Kate Bush and Stranger Things: What's the Secret to a Perfect Sync?
Berklee Now's Keyed In series features Berklee artists and experts making news and sounding off on the latest news and trends from the music world and beyond.
Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” reached no. 3 on the U.K. charts and no. 30 in the U.S. when it was first released in 1985. Nearly 40 years later, the song from the English singer-songwriter’s Hounds of Love album is experiencing an astonishing revival on singles charts, usurping its original success: no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, no. 2 on the U.K. charts, and no. 1 in Australia, New Zealand, and Switzerland. It’s also bested streaming platforms, including no. 1 on Spotify in the U.S., and has hit the no. 1 spot on Billboard’s Top TV Songs chart. Meanwhile, Halsey covered the song at the Governor’s Ball this past weekend.
The resurgence can be credited to the song's placement in the latest season of the Netflix sci-fi series Stranger Things, which is set in the 1980s. The show’s use of the song has also taken hold on TikTok, which has contributed to its rise.
For her part, Bush is celebrating what amounts to be the perfect sync. The song “is being given a whole new lease on life by the young fans who love the show—I love it too!” Bush gushed in a statement on her website. “It’s hard to take in the speed at which this has all been happening…. We’ve all been astounded to watch the track explode!”
Those who work in sync are taking note. Lily Burns B.M. ’16, a producer, songwriter, and mix engineer currently working with the prolific sync producer AG (Adriane Gonzalez ’99), offered her take on this phenomenally successful sync.
What’s the formula for the perfect sync?
There really isn’t a formula, and there really isn’t a perfect sync. That said, there is somewhat of a structure that works most of the time. You want the lyrics to lean hopeful, even if the concept or vibe is dark; there always has to be a spark of hope. They should also be fairly vague and applicable to different situations—definitely no naming names.
From a production standpoint, it’s sort of all over the place, especially given the mass amount of content that’s out there from TV to movies—it’s just massive. But generally speaking, the song has to build, have distinct, dynamically different sections that can escalate throughout the song, and you want some tasty ear-candy elements that editors can play with (more applicable for trailers and promos, but ear candy is always a plus).
This song is kind of an exception on the production side: It doesn’t have a crazy dynamic structure on its own, but the editor (or composer) added a bunch of cinematic elements (strings, sfx, drums) that create an overarching dynamic build. The lyrics fit, though—the line “running up that hill” is perfectly vague, hopeful, and dark.
To what would you attribute the enormous popularity and revival of this song as a result of the sync? What’s so special about this particular sync?
After watching the scene, my first thought is length and amount of dialogue. The song plays for almost four minutes with very little dialogue so it’s the primary audio we’re getting in that time. It’s also an extremely climactic scene with a ton of tension around [central character] Max’s fate. Additionally, there’s an emphasis of the song being the thing that pulls her back! It’s a major moment in the show, and the song plays a huge part both as a production tool and a tool in the storyline.
As someone who’s in the industry and deep in the sync world, what’s your take on this particular sync story?
It’s kind of the dream situation for someone in sync. To have a placement in such an impactful scene, with so little dialogue over it, and with the amount of time the song plays is already a huge thing; the addition of a crazy bump in streams is a major bonus. I keep coming back to the use of the song in the storyline—that’s a rare thing and I think it contributed to the success of this placement.
What effect do apps like Shazam or search engines like Google have on this kind of phenomenon, whereas viewers can immediately identify a song they hear in a TV episode or movie?
It’s huge. The Shazam thing is absolutely huge. To be able to hear a song and immediately identify it and pull it up on Spotify or Apple Music or whatever streaming service you use is incredible for viewers and incredible for creators. Streaming isn’t a hugely reliable source of income for us in the sync world (we rely on license fees from placements as your primary source of income), but a good sync will almost always translate into streams and capitalizing on that is a huge bonus for us. It’s also a source of pride. Having a song on the top of the weekly Tunefind chart, for example, is wildly exciting and validating, and it means the music is both translating well to picture and resonating with listeners. It means you’ve done your job and done it well.
What could a song revival, and among a new audience, mean for an artist like Kate Bush, who has been out of the limelight for some time?
It could mean a lot of things. Primarily a bump in streaming income, and not just for this song. It’ll drive listeners to her artist profiles and potentially have them looking into other things she’s done. It could possibly mean more placement, though that’s a toss-up; a lot of music supervisors try not to use songs that have had major placements before, while others don’t mind that as much, and if it’s on their radar they might try to place it. But she’s on the radar of supes now for sure and other songs of hers may start to trickle into their catalogs and pop up here and there. It will certainly mean a spike in covers of the song, which, if released and successful, will add an additional stream of income on the publishing side. And now Kate Bush will be a household name again, at least for a while. I’m not sure what her situation is, but it could mean new offers from labels (it often does for newer artists), new releases, and even catalog sale offers.