On to the third and last day…
Music Publishing for Film, TV, Etc
Ron Broitman (warner), Rachel Jacobson (songs), Gary Miller (universal), Alexia Baum (universal)
What makes a song syncable? Gary says it’s intangible. Advice, don’t make songs that come from personal experience. If writing about love, don’t put in context of romantic love (e.g. all you need is love). If your songs have “swagger”, it helps. Alexia… “Happy” is the most syncable song on the planet. The most usable songs are the ones that are the most general. Rachel… there are songs that are just anomalies and will sync no matter what, but echos that keeping things general is good. Ron… not every song gets sync’d. Gary… some songs work great on radio and not in syncs. And some of the works being used are really really old (e.g. from the 30’s). “whoa’s and hey’s” are good 😉 Ron… has to work toward a specific visual, and so that factors in greatly. “Anatomy of a sync song” 3-pager run-down. Will know within a minute of listening whether a song is syncable. And they have SOOOO much material coming in. Even though it is intangible, there are some rules of thumb.
How do you work with your songwriters? Rachel is pretty hands-on. Catalog of 7000 songs, which is a small catalog. Want all songs to be making money all the time. Some artists who just drop their songs off and go tour. Others will want to specifically target TV or film. Regardless, will provide productive feedback if asked.
Work for hire? Alexia… catalog is 95% score, which is always work-for-hire, which means the studio hires composers and then keep ownership of the works. Songs, however, it’s a little crazier… universal doesn’t have song writers. They don’t own the songs. Producers/directors make a plan and identify what kind of songs they need. They try to retain some rights or a piece of the music–if it is written for the project. In the case of Frozen, the production company pushes to own the music 100%. Pre-existing published music is another story. Rachel generally keeps publishing rights for those people signed with them, though will let work-for-hire happen.
It’s all a relationships business. Building trust and familiarity..
How should average joe in the audience approach licensing situations? Ron… it’s a global marketplace. The world is wide open. These license companies are competing with indies, etc. Rachel… everything is online. Read up on the show and director. Reference something they used in the past. Gary… cream rises to the top. Supervisor just might see your work on a blog and BOOM you’re in. Just know that there is a STAGGERING amount of material that comes in. Only send music when it is in the hole. And a lot of first chances are last chances. Alexia… be aggressive, find a person in your corner. If there’s something coming up and you think there’s a creative fit, then work it. Ron… reach out, form a relationship, find out how they organize their catalog, what they listen for, etc. Gary… If you end up getting there, make sure your submissions are tagged with your contact information.
Metadata? Alexia… try to be specific. Don’t just say “orchestral”. Male or female voice? Fast or slow? Types of instruments? All information to make your work searchable.
Systems for organizing data? Rachel… extensive use of data systems at her office. Short time windows typically, so be ready for anything that comes up. E.g. be able to get in quick contact with your co-writers. Pre-clear as much as possible so that when things come up, there’s no delay. Delay = you getting skipped.
Approach to pitching? Rachel… depends, but do need to be pro-active either reacting to feeds or calling to find out what’s up. Alexia focuses on trailer, etc opportunities. But likewise pro-active. Can’t wait for opportunities. Gary and Ron have large staffs to work on these things… Gary… there are no rules. Finds his time is best spent on 1-1 dialogs. Might send out a blast once or twice a month. Then get general blast from show supervisor. Pitching scene specific usage. Ron… some supervisors have pretty fixed ideas, others open to ideas. It’s really about access and relationships. Alexia… people sometimes ask for “something BIG!!”, so yeah.
Some supervisors will not accept physical CD’s (straight to the trash). New computers don’t even have CD drives. So digital submissions are becoming more of the standard now. Ron… two bins story. One bin she listens to, one she doesn’t. Criteria? Do I know them? Are they nicely produced or hand-written? So a big aspect is the presentation.
Good moments? Alexia on “Happy”, had challenges getting it listened to. Tried to sell it and drove up the price because the *knew* it was going to be great for placement. Ended up being great of course. Rachel… for “Empire” they want all new music; not pre-existing. For Courtney Love, they went to one of their writers, gave the show the song. The soundtrack sold 300k. Ron handles Led Zeppelin’s catalog. Big fan, and have been able to sync successfully. Regardless, satisfying when you can sync an unknown.
Economics of it? Alexia… can be pretty flexible trying to bring value to songwriters and client. Case by case. Some people in the audience have had music sync’d; not all paid, but seemed like their was at least some benefit. Gary… a 30 sec background sync is probably not going to be worth doing for free / for exposure, vs a song in the forefront of an emotional scene. Alexia… precedents for particular artists factors in to pricing. Ron… budget has something to do with it too. E.g. won’t send “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons if the budget is low.
Average fees for, e.g. TV, indie vs major. Ron… $2500-$10000 for up and coming artists. cable $0-$6000. Alexia’s tend to be higher: $20k-$25k. E.g. simpsons placement $25k-$30k as an aside. Rachel… a charting song $15k-$20k. $7.5-$10 cable. Ron… $100K can happen.
Film (aside from free film festival works)? Ron… $75k for a recent project. great time for indie films. Alexia… obviously have a lot of “top of the line” works. Rachel… major $40k – $300k.
Commercials? Ron… all over the map. $1K-$xxxx.
Rachel… it’s not all about what’s popular right now. Right music for the right placement.
Bonuses? Step deals? “Garden State” was one of the last good step deals. However, some successes have limited lifespan in terms of production company still being around or not.
All… generally in the business of getting music used.
Video games? Not really viable right now. $1500 aside seems to be the standard. Rachel… Lorde thinks video games are her demographic, so not that concerned about the licensing fee because it’s hitting her audience. Usually one-time buy-outs; e.g. for Grand Theft Auto.
In a meeting with a supervisor, what do you bring? Gary… have 3 best ready to go that hits the verse/chorus, etc. USB format, phone, etc fine. Be respectful of their time. Genre doesn’t impact price; e.g. country music, while big, doesn’t really connect on TV.
How to increase your odds to be sync’d? Like asking how to win the lottery. It’s all a crap shoot.
What are good publications to monitor? musicregistry.com is a good resource. hollywood reporter, imdb, etc. But no one good place to go to find it. Mostly because supervisors are bombarded as it is, so they’re not going to publicly advertise. DON’T pay for that information from anyone who claims to have it. (NOTE TO SELF: talk to supervisors, film companies in Austin)
Gary… covers. Great new covers of songs have potential for getting your foot in the door.
Washington DC: New Laws and Copyright
1 million streams on pandora earns the artist $90, which is, of course, ridiculous.
Streaming is the future of music, it’s kinda undeniable. So asking the Dept of Justice to make changes that will enable sustainable income for music makers. The companies that are making billions on the backs of creators are the ones who need to be made accountable. Change away from a system that compels us to give away our music.
Recording artists make 14x more than publishers and writers right now. Section 114i is hurting our ability to make a change, but recent activity in Washington is working toward getting around that, among other issues.
Aloe Blacc, Doug Collins (rep. GA), Hakeem Jeffries (rep. NY).
Aloe… has been pretty active. Having a baby kinda woke him up about it; wanting to be able to support his family as a songwriter, etc. “Wake Me Up” for Avicii: 168 millon streams yields $12k, of which his cut is $4k. And thought… that’s not going be enough to support his family.
Doug… involved in government of a state with so many musicians, sees the effect of the changes in the marketplace, and fully supports making it a fair marketplace. Introduced the songwriter’s equity act. Took a lot of flack and heat at the time.
Hakeem… represents Brooklyn, as a very diverse district with a major presence and history of artists; e.g. Spike Lee, B.I.G., etc. Songwriters there are very important.
Paul… we don’t want to deny the technology. We love it. Just want it to be fair to all involved.
Aloe… loves the technology, sure. Big companies know how the laws work. Songwriters know how songs work. So the songwriters get exploited by the big companies. Can we name names?
Doug… taking heat for these things has a root cause in there being money to be had. Copyright office formed in 1897, and some of the rules around today were written in the early 1900’s. His professions have all involved what comes between his ears and mouth, as lawyer and military chaplain. If he has been able to make a gainful living doing those things, then musicians should be able to as well.
Hakeem… Winston Churchill: “Do you have enemies? Good, that means you have stood up for something or someone at some point in your life.” Sides are taken. You have to match intensity at the very least. We in the audience can work our own congressmen and representatives. (NOTE TO SELF: actually contact Austin city and Texas government).
Can hash: #songwriterequityact. bit.ly/Support_SEA
And there’s: #standwithsongwriters.
Paul gave Aloe Blacc a nice plug suggesting he would be great for the ASCAP board and might make a great ASCAP president someday.
Aloe… nobody starts at the top. Was just the songwriter for Avicii. Didn’t earn anything from SoundExchange. Only really earns from royalties. Draws analogy with other corporate jobs; e.g. performer = sales, songwriter = developer. Need the song to begin with. (NOTE HERE: being a person who has been a part of that corporate world and well aware of the discrepancies between developers and sales people, the analogy is reasonable, but slightly worrisome in the sense of be-careful-what-you-wish-for. there are very few developer-salespeople in the corporate world).
Doug… take the time to write a personal letter or have an in-person chat or speak in an open government forum, etc. WE ARE THE VOICE. If we don’t exercise our voice, we won’t be heard.
Hakeem… has been brought to attention of congress that copyright law in general needs to be revisited, with songwriter act related topics at the top of the list. Value of music is transcendent. People understand the value, regardless of genre grew up listening to. There’s political power and value to the music. Words 50 years ago, for much music, are still applicable today.
435 representatives + 100 senators to convince. Use social media. Write a letter. Stay focused as a songwriter in your activities.
The vision is that the laws change, and then services like Spotify and Pandora will have to negotiate payment. We are not against Spotify and Pandora, per se, we want to them to be successful, BUT we just want to be able to negotiate fair payment. An alternative voice in the audience suggested that Spotify and Pandora should already be interested in being fair to begin with.
Doug… government is in the way right now, and is actually supporting the Spotify/Pandora taking-advantage-of-writers problem. These companies are benefitting from the way the laws are currently structured.
Hakeem… Doug is from one of the most conservative districts in the country. Hakeem from one of the most progressive. BUT, they’re both working together on this.
Suggestion made for someone to hold events, make a documentary, etc.
Good question from lawyer in the audience… how can a songwriter negotiate more pay from their publisher who is processing the money. So there’s a go-between that the songwriter has to go through. Hakeem… songwriter rate is artificially low. Law prohibits consideration of things like how much artists make off a songwriter’s songs. This is part of the reason why lawmakers can make a fair change: they are legally prohibited from being able to include relevant information in their considerations. ASCAP is out of balance with other PRO’s around the globe.
Finishing with Ableton Live
Showed live recording of a groove in Ableton. Using live guitar, bass, push controller beat building, etc. Slid in some pre-fab percussion elements. Played the push controller like a keyboard at one point (which was slightly odd). But groovy.
Did it all in arrangement view (not clip view). Had all the empty tracks pre-created, though didn’t really need to (can just press apple-D as you go). Uses Ampli-Tube a lot. Duplicates some tracks, usu. guitar, and pans them hard left/right. Separates kick and snare to diff tracks so can mix differently. Quantize is easy (shift-apple-u). Pulled in clips recorded from friends. Easy to warp anything that gets pulled in. Uses “complex” to do warping. Uses a lot of his own samples.
Showed a little trick of taking a cymbal sample, doubling it over and reversing the first one to create a “riser” effect.
Economics of a Hit Songwriter
Savan Kotecha has written songs for Ariana Grande, One Direction, Maroon 5, etc etc.
When he started out it was a lot more expensive to make a song. His father sent him a bill for $28K at one point (expenses from 16 to 27), including rental of equipment, trips to Nashville. Got ripped off in a deal in Nashville signing a deal that took 100% of his publishing. From Austin, Texas, apparently. Would sneak into SXSW and hand out demo tapes. If he got kicked out, he’d change clothes and do it again. Spent a bit of time skipping school to do this stuff. Got a book from B&N with list of publishers and sent tapes to all these. Would use lunch money to send out demo tapes. Started eventually getting some positive responses. E.g. pay $3000 to play in front of music industry professionals. Did it, got a little lucky. Had a lawyer friend in NY who helped out. First publishing deal… lawyer fee was half the advance. Dad gave him 2 years. Upper middle class parents were able to help him out. Would sit at home and write songs. Went to Sweden, broke, at the age of 19, as part of his first publishing deal…
BMG publishing deal, in the time of Backstreet Boys and Brittney Spears. Only did work with Jive Records. Sent to Sweden, where the writers are; plus Sweden really really support and valorize music. 2 weeks turned into 13 years (though did visit the states after the first 4 years).
First A&R was with Simon Cowell. Was really scary. When pop died in the states (turned into hip hop and alt rock). X Factor 2010… called in to be a vocal coach / mentor. Met One Direction, which convinced him to stay.
Invested a bit of money and time in himself.
Different ways to write songs… want to be able to do it on purpose. Nowadays, you are not going to get paid unless you are consistent. His generation invested in writers, and they would let you fail a lot. That doesn’t happen anymore. Did spend a bit of time writing a song a day, so that’s where he came from. Learn what works by listening to great songs. Day after day they would go over the best songs ever and then re-arrange them. Common thread is melody. Melody is timeless. Greatest songs ever have great melody.
“Problem” recorded his inspiration on his phone while on an airplane (played the recording). Stressed importance of collaborative now. Like with the phone capture, didn’t have a pre-chorus, which a collaborator friend came up with.
Challenge working with new artists who are getting signed with big $, is adjusting to them without losing quality.
Alway try to find people who are better than you. Got lucky to work with Max Martin. It’s like playing on Michael Jordan’s team.
Chris Rock reference… common negative trap to say things like “man, my stuff’s better than that”. Bad attitude. Better attitude is to never think that you are better than anyone else. Nowadays there’s a lot of pressure for publishers to find the “best” songs. There was a song he and his collabs had that was going to be cut by Rhianna. Didn’t happen at the last minute. They put out a different song his collaborators thought “what?!?” Easy to fall into that trap. New song writers should learn from the songs that are out there rather than being negative about them.
Again, was fortunate enough to be getting into the industry when companies had money to spend on songwriters. Felt a responsibility to be the mentor and pass the baton on. But it’s hard to say how much longer it’s going to last. People don’t seem to really know that the writers exist; seems like people think that Brittney just shows up in a studio with a band and she just sings, boom badabing. Pop stars kinda don’t want the public to know the writers exist, because the artists are afraid to mar their image or cause problems with their endorsements and such. So the artists aren’t going to fight for the writers. So we have to fight for ourselves.
Note that labels are looking online, audiences are looking online. The music is what it is and will strike a chord or not. E.g. Lorde claims to not have done any marketing; it just happened. Suggestion is that a great song will grow. A lot of people hustle on the street and network. But the people who are really making it in the industry are spending their time in the studio. Craft First.
Person from audience pointed out that legally there are either strong clients with weak cases or weak clients with strong cases. We are the latter, so it would be great to be able to get high caliber celebrities to help.
We seem to be the only industry that no one expects to get rich. Nobody tells McDonald’s they make too much money.
Aloe Blacc – sang “Need a Dollar” with help from guitarist.
Andrew Bird – sang “Give it Away” with fiddle, alternating between strumming and bowing
Andrea Martin – sang “It will All Get Better with Time (?)”. Holy crap she can sing.
Ashley Gorley – sang a song Luke Bryan performed “Crash My Party Anytime (?)”
Aloe Blacc – sang “I’m the Man” and Gorley mentions afterward that the song plays at his kids baseball field all the freaking time. Aloe gave a little bit of back story, mentioning that he was rapping back in the 90s, but stopped around 2005. Started liking other types of music; e.g. “Your Song” by Elton John.
Andrew Bird – sang “Fake Palindromes”, citing some boredom and reading in lobotomy back in 2004 as inspiration.
Andrea Martin – sang “What’s in Gonna Be?” written for En Vogue and told a little bit of the story behind it. Apparently En Vogue didn’t like the song at first, but one of singers hadn’t gotten to solo before and came back asking about it. Ended up being the biggest hit they’d ever done, and Andrea had the satisfaction of putting that back in the face of the two lead singers who had poopoo’d the song before.
Ashley Gorley – sang “Better than I Used to Be (?)”. Was a blind write with Brian Simpson 10 years ago. Wanted to make the point that you never know what connections will work, and that you should not forget about those connections.
Aloe Blacc – sang “Wake Me Up” written for Avicii. Worked with Gorley in Nashville and shared an old idea. Suggested always bringing 100% to the table, and be open to making yourself vulnerable for sharing.
Andrew Bird – sang a new song. Mentioned a lot of internal voices guiding, and not so much collaboration in general.
Andrea Martin – sang “Kills Me”, which she claims to have written in 5 minutes to get it over with, and added a bunch of oooohs to fill in the gaps. Pretty killer singer… the lady can sing.
Ashley Gorley – tried to clean the palate after Andrea’s performance. Told the backstory for the next song, which was based partially on a real life experience 3-4 years ago. Had two kids at home and a spastic dog while a contractor was fixing something at the house. Contractor, however, was not bothered by it, mentioned kids of his own, and suggested he would miss all this chaos. IMPORTANTLY, and incidentally, suggested that you be brave and DARE TO SUCK. Sang “You’re Going to Miss This”
ALL – The last song, led by Aloe was Bill Whithers’ “Lean on me”. Everybody sang.
And thus ended the expo.