FIG. 1: Brooke Wentz.
Photo Credit: Katie O''Leary
The old refrain “You ought to be in pictures” usually refers to potential actors and actresses, but nowadays it could also apply to independent musicians — or, more precisely, to their music. The music-licensing market for TV and movies is expanding, and there is greater opportunity than ever before for savvy independent musicians and composers to get their music onto the big or little screen. To find out why this is happening, and to get some practical advice on how to make contacts in this field, I turned to Brooke Wentz (see Fig. 1), a longtime music supervisor who just wrote a book on the subject of music licensing called Hey, That's My Music! (Hal Leonard, 2007; see Fig. 2).
Who is your book aimed at?
It's written for musicians who want to know about licensing, anybody who's a copyright owner, or even a producer who wants to know how things are priced or all about the licensing area. It's also written for filmmakers or others who use content, like an ad agency or anyone, to show them how the process works and how difficult it is.
Are you still an active music supervisor?
Yes, I am — that's my primary source of income. I have my own business called the Rights Workshop. We predominantly do music supervision and clearance.
It's my impression that the music-licensing market is growing. Would you agree?
Why is that?
Since 2000, record labels' sales have decreased. Record labels exist primarily as a business to sell records, just like Colgate's main source of income is selling toothpaste. All the record labels have a special-markets division, which handles anything other than selling records. Anything that comes through there is called ancillary income. And that means that it's money that comes in separate, aside from their main source of business. So any money that comes in for licensing music out for a compilation (meaning other labels' compilations) or for synchronization use (meaning in films, TV, or video games) for ringtones and for sampling, all comes through that special-markets division. Those are other sources of income that use their masters — which are the label's assets, essentially — to make money that doesn't cost them anything except for the person answering the phone.
And for the legal work.
Right, other than that and the lawyers who have to do some of the paperwork, it doesn't cost them anything. So what's happened is that because there's been a decrease in record sales, and they're still giving out those lovely large advances, they're making up for it by increasing their fees on the synchronization side. That's become one area where they've seen more income. And then you've got this huge amount of new platforms where people want to use their music. When I was at ESPN, which is what I did prior to this, the Discovery Channel was just starting up. Now you've got the Outdoor Network, Discovery 2, ESPN 7 [laughs] or whatever, you've got the toothpaste channel, the blue hair channel, and all these crazy channels that need music in the background. You also have a ton more documentary filmmakers and other independent filmmakers, because everybody can now technologically make things for themselves easily. You've got all this new content, plus all these Internet sites that want content. They want filmmakers to give them their films, and they want to brand their site using music. You have all these new platforms that want to use music to enhance their brand or [use] in their project, and boom — you've got a lot more people requesting licenses for projects.
You mentioned that labels have raised their licensing fees. Has that resulted in more people looking for independent music, which is presumably cheaper? There's so much independent music out there.
Yeah, there is. And you can go to MySpace or find other things. A lot of [film] composers are finding that it's much more competitive, because filmmakers are going to other places to get cheaper music because of the cost.
How do music libraries fit into the market?
Music libraries are actually a cheaper way of getting second-rate music. However, a lot of the music libraries now, in order to add more cachet to their libraries, are using well-known musicians [to create content]. So what they're doing is great for musicians who have content or want to create content — that is, they don't want to tour anymore — or for sidemen who have been in bands to create content once they get into one of these libraries. They just get with their friends, rip out this stuff, and send it to the libraries. And when the libraries place it on television, they get residuals from it. That's really good.
How do you think independent musicians and composers should try to get their material licensed?
In my book, I talk about finding a music-placement person.
You mean a music supervisor?
No, a music supervisor is someone who receives music, and they place it in the projects they're working on. A music-placement person is someone who takes a catalog and tries to get it to the music supervisor. They're representing catalogs. A music supervisor doesn't represent catalogs.
What's an example of a music-placement person?
I have a chapter in my book about it. There's one called Rumblefish. There's Danny Benair's company [Natural Energy Lab]. They're generally individuals in Los Angeles. Otherwise, you can go directly to the supervisors.
Are supervisors receptive to getting pitched by musicians?
FIG. 2: Wentz''s book gives thorough coverage on the subject of music licensing.
It depends. Everybody's different. There are some supervisors who gobble up new stuff and they love hearing it. And there are other supervisors who don't.
Are there directories of music supervisors?
Sure there are. There's a business called the Music Registry, and they have a list of music supervisors in their film and TV issue. I think it costs $100.
You also mentioned a site called Film Music Network where you can get information.
That's Mark Northam's organization.
Any advice for how musicians should present their material to music supervisors?
List the stuff on the case, not on the CD. Also, what I hate is throwing a CD into my iTunes and then having to put the titles into the songs.
In other words, when you pop in a CD on your computer, you want to see what the tunes are?
Yes, the coding should be correct.
What if they send you an email with a link to play music?
If they email, I need an MP3 that I can actually take.
So it's got to be something you can download as well as just listen to. That way, you have it to play for other people.
Is it important for a musician or composer to go slowly if offered a deal, so he or she can check out the terms?
The worst thing a musician can do is agree to a fee and get all excited about the project and then have to hire someone to go in and try to renegotiate for him or her. I've had someone who did that, and he told the filmmaker they could have the music for $250, when essentially he should have gotten $5,000 for it. He didn't know what he was doing and then when I stepped in to negotiate for him, it was too late — [the filmmaker] was like, “No, this guy said I could do that. Well then, I'm going to take his music out.”
The musician negotiated it himself, first?
Yeah, the filmmaker got in touch with the musician, and instead of the musician saying, “Give me the details of what the use is and I'm going to figure this out first,” he got all excited and called me to do the deal, and there was nothing I could do.
So the lesson learned was …
Don't negotiate your own stuff unless you know what you're talking about.
Mike Levine is EM's executive editor and senior media producer and the host of the twice-monthly Podcast “EM Cast” (emusician.com/podcasts).
Here is contact information for the companies and services Wentz mentions in this interview.
Film Music Network
A site that offers leads and information for film-music composers.
The Music Business Registry
You can subscribe here to a digital directory of film and TV contacts, which includes music supervisors.
Natural Energy Lab
A music-placement company to which you can submit music.
The Rights Workshop
Wentz's music-supervision and creative-clearance company.
Another music-placement company that accepts artist submissions.