All Things Music Industry-ish
Category: Music Supervision
I just returned from one of my regular trips to LA. I often visit to meet the people I've been doing business with in person, to introduce myself to newly met music supervisors and to catch up with LA going ons in general. I'm frequently surprised at what I come back with--a new friend, some good gossip, and a reminder about how the music supervision community works.
Independent supervisors by and large work out of their homes and thus the general default meeting location is the nearest Starbucks or strip mall coffee shop. My meetings are less pitching than they are bonding, bolstered by casual cups of caffeine, and I think for both supervisors and myself, this is as important as the quality of music I work.
There's frequently an exchange of sussing out to be done in these discussions and many supervisors want to know how I work on the artist side. Music supervisors, above and beyond many A&R folks from major label days past, truly and passionately love music and care about the musicians who create it. Needless to say, licensing agents are vetted delicately, most specifically in what they take, or don't take fee-wise and publishing-wise and supervisors care--and certainly have a say--in who they use based on the integrity of the agent. And they can easily afford to do so.
In addition to independent supervisor connections, this round of meetings included a TV film studio VP and the head of a film trailer music department. Their offices are overflowing with unopened submission packages and wall space and bookshelves are crammed with CDs; the most recent are piled on the floor. Of these, selected tracks end up catalogued into iTunes--the application of choice--or stored, while other CDs are actually thrown away, unlistened. A fair amount of supervisors admit to tossing packages if they don't know the sender.
Indeed, I always find it somewhat miraculous that I ever get a license for anything I've pitched, or that anyone has found the time to listen to what I've sent. In fact, I've estimated it takes approximately two years on average before a busy supervisor will sit down and slide an Optic Noise CD into a tray. And it's the key to an ongoing licensing relationship from there.
Hence the meetings and the coffee. Supervisors need trust in the agents they use, trust that a track is cleared absolutely properly, trust that an agent is not ripping off the artist or charging fees simply for the privilege of putting a song onto a CD, trust that an agent won't haggle over a fee after it's been locked and confirmed.
Conversely, I know little of the other agents that do business on my side of the fence. We're a secretive bunch, not so much worried that we'll snag each other's artists but that we'll have to share our favorite supervisors with each other. Supervisor contact names, despite available directories, are difficult to track down and sometimes only found through personal contacts. So we covet what we've got in our database but probably lose a little in the potential sharing of information.
What I know generally of the other agents I garner from the supervisors; who they work with on a regular basis, who they like, dislike, and who they're unaware of. In exchange, supervisors express curiosity in the licensing fees paid outside their working world: TV vs. commercials, film vs. video games, etc. and public performance income. And they beg that I not send them trance when they're specifically looking for disco (I never, ever do).
But we all suss it out and continue on, sometimes just a little more caffeinated than before.
I recently did some online marketing last year for one of my licensing clients and, in the process, was surprised how few large go-to music sites existed. There are a few, but apparently it is a long tail indeed.
Of the sites I found the most useful--and successful--from a marketing point of view were, I realized, helpful in other ways as well: for music supervision purposes, research and also for the sheer pleasure of discovering new music. And further, while I suspect the general music supervision population at large visit the sites as much as I, I wonder if the sites themselves understand the full usefulness to the music industry and for others looking to filter the best music.
I use All Music Guide (AMG) on a regular basis, most recently in search of a recognizable but affordable eighties-era song that could be cleared quickly at an affordable license fee for a feature length film. (I'll save the Kafka-esque adventure of clearing such a major label/major publisher owned piece of music for another post.)
One of the most wonderful aspects of AMG's bountiful and more or less accurate information is its list of similar artists, bands that influenced any given act and in turn, what artists the band has influenced. I was able to find a multitude of tracks I might use, confirm a track's popularity via AMG's charting information and make note of its writers so I could continue on to the monolithic and clunky BMI and ASCAP sites to find publishing contact information.
AMG, however, hosts the suckiest music player in the entire world, buffering endlessly or offering a few musical coughs after repeatedly clicking on the play icon until the angle, or force, or positive thinking is just right. Further, it's a shame the site won't link songwriter credits to BMI, ASCAP, etc. In fact, IMDB, the penultimate site for film and TV information, has an extended pay for service that offers additional detailed information, although I've found it to be often incomplete and not particularly useful for my needs. Lastly, in my Perfect Music Resource World, I fantasize iTunes and AMG partnering to create the ultimate and seamless resource for music supervisors, music marketers, and music fans. Sigh.
I had high hopes for Podshow, a podcast aggregator and also one of only two sites offering large catalogue of podsafe music and videos. Podshow has apparently, overnight, transmorgified into a site with the meaningless name of Mevio. Mevio's homepage is now a confusing, dark, and noisy video arcade organized under the vague headings of "Cool Episodes", "Hot Shows" and "Hot Tracks", which I think loosely translated means Stuff, Some Other Stuff and More Stuff. Mevio's music page is no better; in fact, it's pretty much identical.
But the site does have a Top Ten Podsafe Track Chart and the (still in beta at least three years since launch) Podsafe Music Network page, which allows artists to upload music to offer music podcasters for free. I think this is an important resource to further the cause of podcast played music and potentially a new way to re-start the concept of charting and airplay rotation radio once provided. It's a shame the concept isn't given the priority, or the push, considering Mevio's apparent desire to focus its attention on the Lots o' Video Stuff business model.
The site that gets it pretty much right: Last.fm. It provides one of the best music filters I've seen, and the music player works, although the page reload when changing tracks is annoying. The listener count in particular is interesting and like AMG, Last.fm provides a similar artists list, a boon for both fans and music supervisors. It also links to iTunes, which is nice--I often switch between these two sites, searching on Last.fm and switching to iTunes for more complete catalogue accessibility. The site is clean too and well organized, something a lot of sites just can't figure out.
Ultimately, these sites have the potential to hold more sway along the way and perhaps even take over where the printed pages of Rolling Stone and the power of commercial radio has faded. A long way to go perhaps but the concepts are there and seeded.
A great, lasting and memorable soundtrack is like art and porn; you know it when you see/hear it. And like a great song, it's not something one can always set out to do, it's inspired in a meld of chemistry to create one entity where before it came in the pieces of individual songs. Further, it must strike directly at the heart, which ultimately differentiates between a Good versus a Great film soundtrack.
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