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Why 'Mad Men' Paid $250,000 To Use One Beatles Song

Quarter of a million dollars. For one song in one scene.

MUSIC HAS ALWAYS been one of the most important aspects of “Mad Men.”

Which is why, when creator Matthew Weiner wanted to use a Beatles song in season 5′s “Lady Lazarus” episode, he refused to settle for anything but the real deal.

Instead of using a cover of the band’s “Tomorrow Never Knows,” Weiner insisted they use a master recording that cost the production upward of $250,000.

As we head into Season 7, here’s the behind-the-scenes story of how one pricey “Mad Men” episode came to be.

“The Band of the 20th Century”

From the real-life ad campaigns to the fashions, most everything on “Mad Men” is authentically 1960s. But for Weiner, there was always one glaring inauthenticity on the show.

“It was always my feeling that the show lacked a certain authenticity because we never could have an actual master recording of the Beatles performing,” Weiner told The New York Times. “It always felt to me like a flaw. Because they are the band, probably, of the 20th century.”

Don Draper Frank Ockenfels 3 / AMC Frank Ockenfels 3 / AMC / AMC

That isn’t to say that the series has never sampled from the band’s catalogue. In season 4 episode “Hands and Knees,” Beatles song “Do You Want to Know a Secret” played over the credits. However, it was an instrumental cover which only requires the more affordable publishing rights.

The difference between publishing rights and master rights is that while the publishing rights are controlled by the publisher working for the songwriter or composer, master recordings are owned by record labels. Labels get to set the price for how the song is being used and how popular they think it is.

Acquiring the rights to any music can be costly enough, but gaining the rights to a Beatles recording is extremely expensive and difficult — a fact that Weiner and “Mad Men” would soon come to realize.

Don Draper’s $250,000 Beatles Record

For television, the Beatles had always been the “holy grail” when it came to licensing.

This meant that “Mad Men” had an up-hill battle, but it helped that the remaining members of the band are fans of the show.

“In the case of the Beatles, they’re not known for opening up their song catalogue to everyone,” show writer Andre Jacquemetton told the Canadian Press. “It just turns out actually that they’re huge fans of the show.

According to The Wall Street Journal, it’s common to hear Beatles covers, but not the actual Beatles songs. When it does happen, it typically “involves fees of over $1 million.” Such was the case with 2010′s “Dinner For Schmucks,” which used “Fool on the Hill” for a reported $1.5 million.

In contrast, most other popular songs that are licensed for TV shows can be purchased for under $100,000.

Ultimately, Lionsgate — the studio behind “Man Men” — paid $250,000, and used the song for less than 2 minutes in season 5′s “Lady Lazarus,” as Don Draper tried to stay in tune with ’60s youth culture, but was ultimately left unimpressed.

Watch the $250,000 scene below:

Benoit Favreault / YouTube

The Beatles and “The End” of “Mad Men”

“Mad Men’s” use of “Tomorrow Never Knows” was the first time a TV show had used a Beatles master track, and with that distinction came a price that was about five times the average rate.

Yet, even though the costs were high, this may not be the last time “Mad Men” uses the Fab Four’s catalogue.

As we head into the series’ final season, the music of Paul, John, George, and Ringo may play into Weiner’s end-game for the entire series, as he told Grantland:

“I want to leave the show in a place where you have an idea of what it meant and how it’s related to you. It’s a very tall order, but I always talk about ‘Abbey Road. What’s the song at the end of ‘Abbey Road’? It’s called ‘The End.’ There is a culmination of an experience of people working at their highest level.”

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