History is angling for a crossover hit with a countrified theme song for reality series Biker Battleground Phoenix.
“Ride On” is a full-length song performed by Grammy-nominated country star Dierks Bentley (pictured), produced through music shop Jingle Punks, and written in collaboration with three of the singer’s most trusted songwriters.
Ahead of the show’s premiere on July 2, the U.S. cable network gave the song a single-like roll out with an official music video that intercuts Bentley in the recording studio with clips from the show and an electronic press kit (EPK) including a video interview with the singer talking about his affinity for biker culture.
“Ride On” has since received radio airplay in country music mecca Nashville, and Jingle Punks CEO Jared Gutstadt hopes the deal behind the tune will pay dividends as a vehicle for both Bentley and History, which shares publishing rights with the songwriting team.
“I was really surprised to see people liked the song enough to go out of their way to play it on the radio,” he says. “The hope ultimately is this will come full circle and that people will look at these types of theme songs and release them as singles with support of the label. But we’re not there yet.”
The fact that Bentley is a hot name in country was a coup for History. Last year, his single “I Hold On” topped Billboard’s country airplay chart and his seventh studio album Riser debuted at number six on the Billboard Hot 200 in February. His 44-date North American tour – his biggest to date – kicked off in May and will wrap up in September.
Network requests for Top 10 pop musicians are still relatively uncommon, according to Gutstadt, because stars are difficult to coordinate. Typically, a net will license an existing hit to use as theme music but that route is often expensive and the song may not fit comfortably within a show’s marketing messaging.
Another common scenario is hiring a lesser-known singer to cut an original track that is on-brand, but does not come with celebrity caché.
Jingle Punks, which has worked on theme songs for reality series such as Pawn Stars, The Voice and The Real Housewives of Atlanta, approached Bentley’s management via its Nashville office to record a song for Biker Battleground Phoenix, a reality show about competing motorcycle builders.
Gutstadt was pleasantly surprised to find out that Bentley not only grew up in Phoenix but is a biker enthusiast who organizes the annual Miles and Music for Kids charity bike ride to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
“His management look at it as an opportunity to be part of the platform that the network has built, which hits millions of people on a week-by-week basis,” he explains. “It’s a synergistic proposition across the board. We try and sell through the cool factor of the network by saying Pawn Stars once had Bob Dylan on it.
“Jack White’s been on American Pickers. When Vikings did a promo with Lorde, it increased the sales of that record ["Glory and Gore"] and changed the label’s strategy to put that out as a single.”
Gudstadt is now looking to replicate the Biker Battleground Phoenix deal with a pop star for another network and a well-known DJ for a fashion brand.
What is the cost to the network for landing an of-the-moment talent? “Nominally it’s a little bit more,” he says. “I would say and actually the value is greater. If you own the publishing on a Dierks Bentley song, that’s worth way more than owning a general theme song.”
“The best way to do it is for the network to operate like a publishing company or creative agency and build it from the ground up,” he continues. “It only works if the material is cool. Artists can’t be forced to sing a song they don’t want to do.”
Unfortunately, Bentley was suffering from a throat issue and could not sit in on the writing session so his manager recruited writers Ross Copperman (Keith Urban) and duo Josh Osborne and Matt Ramsey (The Band Perry) to write with Gutstadt and his frequent collaborator, Jeff Peters.
The session took place in Nashville and lasted one day. Gutstadt then presented the song to management and Bentley, who liked it. History also liked the track but Krista Liney, VP for brand creative, sent back notes requesting the song change from a major key to a minor key so it would sound more rock and edgier – in line with the series’ brand.
It was up to Gutstadt to run creative interference as the go-between management and the network.
“We took it into a minor key, which changed a lot of the melody across the song but made the chorus pop out more as a badass biker thing as opposed to a ‘happy with my buddies on the road’ thing,” says Gutstadt. “Everyone weighed in on the creative process and that it made it feel less like the artist was being corralled into something he wasn’t comfortable with.”
Recording took place in a New York City studio while Bentley was in town doing promo between tour stops. Two nights before, the Jingle Punks team traveled to New Jersey with History’s execs to catch Bentley’s concert and meet the singer backstage.
Jingle Punks had an hour to record the vocals, shoot the music video and film the EPK interviews before Bentley was shuttled off to an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. They would have to deliver all the elements to History a week later.
When Bentley arrived, Gutstadt clicked a stopwatch on the monitor and ushered the singer straight into the booth.
“I was trying my best not to have beads of sweat come off my forehead,” he says. “When I saw him at his concert I said, ‘You might think the day we record I’m being rude but I’m just trying to be efficient so I’m not even going to say hello to anyone. I’m going to throw you in the booth and we’re just going to work.’”
Bentley nailed the vocals in two takes and then did his interview portion.
“The dynamic with celebrities usually is they feel like they’re doing you a favor and in this case he was really appreciative and excited about everything,” adds Gutstadt.
Biker Battleground Phoenix airs Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. EST/9 p.m. CST on History. Watch the “Ride On” music video below: