Photo: Jeaneen Lund
The longer you work, the more experience you gain. If you keep delivering good-quality music, and if you're open-minded to all sorts of things, then your career will bring you to the weirdest places. Young producers should continue what they're doing and keep up the good vibes. It is a hard, competitive world where a lot of stuff is being put out all the time and is fighting for attention. The more distinguished your style, the more likely you will get noticed.
You've collaborated with a lot of other artists. Before you start working together, how to do you set terms for any royalty splits, flat fees, etc?
It totally depends on what the project is. Technically, you can agree to anything since it's a contract, but in each case, the more well known you are, the better the outcome. Usually, it's like this:
A. Doing a remix: just a flat fee.
B. Co-writing a song: You share publishing with the number of people who worked on the song. Sometimes you'll get a royalty based on sales.
C. Producing somebody's track: usually a flat fee, maybe a royalty. If you're changing the song so much because of the production, you might get a co-write.
D. Movie: just a flat fee and residuals.
E. Video game: just a flat fee.
F. Commercial: a complete buyout.
How do you ensure that you will get the best result from your collaborations? And what happens when it doesn't go as planned? Is there a kill fee?
Usually, there is no kill fee. It totally depends on who you work with. When you work with super, superbig artists, they have such an insane agenda — whether it's personal or business — that you have to work around whatever the deal is. For instance, with Radio JXL [Koch, 2004], when I worked with Robert Smith, Dave Gahan and Gary Numan, the track with Robert Smith I think took five or six months total to finish because I was totally depending on his schedule to deliver a new album and DVD. It's really hard to work around that, but that's just what it is. If you work with a vocalist who's not necessarily as well known, then the result is that I am the one who can pretty much play the cards. If I work with somebody and say, “I need this vocal in two days,” they probably will work really hard to make it happen. The more well known a person is, the harder it gets to work efficiently because a lot of other factors come into play.
Working with corporate clients, such as film-production and video-game companies, how differently do you handle that collaboration, business-wise?
Well, on the business side of things, there is more like a proper negotiation about the price. When you work for a client like a movie production house or a game publisher, technically you make a deal that is based on a complete buyout. Movie companies and game publishers would like to own the complete music so they can do whatever they want with it. So you negotiate a buyout price, and it includes everything that needs to be done for that specific movie or video game. The level of the buyout, so to speak, or the price, depends on who I am and how experienced I am in that field. So for instance, when it comes to video games, I'm way more experienced, so obviously the buyout price is higher than on the movie end. Once that is all said and done, from that point on it's more like teamwork. Very hard deadlines are set — usually part of the contract — for when certain things need to be delivered.
When you got your first job for a film, did you have any negotiation power with the fees? What is the spectrum of what you can bargain for, from a newbie film composer to a more established composer such as yourself?
When I started, there was no negotiation power whatsoever. You are very happy that you actually can do the job, and if you're very lucky, you get a credit. I've done a huge amount of work for no money with no credit at all and just did it to get experience. It probably depends on what client it is that you are working for and if they're willing to give you something. Eventually, when you build more experience, you start building credits. When you are mentioned at the very end of a movie or at the credits part of a video game, that's when it starts getting interesting, and that's when you can build a serious résumé for new work. If you do it long enough, eventually you will build your own name, and that's the time when you start negotiating your own full-on score that you do on your own, including the credits and a good compensation.
Are there any good online resources or books that you could recommend so other producers can get familiar with general contracts and protocol for making music with outside parties?
I'm sure there are many out there, but I've never really read those or looked into it, primarily because of the fact that since very early on, I decided to work with other people who would take care of those businesses, which technically meant I could focus more on making music and worry less about the legal side.
What mistakes have you made or witnessed other artists/producers make regarding the business side of making music? What advice can you offer to help people sustain a long career in music?
I think one of the most obvious mistakes is that when people start making music, they want to move too fast. It's understandable, you know. Bands blow up around you in no time and you want to be in that position as well, or as a producer or songwriter. I've noticed that in my career, it's better just to wait and hold off on a certain deal even though you feel at that point you're with your back against the wall to do it. Usually, it makes more sense if you're out of money to take a little job to have some money coming in and just wait on a better opportunity — if your music is unique and special, that opportunity will come eventually.