You've heard the rumors. Like never before, unknown bands and singer-songwriters are getting their music into films and on TV shows. From the Travel Channel to network prime time, from small indie flicks to major studio releases, personal-studio denizens are making their marks and cashing in.
Well, the rumors are true, and the change is due largely to a timely convergence of three major factors. Most important is the explosion of cable TV, which has created a huge demand for content to fill the programming hours. That in turn has created a huge boom in all types of content production, from shot-on-DV reality shows to traditional film-based productions — all of which need music. On your side of the fence, the low cost of high-quality recording equipment has created an unprecedented supply of master-quality recordings looking for a home. Finally, there is the limited music budget that most of these productions now have. Producers of every show would love to have songs by big-name stars but simply can't afford them. So they turn instead to music supervisors, publishers, licensing agents, music libraries, and direct submissions from independent producers like you to provide the music they need at a price they can afford. I've put together a road map that leads you through the film and television wilderness. This real-world guide is designed to take you from dream to screen in the most effective and painless ways possible.
THE ROADS TO HOLLYWOOD
Some of the major players that can help you get your music onscreen include music supervisors, publishers, and library companies. (For a complete overview of what those jobs entail and what their places in the film and television industries are, see “Working Musician: You Ought to Be in Pictures” in the January 2002 issue of EM.) Those professionals should be prime candidates for your mailing list. However, because music reaches the screen over many different roads, I'd expand that list to also include music editors, picture editors, show producers, and music-licensing agents. You should promote your music to all of them. Don't get caught up in the notion that one way is the best way. You will only limit your opportunities.
For example, every show would love to have the ears and talent of a great music supervisor, but the truth is that most productions can't afford to hire one. So if you limit your efforts to contacting only music supervisors, you'll miss many potential opportunities provided by those shows that don't have one on staff. Picture editors, for instance, are constantly cutting in placeholder or temp music that often becomes permanent when the producer or director winds up falling in love with it. Perhaps that music could be from your CD. In other cases, shows turn to the music editor to help find tunes. And everyone has heard the story about the associate producer who has a friend who has a cousin who is in a band. Many roads lead to Hollywood. Why not take them all?
YOUR BEST BETS
Trust and confidence mean everything in this business. Nobody wants a copyright problem gumming up the works, or perhaps even ruining the show, so most professionals turn to the following trusted sources when they look for music. You should investigate these avenues for your music.
The bigger libraries are staples in the industry because their business is clean and their prices are predictable and affordable. If you are an instrumental composer, writing music for these libraries should be your prime focus. You probably won't participate in sync fees, but you will typically get up-front money and keep your writer's share of performance income.
Specializing in film and TV placement, these smaller publishers are an increasingly popular resource for shows seeking all kinds of music. They know the ropes, the players, and, like the music libraries, offer one-stop music clearance. Typically you won't get up-front money, but you will participate in fees, which can be substantial, and you'll keep your writer's share of performance income.
These are well-known, highly specialized professionals employed by rights holders on a commission basis to place their music in various media. Because their participation is usually limited to commissions on the income they generate, they often represent a clientele that can command higher fees. If you can get one interested in your music, many doors can open for you.
TAXI, Tonos, and Kings of A&R, among others, are Internet-based companies that, in one way or another, will represent you to the industry (see the sidebar “Do Your Homework”). TAXI is the all-around powerhouse. Staffed by industry heavyweights with impressive pedigrees, they listen to your music, advise you as to how to get it into shape, and then send it out to all types of industry pros — including those in film and TV — all for a reasonable fee. In addition to anything else you might do to further your career, I feel TAXI is a must.
DO IT YOURSELF
If you wind up being represented by a publisher, music library, or licensing agent, then good for you. Besides the numerous doors they can open for you, you'll get to spend your time creating music rather than trying to sell it. On the other hand, if you want to go the do-it-yourself route, you must have a few crucial details in order. Is your business house in order? Is your CD master quality? Is your presentation up to snuff? Do you know who to call and what to say? Don't put a single CD into a mailer until you know the answers.
Anyone interested in using your music in a show will need to secure two basic kinds of rights: master use and synchronization. Do you control both? Be sure now, because if you're even a little bit wrong, there can be some very unpleasant legal and financial repercussions for anyone in the chain responsible for infringing those rights. If they get even a whiff of a murky business situation on your end, the door will very subtly close in your face and may never reopen again. So, be prepared to demonstrate that you control all the rights to the master as well as all the rights to the underlying song. If you're the sole writer, paid for the recording yourself, and haven't assigned rights to anyone else, then you're probably in the clear. If any other situation exists, you need to secure an agreement with the interested parties (cowriters, contributing bandmates, outside investors, and others) in writing before you can proceed. This agreement doesn't have to be lengthy or complicated; it just has to cover what's needed. I strongly recommend that you get an attorney to craft it for you.
One more thing. You should become a member of a performing-rights organization (see “Working Musician: Play Rights” in the April 2003 issue). Networks pay a fee to use the music of ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC, and whenever a song airs on TV a performance royalty is generated for the member associated with that song. If you're not a member, you won't get paid!
Master or disaster?
Master recordings on CD are the coin of the realm. What's a master? That determination is very subjective, but let's just say that your recording should sound as good as anything else you hear in films or TV shows. Get second, third, and fourth opinions on yours. Again, TAXI is a good source for that kind of evaluation. In any case, do not send a demo. The only exception to this rule is when a music supervisor is looking for a song but wants to record the master him- or herself. Don't send MP3s or cassettes unless you're specifically asked to do so.
A good presentation will make the right first impression; it will show that you have your act together in your art and business. The most important thing is to include all the relevant information, such as song titles, who wrote what, who publishes what, which rights you control, how to contact you, et cetera. Madonna Wade-Reid of Daisy Music, music supervisor for the television shows Alias, Smallville, and Boston Public, has allowed us to publish her seven rules for submitting music (see sidebar, at left). Read it and heed it!
Everything else is just icing on the cake. Bios, Web sites, concert dates, and press releases can be helpful if they make you seem like more of a happening thing, but don't overhype. Cool graphics and a professional-looking CD package can help get your CD listened to, but none of that will make a difference if the music isn't good or right for the project.
Find out what kind of music is needed before you send a CD. Nobody in this business knows what to do with unsolicited material. There simply aren't enough hours in the day, and a strange CD coming through the door is just a question mark that will most likely end up in the trash, so don't waste your time and money. The way to avoid that fate is to do some preparation first. Learn something about the person or the company that you want to contact. If you know about a show they are currently working on, take the time to watch it and see if your music fits. Your efforts will be appreciated and your chances for success will increase. In every case, make an inquiry before you send anything. A simple conversation, over the phone or by e-mail, will educate you as to what's needed, establish the beginnings of a relationship, and make you more memorable, which is a big plus when the mail carrier delivers your CD.
Getting contact information is the easy part. Many resources in print and on the Web will give you what you need to get started (see the sidebar “Do Your Homework”). Actually contacting a live person is the part that can give you butterflies, but if you've done your homework and have a short introduction rehearsed, you'll get through it with flying colors.
First, do your research and compile a contact list. After that, it is just a matter of picking up the phone and dialing. When you reach the person you want to talk to, state your business succinctly. You should say something like “Hi Mary, I'm Bill O'Lading with The Glow Worms out of Spokane. We've been watching Punktown [the show you know she supervises], and our CD has several songs on it that we think would fit. Would you mind if we sent it to you?” Now just clam up and listen. From this point on it's just an ordinary conversation that you can learn much from. Answer her questions. Don't be disappointed if she turns you down. She'll tell you the reason, and you must accept it. If she agrees to listen to your CD, thank her, confirm her address information, thank her for her time, and then send the CD ASAP. Wait for a call. If she likes your music and thinks it's a fit, you'll hear from her. If she can't use your music, you'll know it by the quietness of your telephone. Resist the temptation to call back. I know that goes against human nature and most normal business practices, but you have to believe she received your CD, and you should keep in mind that no one wants to have the “I didn't really like it” or “It didn't fit” conversation. You might call back in the future only if you have something new to send; otherwise, just move on and keep calling the people on your list.
If you learn nothing else from this article, get this: you can do this. The people you want to send promotional materials to are, by and large, good people who want to hear your music. They'd love nothing more than to find a great new artist like you and give you the chance to be heard in their film or on their TV show. If you follow the guidelines found here, you'll make the whole process easier on everyone. And if you're persistent and have something to offer, you will be heard.
Skip Adamsis a music publisher in Venice Beach, California. He would like to thank Jeff Charboneau, Jonathan Firstenberg, Barklie Griggs, Matt Kierscht, Amy Rosen, David Sibley, and Madonna Wade-Reed for their help with this article.
WORDS FROM THE PROS
Below are edited excerpts from interviews I conducted with some of the top music people in film and TV. This is invaluable information that is straight from the source.
What sources do you look to for obtaining independent music?
Jonathan Firstenberg (music supervisor credits include General Hospital, Guiding Light, and Santa Barbara): Well, among others, I use some of the boutique libraries, independent publishers, and the standard music libraries that come with a studio like ABC. I tend to use whichever source has the right music for the scene.
Jeff Charboneau (music editor for The X-Files, 24, and others): We have a whole circle of libraries and publishers that control 100 percent of the rights to the music they carry. So, it's like one-stop shopping. [You'll find] really good material in those catalogs that are just as worthy of being in a show as stuff that's on the radio every day. It's a great opportunity for new artists to be heard.
David Sibley (music supervisor for American Family, The Little Richard Story, and many others): An excellent source for me is the Music Report [a music-listing service for industry professionals only]. I've used it on all of my projects in the last few years. Another great source is networking with live-venue music bookers as well as other music supervisors. I definitely use libraries, too. When a project has severe budgetary limitations and I have very little time to negotiate deals, I use music libraries exclusively.
Amy Rosen (music supervisor for Lovely & Amazing, Thirteen, and many others): I get a lot of amazing submissions for independent artists from licensing agents. Also publishers and record companies, certainly, but for those independent musicians without a record or publishing deal, third-party agents are a very good idea. I use music libraries too … [and] also will go to reputable music-listing services like TAXI or The Music Report.
Do you accept music from unknown bands and singer-songwriters?
Matt Kierscht (music-supervisor credits include The Drew Carey Show, Meet My Folks, and MTV's Tough Enough): Absolutely. I'm always looking for independent music because a lot of the shows I do have smaller music budgets, so I'm always looking for the best-quality, low-cost music that I can find.
Madonna Wade-Reed of Daisy Music (music supervisor for Boston Public, Alias, and Smallville): All the time. Good music is good music. We don't care where it comes from. It doesn't need to have sold a million records to be considered good.
Amy Rosen: I love dealing with artists directly, but the truth of the matter is that sometimes, due to schedule and time limitations, it's much easier for me to go with people I know. I don't want to be discouraging, but it is easier when you're dealing with somebody who knows the game. It's the truth.
If you'd like to hear more from these professionals, I've put up a special page on my company site with expanded versions of these interviews at www.globalgraffiti.com/quotes.htm.
SEVEN RULES FOR SUBMITTING MUSIC
Madonna Wade-Reed of Daisy Music is a music supervisor for some of the biggest music shows on TV including Alias, Smallville, and Boston Public. She has graciously consented to letting us reprint her rules for submitting music here. Follow these guidelines and everyone in the business will know you've been paying attention in class.
- Send a proper CD case (no clam shells or slim cases).
- The spine of the case must be labeled (if you want us to find your CD among all the others on the shelf).
- Provide the track list on the case cover (not on the CD sticky label).
- Provide contact information on both CD label and cover (phone number and name of contact are most important).
- Provide the writer and publisher information (everyone who wrote each song, publisher[s] involved, and what percentage each controls).
- Master information must be provided (who owns and controls the master, and what percentage).
- Please, let us call you once we've had a chance to listen.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
The Indie Guidebook to Music Supervision for Films by Sharal Churchill (Filmic Press, 2000).
Music Publishing: A Songwriter's Guide by Randy Poe (Writers Digest Books, 1997).
Music Publishing: The Real Road to Music Business Success by Tim Whitsett (artistpro.com, 2001).
The Film Music Network (www.filmmusic.net)
The focus here is on composers, but many songwriters benefit too, including (for a nominal monthly fee) the Jobwire, which lists film and TV shows looking for songs and composers.
Kings of A&R (www.kingsofar.com)
A Web-based showcase for indie bands. Getting featured here is based on whether they think you're good enough. Give it a shot!
The Music Report (www.breakdownservices.com/musicrpt.html)
This is a professional service that a lot of music supervisors and publishers use. You probably won't be able to subscribe to it yourself, but check out the old listings that The Music Report posts as samples of its service. You can gain valuable insight into how this aspect of the industry works.
This is a great overall career site, but it also has a handy Resources section containing dozens of listings for music supervisors.
More than just Web based, Taxi is a full-service company dedicated to helping all types of musicians better themselves in any number of ways. Pitching your music to the film and TV industry is one of its strong points. Become a member.
For a monthly fee, Tonos allows you to upload songs to listings for all kinds of top flight projects, including film and TV, in need of songs.