record of standard pop covers, easy listening style. Previewing the album on Spotify, some of the arrangements are cheesy, but Wilson’s voice is actually pretty easy on the ears.

I’m certainly not one to pigeonhole people; I’m not of the opinion that actors should be actors, and musicians should be musicians, with no crossing over, ever. Many creative people successfully do both, because both are creative ventures. But you can tell when some actors are turning recording artist just for name recognition, to try to score some extra cash, or simply out of delusions of grandeur—and I personally don’t have a lot of respect for that. One glaring example from the past few years is Lindsay Lohan. (Anyone remember her fiasco live performance covering Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen” on the AMA Awards? Here’s a video of it to refresh your memory.)

Other not-so-stellar attempts of actors to sell records include Scarlett Johansson (who made an honest attempt to make it as an alternative artist, but which didn’t really take off); Robert Downey, Jr.; Don Johnson (remember Miami Vice?); John Travolta; and a host of others. (Clint Eastwood even did a western album once.) Then, of course, there are those feeble recording attempts from non-acting celebrities—people who are simply famous for being famous, like Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton.

Of course, there are some success stories as well. Steve Martin has launched a whole new career with his bluegrass band The Steep Canyon Rangers, even won hisself some Grammys from that effort. Hilary Duff (a.k.a. Lizzie McGuire) has had a respectable run as a pop artist with a couple of albums that did well on the charts. John Tesh, who first got famous as a host on Entertainment Tonight, has gone on to a successful career as a composer/pianist in the New Age genre. And the late Patrick Swayze, while never really trying to be a recording artist, scored a Top 40 hit in the 1980s with “She’s Like the Wind” from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. So it can be done.

But looking at the list of actors who have tried their hand at recording, said list is remarkably and embarrassingly long. I say “embarrassingly” because the flops vastly outnumber the successes. It seems that, with a few exceptions as mentioned above, mostly these are attempts to market merchandise based on name recognition. (A lot of times, the actors don’t even want to do the record—their PR people want them to.) That’s the part of this trend that I don’t respect, because in my view it’s an illegitimate product being peddled to an unsuspecting public just to extract a few extra dollars from their wallets. And the thing is, these people are already rich and famous; they don’t need any more of our money. Fortunately, the public’s intelligence can only be insulted to a certain point before they catch on—which is why so many of these actors-turned-artists only release one record, then move on to something else.

Bottom line with all this rambling: I think it’s great when an actor turns recording artist, when the actor actually has something to offer. (I love Steve Martin’s act, for example.) But when it’s just a gimmick, I’d just as soon they stick to acting and keep their hands out of our pockets. Just saying.



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About the Author


David Tillman is an independent composer/arranger whose primary work involves writing jingles for commercials for radio and television, with several film and television placements to his credit as well. David has a fascination for all things related to the music business and the music industry in general, an obsession which his wife finds to be mildly unhealthy at times. His personal tastes in music are in electronica and industrial rock, and include The Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk and Nine Inch Nails (he loves that Trent Reznor is writing soundtracks!). When not in his office or in his man-cave, David enjoys skiing, hiking, the occasional game of golf, and sometimes just lounging by the pool. David lives with his wife and three children in Los Angeles, CA.

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