The third season of Netflix’s Elite, a Spanish-language drama centered around the secret machinations of teens at a private high school, kicks off with a scene overlaid by Chvrches’ synth-pop song “Forever.” As plot lines unfurl across eight episodes, the song rears its head again, and again — and again, marking a near-takeover of the TV series.
While neither the band nor the song are ever mentioned by the show’s characters, “Forever” serves as a sonic motif for the entire season, thanks to its repeated appearance in flashbacks and moments of suspense. “We wanted to create an atmosphere with music that symbolized what the characters were doing,” Lynn Fainchtein, the music supervisor for the show — and the supervisor of a litany of other film and television projects including Roma, The Revenant, Birdman — tells Rolling Stone.
Fainchtein was asked by the show’s directors to specifically find a song that could carry the season-long plot. “It was very competitive initially; I send around 30 songs per episode to the producers and directors,” she says. “I get music from tons of labels and publishers. ‘Forever’ is a song that worked well because it helped to tell the story of certain characters without being obvious.” (Spoiler alert: The song was chosen in part because its lyrics “I always regret the night / I told you I would hate you ’til forever” mirror the interpersonal turmoil of the characters as they grapple with the fallout of a murder that takes place at a dance club.)
What serves Elite well from an aesthetic perspective also translates to a major win for Chvrches — which gets to share in the show’s multinational revenue streams alongside its label and publisher, and has also seen enormous boosts on digital platforms like Shazam and Spotify. A band of Chvrches’ size could easily command a five-figure deal with a distributor like Netflix, industry insiders say.
Sync licensing, as the realm of film/video deals for music is called, has proven an increasingly lucrative field for artists whether they’re newly rising and established for decades. Per recorded-music revenue figures from the Recording Industry Association of America, sync licensing has grown from $200 million in 2009 to $276 million in 2019. And that pool of money becomes especially significant in times of crisis when all other revenue streams dwindle.
“There is competition for all film and TV syncs at this point,” says Kristen Bushnell Perez, head of film and TV at Glassnote Records, Chvrches’ label, which received part of the fee from the multi-episode deal. “I’m always pitching the newest releases — but it’s always fun for us to see a song like this, which is from 2018, get a new life.”
Since Elite‘s third series premiered, “Forever” has seen a 900% increase in month-to-month Spotify streams, and the placement has led to dozens of new appearances on prominent streaming playlists and a 1,000% increase in user-generated content (UGC) YouTube videos, according to Glassnote. It’s also grown 1,000% in Shazam tags and climbed Spotify’s Viral charts in territories the band hadn’t touched previously, such as Peru, Chile, Mexico, and Panama.
Sync has always had the ability to build new stars: Apple’s use of a Feist song in an iPod Nano ad helped score Feist four Grammy nominations and and AMC’s “Breaking Bad” TV series featuring Badfinger’s 1972 hit “Baby Blue” in a final scene introduced the song to a new generation. But the two-years-after-the-fact rise of “Forever” reflects a phenomenon that also appeared with the climb of older tracks from Lizzo and Lorde after they were placed in Netflix’s rom-com Someone Great in 2019: In the buffet-style music-streaming era, there’s no longer a time limit to how long a song can be relevant — so the industry is experimenting with re-breaking slightly older hits just as much as it’s working on plugging new releases and legacy tracks.
“I think Netflix has more power now than ever before with influence over artists’ careers,” Perez says. “[It’s because of] the amount that people are streaming and because fans are discovering the music from their favorite TV shows so much now. More than ever, sync is opening new conversations with artists that we weren’t having before. We are communicating with supervisors and letting them know our artists are available — even for custom content. These are conversations that are looking different.”
Fainchtein recommended the Chvrches song for Elite’s coveted spot because she’d been a fan of the band for years and remembered placing its music in a successful sync deal years ago. But when casting about for a new song to feature, she says she usually receives at least 20 to 30 email pitches a day from the music industry. Because production timelines for the film industry move rapidly, songs are often discarded or swapped out if the label or publisher requests too much money, or if the band drags its feet, or if another complicating factor comes into play — meaning each artist and music company’s window of opportunity to make it into a desired sync spot is limited.
“If the song doesn’t work, we’re just like, ‘Let’s change it,’” she says. “We are negotiating all the time. If you’re bargaining with the label or publisher [over budget] and you know they are wasting your time, you just change the songs. There is always another song.”